June "Ask Horse Journal" Letters

Posting On The Correct Diagonal; it’s not actually a rule for dressage.

My trainer says that dressage judges don’t care if you are posting on the wrong diagonal, but she doesn’t know why. We looked in the rule book under dressage, and we couldn?t find any mention there of diagonals. Do you know why judges don’t care if I post on the right or wrong diagonal in a test’

Associate Editor Margaret Freeman responds:
Because, at least as far as the USEF rules are concerned, there is no so-called ?right? or ?wrong? diagonal. You should post on the diagonal that most benefits your horse. Most of the time, of course, that’s the outside diagonal. The judge likely won?t notice which diagonal you’re on unless they see a problem with your horse’s trot, such as leaning, crookedness or even slight unlevel/uneven steps. The judge will then look for a possible cause.

If the rider is posting on the inside diagonal, rather than the more-usual outside diagonal, the judge may make a comment and also reduce the score for the rider?s use of aids at the bottom of the test sheet. The only place in the USEF dressage rules where posting is addressed concerns the Dressage Seat Equitation classes, where the rider is expected to post on the usual outside diagonal.

Posting started originally in Europe to ease strain on a horse that was trotting over long distances, with the rider switching from one diagonal to the other every few minutes. it’s now used in the horse show world to help a horse come through more evenly from behind and stay more upright in a small ring where there are lots of corners and curved lines. If the horse’s stride doesn’t come through as easily in one direction, then posting on the ?wrong? diagonal there might actually help the horse be more balanced and supple.

Is It Time For Retirement’

At what point do you decide a horse should be retired, from competition and from riding’ A friend rides a very old horse that I think should be retired. She just walks and slow trots him, and I admit he seems happy, but the whole scene is pathetic. He is ancient, he looks ancient, and I’m not convinced He’s 100-percent sound. Should I say anything to her’

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds:

There is no simple, once-size-fits-all answer to when a horse should be fully retired. And age isn?t always the decider.

You?ve actually asked three questions, and retirement from competition is the easiest to answer. When a horse is no longer sound enough or physically able to compete, he should be retired. For some horses, this means a gradual step down in levels; for others, it’s all at once.

Retirement from riding is a stickier question, and the guideposts I like to use are: 1) Is the horse physically able to keep on working, to keep doing some kind of job’ 2) Will he be happier working or happier lolling around a field with some friends’ Some horses really are workaholics and will fade fast ? physically and mentally ? if they’re not working.

Your friend?s old horse is likely not 100-percent sound at an old age, so the real question is, is he serviceably sound’ Is that hitch a painful problem that needs treatment, or is it something mechanical or arthritic that he warms out of’ If it’s the latter, and He’s happy tottering about, perhaps He’s not ready to do nothing but eat and sleep.

Your third question is the toughest: Should you tell her that you think she should stop riding her horse’ Some things to consider before deciding to chat include: Is she a close friend’ Does she listen well to advice and opinions’ Does her riding future look good without this horse’

If sHe’s good at taking advice, if she has a youngster coming along, or she is a close friend, then starting a dialogue with her ? kindly and gently ? may be the right call.

But if the answer to these questions is no, you should probably keep your concerns to yourself.

One way to start a conversation, though, would be to ask her what her future plans with this horse look like. Does she ever plan to no longer ride him’ What will she do when he passes away’ Place these questions in the context of your own future: ?Hey, Sally, I know your Pookie is pretty elderly, and I’m wondering how you?ve made the choices you have for his old age’ I know someday my Precious will be there, and I want to start planning. I know you still ride him, so what made you decide to do that’ When will you decide to stop riding him’?

you’ll be nudging your friend to think critically about her decisions for her oldster, without being confrontational or accusatory. She may get the hint.

When you?ve had a horse for many years, and experienced many special moments with him, and you see him every day, it’s often hard to see and to accept that he isn?t what he once was. But when put in a situation to view things from outside your normal perspective, sometimes you can achieve greater clarity about the reality of the situation. Good luck.

Safe Helmets

We were having a discussion the other day at our barn about helmets: Since a $50 and a $400 helmet are both approved, are they the same in protection value’ I contend a less-expensive helmet won?t withstand a major hit to a jump or fall as well as a $400 helmet. My friend says they should be equal because they are both approved.

Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Foley responds:

The truth is that we have no solid proof that one helmet is ?better? than another. When the SEI tests a manufacturer?s hemet against the standards set by the ASTM, they look to see that the helmet meets those specifications. If it exceeds them, that’s fine, too, but they don’t document that.

Of course, like everyone, we’d purchase ?the safest? helmet out there if we could, and many of the pricey-helmet manufacturers claim they’re safer for one reason or another, but until they can show us an unbiased, third-party verification of that fact, we’re just not buying it.

Flaxseed Quantity

I feed my 1,100-lb. horse 1/4 cup of flaxseed a day. He is out on pasture 24/7. Is it OK to use whole flaxseed instead of the oil’ Also is the quantity correct for this size horse’

Veterinary Editor Eleanor Kellon VMD responds:

Yes, whole flaxseed is fine, although it’s probably easier for the horse to digest and extract the oils if you grind it right before feeding. A table-top coffee grinder is good for this (do this daily, not a big batch at once). Be sure to wipe dry the interior and blades clean of oils after each use.

When your horse is on green pasture, you don’t need to supplement with flax. Start when the grass goes brown/dormant. A 1/4 cup (2 oz.) is minimum, while 4 to 8 oz. is closer to what good pasture provides.

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