Ask Horse Journal: 03/00

High-Headed Canter
I have a 16-year-old Appaloosa that I show jump and would like to event. She’s high-strung and nervous. We never have problems with jumping, but her dressage needs a lot of work. Her head carriage is high, and I’ve worked with her to get her head into an acceptable position, especially at the canter.

The first time I ask for the canter she’ll be pretty calm, with her head in a good position, but if I break and then ask again she gets excited, pops her head up and gets strong. I’ve tried hand aids, seat aids and side reins, and nothing really works because she’s used to her high-headed ways. Also, when we’re cantering and I ask for a down transition, right before she breaks she switches her back lead and then runs into the trot. Do you have any suggestions how to bring her head down and improve transitions’

-Alicia Haines

You may need to look at a different part of your horse besides the head to solve these problems. A horse that holds its head unnaturally high is usually tight through the back and thus also unable to reach under its body with the hind legs. Your horse has never really become supple and strong along her entire topline. The horse raises her head to pull herself along with her front end, since the hind end can’t help out. A horse like this also is unbalanced, and horses that fret about their balance become tense and rush. It’s a vicious circle (literally) that is remedied only by long, slow work with the horse stretching its nose out to the bit.

Seek out instruction to learn “long-and-low.” The most important component of this exercise is that the horse learns to stretch its nose forward when you release your hand. Note the word “release.” As you well know by now, you can’t pull your horse’s nose down, but many people mistakenly think that’s how you get long-and-low. When your horse isn’t restricted through the neck, then her back will begin to swing and become stronger. You also need exercises to help bring the hocks under the horse’s body. The best way to start is with leg-yield exercises, which also help supple the top line.

As for the down transitions from canter, back stiffness plus lack of balance and strength can lead to your horse feeling panicky and then falling out of the canter instead of stepping forward to the trot. If you set your hand in these transitions, it also prevents the hind legs from reaching through. Use as little hand as possible in the transition from canter to trot.

Keep your leg and hand contact steady and just blow out your breath — loudly, loud enough so that someone could hear you across the ring. When you exhale this way, the alteration in your weight is the only cue your horse will need to go from canter to trot, and she’ll stay balanced and stepping through from behind. Conversely, if she tends to break from the canter at certain points in the ring, then consciously hold your breath at those points. With no shift in your weight, she should keep cantering.


Is licorice poisonous to horses’

-H. Jones
New York, NY

Licorice (or anise, which has a licorice flavor without the licorice systemic effects) is a common flavoring in many animal feeds and is also used in some herbal mixtures. Licorice stimulates the adrenal glands, has estrogen-like effects, is anti-inflammatory and is 50 times sweeter than sugar. Although generally considered to be safe, large amounts can cause sodium retention, water retention and elevated blood pressure in individuals prone to that problem but otherwise has no serious toxicity/side effects. Licorice candy actually contains more anise than licorice in most cases and is safe in reasonable amounts as a treat or taste tempter. Even a person would have to eat pounds of it to have any negative side effects.


Hoof Problem
My gelding has thin hoof walls. He is 13 years old, and I do adult amateur hunters with him. His feet crack and break away under the nails during show season. We are now trying glue -on shoes, which seem to be working. We are careful about his bedding (sawdust) and turnout. He only goes out for four to five hours a day and only after the dew has dried. I check his hooves constantly, keeping in just the right amount of moisture.

Could this be a dietary problem’ He gets sweet feed, timothy, Pennfields Equine Supreme (vitamin/mineral supplement) and Farrier’s Formula. He is ridden three or four times a week and jumped at horse shows.

-Jennifer Snyder

The only hoof-related nutrients still possibly at low levels in your otherwise excellent diet are essential fatty acids and biotin. It is also possible the problem is not nutrition related. Some horses seem to inherently have thin walls (although good nutrition can help).

Easy breakage may also develop in horses that are trimmed with the heels too low and toes too long. This leads to separations at the white line, especially in the toe region, which predisposes to bacterial or fungal infections, an important factor in wall weakness. A hoof antiseptic may help with this.


Star Thistle And Grazing
What are the long-term effects of horses grazing on pastures that have young star thistle growing in it’ The horses are removed before the thistle gets large, but when it is small it looks like all the other plants in the pasture.

-Ann Gornik

Yellow Star Thistle causes degeneration of the brain in the same region related to Parkinson’s disease in people. The toxicity is called “chewing disease” and only affects horses. Symptoms are uncontrolled/involuntary twitching movement of the upper lip and an inability to eat. Advanced cases may show head pressing, circling or other signs of brain disorder.

Recent research has identified a compound in the plant structurally similar to the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine deficiency causes Parkinson’s disease. It is believed this chemical substitutes for the real dopamine in the horse’s brain, causing the disease. We do not know what the long-term effects of low-level ingestion might be, but the toxin causes irreversible damage to brain cells. Whether there is a specific dose that must be ingested before damage occurs — an “all-or-none” situation — or whether symptoms appear after a specific percentage of the cells have been killed is unclear.

However, if there is abundant growth of more palatable grasses and plants in the field during the time the horses are turned out they will likely avoid the thistle in favor of better-tasting choices. Chewing disease usually appears at times of the year when grazing is sparse and horses resort to eating star thistle.


Horses Who Eat Dirt
Injured horses, horses recovering from severe stress (major colic, foaling) and horses with limited-to-no grazing time may all develop a habit of eating dirt. Some become selective, investigating several areas before deciding on the one they want. This is not necessarily an indicator the diet is deficient in any one particular element. When it comes to individual mineral deficiencies, the only mineral the horse is proven to instinctively seek is salt. Nevertheless, if your horse is eating dirt, check to be sure his diet is properly balanced in all minerals and consider offering a free-choice mineral supplement formulated for horses in addition to his plain salt. We like Buckeye’s Harvest Salt (see August 1999).


Horse Treat Alternative
Shelled sunflower seeds (just the kernel) are a great horse treat. They are extensively fed to horses in New Zealand and Australia. The protein content of sunflower seeds is 22.4%. Their digestible carbohydrate content is low at about 12.3% while fat is a high 53.8%, making them an excellent choice for endurance horses, horses with t rouble holding weight and horses on grain/soluble carbohydrate restriction.


Bolting Feed
The usual recommendation for horses that bolt their feed is to add rocks to the feed tub. This helps, but we have a better idea: Mix roughage with the grain. Use those fine leaves and bits of stem that collect under your hay bales and drop out every time you pull off a flake. The additional roughage makes the horse chew longer, which in turn produces more saliva and improves digestion.


Send Us Your Questions!
All questions should be sent to the editorial offices by regular mail or e-mail: 6538 Van Buren Road, Warners, NY 13164 or [email protected]. We’re sorry, but questions cannot be answered over the phone. All letters are subject to editing for clarity, content and length.