Ask Horse Journal: 04/03

Straight Lines Can Be Challenging
When my dressage instructor told me to ride a straight line down the center of the arena, I thought it would be piece of cake, but it was nearly impossible. So, the instructor had me spend the rest of the session making lots of circles and serpentines.

The school horse I’ve been riding is as stiff as a board, and the instructor said that until he was supple in the corners and bending correctly that I wouldn’t be able to ride a straight line. Does this make sense’

-S. Schultz

It makes lots of sense. Leg-yielding works even better to develop straightness, which seems to be a greater contradiction, but it helps the rider gain control of the horse’s shoulder.

Many riders think bending lines are harder than straight lines because they find it tough to balance their horse in the corner at the end of the arena. But in reality the wall down the long side of the arena is giving them a false sense of security, and their straight lines aren’t any better than their curved ones. They don’t find this out until they are asked to ride off the rail, down the centerline or the quarterline. (Straight jumping lines and diagonal lines may capture the horse’s attention enough so that it gives the horse a sense of purpose and he strides straight forward on his own.)

Most horses, even fairly experienced dressage horses, really aren’t very straight. They carry their haunches more to one side or the other and tend to subtly control where they prefer to go by placement of their shoulders. They drift off through one shoulder, with the haunches trailing behind. The rider has to gain control of the shoulders in order to keep the horse straight, but it’s easier said than done.

When we talk about riding a horse ”straight,” we really mean equally bent from nose to tail. Therefore, a horse should be just as straight while going on a curved line as he is on a straight line because he is supple along his entire topline.

There are a zillion exercises you can do to learn how to control your horse’s shoulders, and they are best introduced to you by your instructor because there are an equal number of ways the horse can find to avoid the issue. You may fix one element and the horse then will find another way to slither to the side.

But, bending lines are a great way to start. As you make each turn, you should take inventory of your equitation before even thinking of what the horse is doing.

Are you looking up in the direction of travel’ Are you leading too much with your inside shoulder’ Are you leaning too much to one side’ Do you make your turns a series of short lines by tugging on the inside rein’ If the answer to any of these questions is ”yes,” you’ve opened a door through which your horse can lean on one shoulder and escape sideways.

When your instructor can’t be there to watch, the first thing you should consider is your weight. Most horses, especially green ones, will follow where you place your weight.

You can feel this when you ride a large circle, because the horse will drift in or out depending on which stirrup you place more of your weight. Thus, the next time you ride down the centerline, make sure your upper body is erect from the waist up. Then experiment by stepping more on one stirrup or the other. You’ll find the horse will drift toward the direction he needs to go to re-establish his balance. On your next centerline, keep your eyes up and your weight equally in both stirrups and see if straightness becomes a little easier.


A Lazy Gut
Your August 2002 article on psyllium was interesting. I’ve used psyllium for 15 years for all of the ailments you identified in this article and found it effective. As you say in the article, it doesn’t solve the underlying issues, but when those can’t be identified or resolved, at least you can deal with the symptoms.

However, I used powdered psyllium to help a horse recover from surgery for sand colic. After about three months of routine use, I withdrew the psyllium, and three months later the horse colicked again badly, and this time I euthanized him.

I can’t say there was any link between withdrawing the psyllium and the subsequent colic, but I was told later that horses should never be kept on psyllium routinely because it changes the gut and that intermittent use is healthier. It may be that the objection to ongoing continuous use derived from the objections raised for ongoing human use of the same product, called a ”lazy gut.” Do you have any information’

-Mei Lin Yeoell
British Columbia

It’s impossible to say for sure why your horse colicked again. It could have been another sand impaction, a complication from adhesion formation after the surgery or a totally unrelated cause. However, the fact this happened three months after stopping the psyllium makes it highly unlikely that psyllium use, or stopping psyllium, had anything to do with it.

Psyllium is a natural fiber laxative. Long-term use of fiber laxatives is not associated with dependence (”lazy gut”), although both herbal and prescription or over-the-counter chemical stimulant laxatives can have this effect. In fact, long-term use, even lifetime use, of fiber supplements is a treatment of some colon disorders in people and is recommended as a way to help lower cholesterol.

The only study that has ever shown any suggestion of a negative effect with long-term psyllium use was done in monkeys that were fed a 10% psyllium diet for 3.5 years. The researchers found some shortening of the villi, the finger-like projections of the gut lining, in the small intestine but made no mention of any actual health effects on the monkeys. This is a far cry from some of the precautions we’ve seen on nonmedical web sites that make statements like psyllium will scrub away the intestinal lining. That’s just not true. Furthermore, a 10% psyllium diet is way above what would normally be used to supplement a person or a horse. The average horse would have to be fed 2 lbs. of psyllium a day to match this intake, instead of the 2 to 4 oz. normally used.

Psyllium can change the gut, but only in beneficial ways. Psyllium is a probiotic. It encourages the growth of beneficial organisms that the horse needs to digest the fiber portion of his diet and to prevent the growth of harmful strains. That’s not to say every horse should have psyllium. For those that benefit, though, it is a safe supplement.


Long-Term Devil’s Claw
I’m concerned about the long-term use of products that contain devil’s claw and white willow. I understand white willow has the potential to cause gastrointestinal ulcers, which combined with concerns about a relationship between devil’s claw and increased production of stomach acid, raises questions about the safety of products containing both ingredients.

Do you feel the benefits outweigh the risks’ Is there a buffer we can add to mitigate the chances of ulcer development, or an easy way to monitor the situation’

-JoAnne Foster

There are no reports of either devil’s claw or white willow causing gastric ulcers, either during ”therapeutic” use or experimentally induced. The precaution against devil’s claw stems from its general classification as a ”bitter.” Bitter substances are believed to stimulate digestion, by such mechanisms as the flow of saliva and digestive enzymes. However, devil’s claw is often used for the treatment of poor appetite and intestinal cramping and/or discomfort.

White willow contains the chemical salicin. Salicin is converted in the body to salicylic acid, which is aspirin. Aspirin, both plain and buffered, can cause gastric ulceration. However, when aspirin is given an enteric coating (a ”shell” that protects it from being broken down in the stomach), the incidence of ulcers drops sharply. This indicates that a large part of aspirin’s ability to produce gastric ulcers comes from a direct irritant effect on the stomach lining. No studies have been done to prove or disprove whether salicin has the same effect. Human users of white willow do have a reported lower incidence of digestive upset than with aspirin.

While it might be wise not to feed these products to a horse that has known gastric ulcers, fears of them causing a gastric ulceration are probably exaggerated. They are safer in this regard than drug alternatives of aspirin or any of the NSAIDs.

As for chronic use, if a human, or presumably a horse, is going to have gastrointestinal irritation from either herb, it usually shows up within the first few days to a week. There’s no clear connection between long-term use and increased risk. We also found no information about whether or not the combination of the two might be worse than either alone. However, it might be wise to watch the horse for symptoms that could indicate gastric ulceration, particularly any drop in his appetite.


Fractured Coffin Bone
I rescued a five-year-old Thoroughbred with a fractured coffin bone. He’s on bute and Isoxsuprine and wears therapeutic shoes. Should I feed GAGs’ Should I invest in magnetic boot’ Is it OK to use with a shoe’

-Erika Widener

GAGs won’t help a fracture per se and, if the fracture extended up into the coffin joint itself and resulted in an irregular joint surface, arthritis is probably inevitable from constant irritation and instability. GAGs can help tame inflammation, but you can’t expect them to fix the type of a situation you’ve described.

A static magnetic boot may help with pain, although horses vary in their responses. The shoe is not a problem. More reliable pain relief for an injury of this type would probably be obtained from pulsed electromagnetic therapy ( 800/722-1228), with the added advantage of possibly stimulating better bony healing.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Tennis Balls on Crossties.”
Click here to view ”Noteworthy.”

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