NRHA Drug Rule Change

Please take the time to read the following blog article:  NRHA Trainers Propose Change To Drug Policy

Now I’d like to discuss a few points.

He (Rod Miller) went on to say, “The caliber of horse needed to make the finals at the Futurity these days has gotten very high. The trainers do not have time to take it slow and train these horses at a pace each can handle without getting sore. Yes the event is demanding, but no more so than many other events that all have drug policies. The only difference is time and the ability of our trainers to get more out of the horses. The brutal truth is trainers have to push these young horses more and more each year just to stay competitive enough to make the finals.

Are you effing kidding me?!  Who thinks like that?  Who thinks it’s okay to lame and break down horses when they know full well it’s going to happen?  Yes, let’s throw a little brutal truth out there, shall we?  Anyone who thinks it’s okay to knowingly push a horse beyond health and soundness is not a trainer and should be removed from all things equine related.

“Drugs and abuse are not the biggest issue the NRHA has, their biggest issue is the trainers have gotten too good. The top trainers of today are able to get these horses to do so much more than in past years, yet the time they are allowed to do these things in has not changed. They do not have enough time to develop the horses to the level they need to be without pushing them. Pushing them means they need drugs to keep them sound enough to ride and show and keep pushing the limits. That is why trainers have no issue with a drug test for the older horses being shown at the FEI level; they are already trained and do not need to be pushed anymore.

Let me correct Mr. Miller.  The issue isn’t that trainers have gotten too good, it’s that trainers are no longer horsemen, therefore, do not have the best interest of the horse in mind.  Getting to the Futurity for fame, glory and money is most important to them.  Million-Dollar *cough* Trainers, indeed!

“Now the one thing that the NRHA will never do is make a change that will negatively effect the Futurity. The Futurity is why the NRHA was created and it is still the main focus of trainers and breeders. Having a restrictive drug policy will negatively affect the Futurity, by lowering the caliber of the horses in the finals. Trainers won’t be able to push horses as hard, if they need to show up at the show with a totally sound horse. Without pushing or more time, something has to give and it will be the caliber of horses in the finals.

Again, are you kidding me?  How narrow-minded and short-sighted does one have to be to think like this?  The one thing the NRHA should do is restructure the Futurity.  And if these so called ‘trainers’ stopped pushing their young horses beyond what’s good for the horse, and stopped paying the nomination fees, and stopped entering horses in the futurity, and stopped initiating rule changes to propagate the cycle of equine destruction, then the NRHA would be forced to change the Futurity for the betterment of the horse and therefore the sport as well.

*$@# ^%!  I continue to be disappointed at what humans will do and how they’ll justify it for a buck, at the expense of such a generous creature as the horse.

The Saddle Pad Test

I’ve been busy with some RL things lately and haven’t had the inclination or concentration to put together an article for the blog, so I’m cheating and going to link to a short article for all to read, ponder, and test out.

Most understand the importance of saddle fit for horse and rider, but few know how to accurately judge a good fit.  The following offers an easy test, requiring nothing more than a clean, white saddle pad and a ride.

Saddle Pad Dust Pattern

Even though this is an ‘English’ test, this could also be done with a clean, light colored (and thin) Western pad and Western saddle, as the same principles apply.

At the end of the article is mention of the true purpose of the saddle pad.  English riders in particular should take note, as they are usually the biggest offenders of using various thick and/or exotically cut saddle pads to fit a saddle to a horse that doesn’t.

Rear Versus Levade

The levade is an ‘Air’ and the most collected movement a horse can do. Its original intent was for use in mounted war along with the rest of the ‘Airs Above The Ground’. The only places you’ll see it performed nowadays are at Equine/Military Schools such as the Spanish Riding School, in travelling shows, or exhibitions.

Below is the levade, executed nearly perfectly. (I believe this photo was taken by Sarah K. Andrew.  It’s been several years since the photographer shared it with me, so my memory is fuzzy.)

Note the placement of the hind feet almost directly under the rider’s seat, how the long pastern is almost in line with the cannon bone, the hocks directly underneath the center of the haunch and lowered, and the horse ‘sitting down’. The horse holds and balances its weight throughout the big, powerful muscling of the haunch, while the hind legs/joints act as a coiled spring. While this takes tremendous strength to achieve, the horse has the advantage of using its entire body.


The next picture (taken from the LA Times earlier this month (click on photo to enlarge) – article about the current race season at Del Mar and the number of injured/dead horses – thanks, Trailrider, it really was an interesting article) is of a parade horse that’s gotten a bit excited as the other horses leave the gate. This is a rear, albeit a baby one.

Note the placement of the hind feet (behind the stifle), and the placement of the hocks (behind the horse’s buttocks), how vertical the cannon bone remains while the fetlocks and hocks close, taking much of the pressure. The majority of the horse’s weight is forward and down into the stifles. While the withers have raised, it’s only because the horse has left/is leaving the ground with the front legs, and in fact this horse has hollowed its back, dropped its base of neck and withers.


Obviously the outrider at the track wasn’t trying to do a levade, and there’s no point in discussing the difference in rider position. Instead, these two pictures offer great comparison between what IS collection and what is NOT.

I often hear from people how Dressage horses breakdown, specifically in their hocks. Well, people, that would be because the horse isn’t actually moving correctly. The horse isn’t collecting toward the goal in the first picture, but rather doing what the parade horse is doing. A horse ridden and trained correctly will benefit with increased soundness, not suffer from injuries.

Mercedes’ Top Pet Peeves

In no way does the following represent all the equine world insults to my senses, but they seem to happen more often than not.

Firstly, there’s not a whole lot I find more frustrating than getting on a horse, applying leg, and having the horse do absolutely nothing. Even worse is if I get an ear flick indicating the horse ‘heard’, and then nothing. I’ll accept a lateral step, a back step, a jig, even a cow kick at my leg; just give me something to work with.

In most cases the ignore is entirely the fault of the human/s. Most susceptible are lesson horses that have to deal with beginner riders, whose leg aids are often poorly timed, inconsistent, and downright as annoying as TV snow. Still, it’s an easy fix and I have never understood the prevalence.

Related is the horse that has to be aided by the leg every single stride to maintain gait or pace. The horse should respond to the leg when applied and then maintain whatever was asked until the leg is applied again for a new request. Even worse is the horse that has erroneously been trained to move forward only with constant spurring. The spur was never meant to be used to create forward in the horse, but rather a tool for subtle and exacting cues of upper level movements.

The reason most often give for the previous scenerios: The horse is lazy.

Horses are not lazy; they are simply unmotivated in the moment. While that might sound like semantics, I believe it’s an entirely different perspective which can make a big difference in how the person approaches the horse, and therefore how the relationship develops. Is the glass half empty or half full? Being labelled lazy is clearly negative and there’s finality to it like it’s a done deal and can’t be change. Being unmotivated in the moment is less negative because there’s a possible upside; motivation may occur in the very next moment.

Don’t think for a second the horse doesn’t know what kind of a glass it’s being viewed as when you approach. I’ve never met a lazy horse, but I’ve sure met a lot who’d rather lie down then work for the human aboard.

Every 50′ (or less) round pen in existence needs to ploughed under. There’s a reason why the first circle figure is 20m (66′). It asks the horse to bear a little bit of extra weight on the inside hind, and to bend through the length of its body a little bit. Very few green/young horses can negotiate a circle smaller than 20m correctly to start, that is without counter bending, leaning on the inside shoulder, losing the haunch to the outside etc… The same is true of horses that have certain conformation traits that make engagement more difficult and lame/sore/injured/stiff horses.

Sixteen feet in diameter may not seem like a lot, but for the horse it’s night and day. For every circle the horse does incorrectly, it has to do ten correctly to undo the damage of using the wrong muscles the wrong way. Think about that before you opt for a too-small round pen.

Natural Horsemanship is responsible for the uptick in round pen usage over the last couple of decades. Part of those programs is teaching horses to turn in and face the handler, especially during the ‘free’ longeing process. Hate it, and I’ve seen it lead to all sorts of problems.

Worse still is when someone teaches that to the horse when longeing with a line on. The horse should stay out on the circle, facing forward, and wait for the handler to approach. Advanced longeing in a longeing cavesson will include the horse making an inside turn to change direction, but the horse only does so when specifically cued for the change of direction. Otherwise the horse stays on the circle.

I know that Natural Horsemanship guru’s teach turning slightly away/taking a step back from the horse to invite it to you. Blech! Face to face the horse is in a superior power positon, and while this ‘come to me’ is often used for horses that are timid or as part of ‘joining up’, I don’t like it and don’t encourage it. It’s not necessary to win over the horse, nor to later have horses come running when called. And let me tell you, it’s a real bugger trying to reteach a horse to longe properly.

Now is the time when I pick on riders, especially those with their eyes stuck to the ground. Seriously, if the ground is that fascinating might I suggest you dismount, get down on your hands and knees, and get a real close-up look to satisfy your curiosity.

Your bowling ball of a head falls forward, your shoulder’s round, your center of gravity tips forward, your seatbones lose contact with the horse, your lower leg loses its position, and your heel lifts. You are now ripe to end up right where you’re looking. In fact, I find great pleasure in walking up beside such a rider and pushing them off with little effort on my part. But never mind you, you’ve just made your horse’s job of balancing you and itself that much harder and put him/her on their forehand.

And if you’re someone who’s got their eyes planted on the horse’s shoulder to check posting diagonal or canter lead – time for you to learn to feel your horse’s footfalls and body. I really wish instructors would stop teaching riders this short cut in the first place.

The other big rider pet peeve I have is that of the incorrect use of terminology. Specifically the big buzz words like collection, extension, and impulsion. A horse piddling around at lower levels most certainly isn’t doing extensions or collection. They might be capable of lengthenings and a lower degree of engagement, but when you need someone to explain to you the aids of shoulder-in, you most certainly didn’t just ‘collect’ your horse on your last ride. Frame compression, specifically neck shortening, and your horse taking itty bitty steps isn’t collection. Not referring to anyone here unless it applies.

It also annoys me when people use terminology like ‘giving to the bit’, when it’s clear the horse is evading contact and is behind the bit. That kind of ‘giving’ is incorrect. A horse accepting contact can’t necessarily be correctly described as ‘light’. Rather the contact is better described as ‘alive’ and therefore constantly changing as horse and rider communicate and perform tasks. ‘Lightness’ is often evasion, particularly if it’s constant/static, which will certainly feel better to a rider than the horse that leans on the bit, but is still incorrect.

Speaking of bits…if I see one more full-cheek bit without keepers…

Finally, in closing: Western Dressage. Enough said.

Feel free to add your pet peeves and get it off your chest. Perhaps afterwards I’ll consider doing an anti-pet peeve list.

A Digestion Question

Zanhar has asked me to pose a question on the blog in hopes of gaining some insight.

Hello Mercedes – I have a question I’d like to throw out to your readers, especially since there are some Morgan boosters out there.  A few months ago I took on a boarder (my dear Harry died at the ripe old age of 38).  This is a 22 year old Morgan gelding, bursting with personality and always on the go (I can see why people like these horses!) but unfortunately his owner is a newbie and hasn’t been terribly helpful in sorting out this problem.  The horse is in excellent health – a bit overweight actually and I am trying to ease that back.  He gets hay, pasture and supplements including pro-biotics and virtually no grain – in fact I’ve stopped the 1 pound a day he was getting.  He is really gassy, long noisy farts all the time.  He’s constantly hungry – it’s hard getting him to diet so I feed him multiple small meals.  He produces a phenomenal amount of manure – 15 piles to six from my thoroughbred who is 16.1h and this little guy is 14.0h.  His manure is totally normal in color and consistency.  He isn’t colicky and does not seem in any kind of discomfort.

 Any ideas?  Are Morgans prone to this? Is it indicative of something or just a benign peculiarity?

I’d really be interested in what anyone can offer.

I Heard It…

…with my own two ears. Just the other day I overheard a riding instructor say to a young pupil: ‘Stick your belly button out.’ That stopped me in my tracks. Is this a gymnastics class?  The student rode by on her pony with a lovely ‘c’ in her lower back like pictured below.

Tilted Pelvis

This type of rider posture – hollowed, locked back – is incorrect and disrupts not only the rider’s ability to absorb the horse’s movement, but also causes the horse to hollow and lock its back (as seen in the picture) in response.  When that happens the horse trails its hind legs, can’t swing through its back, drops its wither and base of neck, raises its head, and shortens its stride.  It’s the antithesis of correct movement, stressing the body.  Even the best conformed horse can’t overcome.

Here’s a great illustration showing the correct amount of curvature in the lower back.  (The human spine does have some curvature through the ‘loin’.)  Also of note is the straight line created by the alignment of the ear, hip and heel that we all know about but often struggle to obtain.

I don’t know the education background of the riding instructor, if she’s certified,  or who taught her, but she’s popular with her students and their parents.  It discourages me that another group of young riders is being developed with such poor basic skills.  Besides the hollow lower backs, all the riders in her class (5) had knees and toes pointed outward and overly straight arms.  And like a horse that has lived in inversion, a rider with incorrect basics will need to spend much more time correcting those bad habits than if they’d learned the right way first time around.

I wish I had a solution for this widespread problem, which feels to me as if its gaining momentum.

A Place To Start – Stretching Under Saddle

Some times we just don’t know where or how to begin. In a recent article (Virtual Horse – A Must See!) I linked to a video showing the biomechanical differences between a horse being hand ridden and forced into a false frame; over flexed in the poll, chin on chest and one allowed to stretch and seek contact, and how that affected the horse’s movement. Following is a short (4 min) video that starts to show how you do the latter.


Though I don’t agree with everything said and shown (such as the reference to and title of video ‘engaging’ the back – why even go there?!), there are some really important things happening in the video that I’d like to point out.

First is the forwardness of the horses. Before anything else can happen, a horse must be forward. No forward, no nothing. That is not going fast, though for some it may appear that way, but rather having a purpose in getting from point A to point B. This is a major issue I often see, horses piddling about, dragging their feet, and otherwise lacking any sort of energy or motivation in their striding. The horse must actively and willingly move forward, be in front of the leg, and stay in front of the leg without being constantly badgered. Once that is achieved, the horse on its own will begin to relax into a rhythmic gait and stretch. This applies to our Western riders as well. You all should be riding forward as shown in the video until the horse has, over time, developed the strength and condition to slow down the stroke of the legs via right and proper engagement. The jog and lope that is so often seen today in the Western ring is an atrocity, but I digress.

A lot of the video shows the horse on the circle. The circle helps to encourage weight to shift back onto the inside hind, which in turn will lift the back and so on. But don’t get stuck in the idea that this can only, or should only, be done on the circle. Alternating between straight lines, circles and changes of direction will keep the horse thinking and thus forward. It will increase suppleness and straightness, and as you make the figure changes it’s a challenge and a check that the horse remain relaxed and rhythmic throughout.

I also liked that Mr. Faerber mentioned the rider lightening their seat and that this work is done primarily in rising trot. ‘Driving’ with your seat to get the horse forward only results in triggering the back to contract and then hollow, as does banging around like a sack of rocks in sitting trot. Of course, some riders also bang down on the horse’s back in rising trot, so the execution of the rising trot by the rider may need to be examined if the horse continues to hollow.

You can not achieve any of what is shown in the video via the use of side reins, draw reins, martingales or any other tack contraption. I repeat: CAN NOT. The horse must be free of restrictive devices including the hand, so put away the tack and lengthen those reins. The horse’s head WILL come down once it is forward, relaxed, and rhythmic, and its back will lift. Note that at the four minute mark a young horse is being longed with side reins on, but those side reins are overly long. They are not restricting the horse in any way. So why use them at all? In this instance it’s for the education of the horse’s mouth, to begin to understand weight in its mouth, and to encourage the horse to be straighter (not over bend) through the neck on the circle.

It’s important to also note the time period given in the video: One year to develop the topline of a horse, and that’s for a horse that hasn’t already developed inverted muscling and poor posture from bad riding and training; those horses are going to require even more time. This is not a process that happens over night, nor can it be fixed in 24 hours. But don’t think you should be riding your horse as in the video every single minute of that year. Stretching is not a static position either on its own nor as part of training. Remember that you should be testing your horse’s development, asking for the poll to lift little by little BY engaging the haunch.   You’ll be doing other exercises and figures, cross training.  And don’t forget, the horse’s haunch should be lowering as that poll lifts, otherwise it’s incorrect.

Even out on a hack, you should be encouraging your horse to stretch, to be forward, relaxed, rhythmic in its gaits, straight and so on.  Horses are not toys and require constant consideration, care and management.  There is joy and pleasure to be found in understanding that.  You can enjoy the horse even while knowing that every step is training mind, body, and soul for better or worse.

Neglect in Redding, Connecticut

Sadly another clear situation of the system taking too long to act and giving someone multiple chances.  There’s no excuse after the initial complaints in 2011 that this woman should have had another opportunity to neglect animals.  She even has an option of appealing the seizures. What!?

NBC Report

I wonder if this woman’s age has anything to do with the situation? Is she mentally, emotionally and physically able to care for animals?

If anyone here is in the state/area can you get us any additional information or updates moving forward?

The Long And Winding Road

I’ve been asked a number of times to discuss in detail how a horse can be improved with correct work; how musculature and posture can be changed. Intellectually we all understand the importance of correct work/exercise, relating it to human activities like something as simple as doing a sit up the right way versus the wrong way, and the implications – the development of a strong core or a week in bed with a sore back.

The problem is that I don’t often know where to start. The topic is immense. Just thinking about it is overwhelming to me, trying to then share the information and not overwhelm the recipient is next to impossible. Moreover, I’ve discovered that hardly anybody seems to be able to execute even after they have the information. The task is always more involved than just knowing or having good intentions. You also have to have some skills and talent; patience, tenacity, common sense, an aptitude for critical thinking, good judgment and instincts, and the capacity and will to continually learn. If that’s not enough, it can often times be financially draining and time consuming.

I can always find pictures of horses in need and point out what’s wrong, but rarely is there a chance to get ‘after’ pictures. Since a lot of us learn best with visual aids, pictures are important to connect all the dots. Additional to the pictures would be a comprehensive summary of treatment, exercises and the like. Following is an example that tickles the vastness of the topic.

Thank you to Earthshadows (the human) and Capataz (the horse).


 photo Cap-Before_zps0d85e799.jpg

Capataz was purchased with the intention to advance his rider in Dressage. We could nitpick a few things, but overall he’s well-suited physically to the task and should breeze through the lower levels on his way to medium. Except for one thing; he’s injured.

I’ve marked the injury in the photo below, some might have seen and called it a ‘hunter’s bump’. I don’t care what you call it, or whether it appears on a horse that’s not head bobbing lame, or whether it’s on a horse competing successfully at a high level. It’s an injury, all day long, every day, and should not be dismissed or ignored. Indeed, when purchasing a horse this should, in more cases than not, be a deal breaker. It’s an injury that often occurs in horses that jump, race, and/or slip at speed.

 photo Cap-Before-Marked_zpsd35867c9.jpg

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view), Capataz injured himself after his purchase. This at least meant that Earthshadows knew when and how it happened. The sooner treatment can be administered, the better chance of recovery.

Here’s a condensed version of events from Earthshadows:

So it was a bit of a rough start for me and my horse. Within the first few months he spooked and had a bad fall on the cement aisle, his chest hit the floor and legs were everywhere. I’m not sure if he maybe had a pre-existing issue at this point, but this set him lame for sure. Not dead lame, but something was wrong.

My coach at the time wanted to do nerve blocking, but it didn’t quite feel right yet to me. So before doing that, I had a certified chiropractor vet take a look at him, and she said his hip looked off. She adjusted it, but wasn’t sure if it would solve things.

Still lame.

Soon I received a recommendation for a very talented lady that also did manipulation therapy (but not a vet). At this point, I was very skeptical, was never one to believe in these things. But she came out, and after some heavy adjustment (she had to pop his leg into his pelvis or something as equally gross–there was a quite the loud pop), the very next day, no longer lame. Just like that, after months of lameness. I was ecstatic.

Of course, that meant recovery was only starting now. He had lost most of his muscle definition, and had now a very prominent calcium bump on his hindquarter that may or may not shrink. So I started having his bodyworker come out somewhat regularly (bodyworker suggested that it not be frequent), and we saw his pelvis hold itself together longer. For you see, his hip wanted to remain tilted the wrong way.

At first, he would never stand square, legs in all directions. Now, I find him more and more standing naturally in a square position–he’s finding himself straight. But that was only half the battle. The other half was learning to ride him correctly. I went through a few coaches (and styles of teaching!) until I found the one I have now, one dedicated to riding from back to front, and about engaging those hindquarters. And so with strength coming back, his pelvis has remained correct even longer.

He still has a bump today, although the muscle sorta tricks the eye, but you can see it. There’s still stiffness at the start, and I have to be very careful to warm up his hips properly before asking him to work. But he’s come leaps and bounds, especially with a novice owner who’s had to learn everything along the way!”


 photo Cap-After_zpsff7ff9af.jpg

Some points to take away from this example; even with early diagnosis and treatment, the rehabilitation of this type of injury to a horse is still time consuming with no guarantee of complete recovery. The longer the injury goes unnoticed or ignored, the more difficult it becomes to repair and the less likely the horse will fully recovery. Scar tissue, bone remodeling and calcification occur rapidly due to the amount of stress this area of the horse takes, and it’s not unusual to have significant, chronic inflammation and fluid build-up.

I refer you back to the previous blog article Hind Limb – Part 1 where I discuss the attachment of the horse’s haunch to the rest of its body. (See second paragraph). Refresh yourselves on the stay system of the hind leg and imagine how if one of those joints is injured or stressed how that must affect the rest of the joints of the leg. Imagine too if just the surrounding area of one of those joints is affected how that too is going to have a trickle effect to the rest of the hind end. Keep in mind that our intent for any riding horse is to have it transfer weight from the forehand to the haunch via that itty, bitty LS joint. If there’s any sort of natural, structural weakness in the haunch; long loin, poorly placed LS joint, post-leggedness etc…, then not only is the potential for injury increased but also the amount of injury that can occur, with time added to rehabilitating such an injury since the structure contains a general inherited weakness.

There are a lot of horses out there performing for their riders with loin/sacrum/pelvic/hip injuries of this sort, whether from direct or secondary sources. Lameness can be subtle from a shortening of the gait, or carrying the haunch off to one side, or as predominant as head-bobbing. But even if it’s not at first obvious or apparent (not everyone has an eye for subtler unsoundness) and the horse has continued to win in the ring, know that the horse is injured and unsound if any sort of topline or pelvic unevenness is in evidence. It is the nature of prey animals to hide illness and injury, and the nature of the horse to get along and please. Through compensatory actions (ie., travelling heavier on the forehand) the horse will more often than not, keep right on truckin’.

In the case of Capataz, he dislocated his hip. This pulled all the soft tissue around the hip joint, around the pelvis, and up into the sacrum and loin, stressing the entire haunch. And even then he wasn’t head-bobbing lame.

It may seem that the topic of this article has now changed from the opening paragraph, but I assure you it’s all very much related and intertwined. One of the first things we must make sure of when wanting to correct the horse’s musculature and posture is that an underlying injury does not exist. While remodeling muscles and improving posture can take several months, it’ll never happen if the horse is suffering from an undiagnosed injury.