Problems with Shoeing Horses


What is shoeing?

A horseshoe is a U-shaped metal protective covering which is applied to the bottom of a horse’s hoof. The process by which the shoe is fitted to the horse’s hoof is known as horseshoeing. Shoes are used to help promote healthy, functional feet and to prevent lameness. There are various types of horseshoe available on the market. A hoof care specialist, known as farrier, can be consulted for expert knowledge on hooves and shoeing.

Anatomy of a hoof

The most distal part of the horse’s limb is covered and protected by a hoof. The hoof wall is about 6-12 cm thick and is formed by a highly modified keratinised epithelial layer. The junction between the common dermis of the skin and the hoof is called the coronet. The hoof has four main parts: the wall, the sole, the frog, and the periople.

        The wall is the part of the hoof that is visible whilst the animal is standing. This part of the hoof has three distinct layers: the outer layer (pigmented layer), the water line, and the white line.
    The outer layer is the larger part of the wall, and has a high amount of tubules. This layer is the same colour as the cornet. It protects the hoof. The water line is made up of living tissue, and is thicker than the outer layer. This layer is sensitive and functions to support the hoof. The white line is the junction between the sole and the wall of the hoof. It is a soft, fibrous structure. Normally it is white however it can sometimes become yellowish in colour. The wall is an essential structure to understand when fitting horseshoes.

        The sole lies between the wall and the frog on the underside of the hoof. It is a slightly concave structure and its surface has a distinct texture. The function of the sole is to protect the sensitive structures within the hoof.

        The frog is a pad-like wedge-shaped structure. It projects into the sole from behind. The frog is separated from the bars and the sole by deep grooves. It has a central groove in the midline that extends up to the bulbs. Its main functions are to help absorb shock and to act as a gripping tool for horses.

        The periople contributes to the stratum externum of the wall. It is a soft tissue band, very similar to a human’s cuticle.

The steps of horseshoeing

Before you start shoeing, it is important to prepare and clean your horse’s hoof. First, lift the hoof to allow for easy observation. In order to do this, run your hand down the horse’s leg and gently grasp the ankle or fetlock. This will help to allow you to lift your horse’s hoof easily. If your horse is already wearing a shoe, remove this before re-shoeing. Make sure to thoroughly clean the hoof. Mud and other dirty particles can often compact to the bottom of the hoof, and it is important to make sure to remove these things using a hoof pick before you begin shoeing. You should also remove any loose excess flakes from the sole using a hoof knife. Make sure not to trim deep into the sensitive layers of the horse’s hoof. After you have trimmed the hoof properly, you should remove any excess hoof wall with the help of some hoof nippers. In doing so, it is important to ensure that both sides of the hoof are the same length. The final thing to do before shoeing is to level the uneven surface of the sole using a rasp. This should ensure that the bottom of the hoof is smooth and flat.

           After you have carried out the above procedure, you are ready to start shoeing your horse. Horses’ hooves vary according to their age and breed. The hind limb hooves and front limb hooves are different in size, so it is important to take care when selecting shoe sizes! If shoes do not fit properly to your horse’s hooves, it is often possible to make some adjustments. You can choose the proper method of adjustment depending on the material of the shoe,. If it is a metal shoe, for instance, you can heat the shoe to adjust it. Try to fit the shoe with a hoof during the adjustment process. If you identify wall areas that are preventing the shoe from fitting properly, you can level out the hoof using a rasp. A shoe will leave a mark on the unwanted part of the hoof, and this can help you to easily identify those uneven parts. After fitting, cool the horse’s hoof to start the nailing process.

          Next, drive a nail through each of the the holes in the shoe. This will help to fix the shoe tightly to the hoof. Nails should be carefully fixed into the white line, away from the sensitive part of the hoof. To ensure this, use slightly curved nails, which should drive through the wall. You can then bend the tip of the nail using the claw end of your hammer. Use clinchers and a rasp to smooth the hoof. Doing so will help to reduce any cracking.

Common problems with shoeing

Nail prick

Sometimes horseshoe nails can penetrate the sensitive hoof structures (eg. the sensitive laminae). This is known as a nail prick. A nail prick can cause an increase in pressure within the hoof, forming bleeding points inside it. This is a harrowing condition, and horses with thin hoof walls and poor hoof quality sadly have a strong predisposition to nail pricks, particularly because shoeing these horses can be such an intricate task.
         There are many possible causes of a nail prick. Misdirected nails, poorly placed nail holes, poorly made shoes, and either a too-large or a faulty nail are among these causes. A nail prick often leads to lameness in horses. If the nail penetrates the sensitive area of the hoof, the hoof will initially rise in temperature. After 5 or 6 days, the animal will display signs of tenderness in the feet.

Solar bruising

Solar bruising can be either focal or general. Injury to the sensitive structures of the hoof cause tiny blood vessels in the sole to be damaged, causing a haemorrhage. If this is not treated quickly it may lead to the formation of a hematoma. This hematoma will place pressure on sensitive tissues, leading to lameness. Depending on the degree and severity of the injury, lameness can either be acute or chronic. Abnormal focal weight bearing on the solar surface of the hoof, improper shoeing, excessive work on hard ground, treading on stone, and excessive wall trimming are the main causes for solar bruising. It is important to determine the exact cause of the bruise in order to provide proper treatment.


Thrush is an infection of the central and lateral sulcus of the frog, caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This is characterised by the accumulation of malodorous, black necrotic materials. Fusobactriuem  necrophorum is the main bacteria involved in thrush. Degenerative changes due to thrush can spread into the deeper structures of the hoof. Poor environmental conditions such as wet pastures, swampy or muddy land, injuries due to shoeing, uncleaned feet, poor hoof conformation, and poor horseshoeing are all predisposing factors for thrush.

Sheared Heel

Imbalance and asymmetry of the feet are the clinical outcomes of sheared heels in horses. If the weight of the horse is not correctly distributed over the hoof, this will lead to a sheared heel. Sheared heels lead to lameness, quarter cracks, thrush, and bruising. It is therefore important to treat this condition quickly and help the horse to recover before the condition has a chance to progress and worsen.

Hoof wall separation

If an opening occurs in the white line, this may lead to a fungal or bacterial infection occurring in the hoof. An infection can lead to cavities developing within the outer hoof wall and laminae, causing the hoof wall to separate from the hoof. Improper nailing during shoeing and drought conditions lead to cracks and open formations in the white line.

How to prevent these issues

It is always advisable to seek advice from a qualified and well-trained farrier before shoeing, as a good knowledge of shoeing technique will help to prevent the injuries mentioned in this article. Regularly trimming your horse’s hooves is also essential to maintain good hoof health. You should always remove any collected debris in the feet and clean the hooves carefully before starting exercises. You may also wish to use protective hoof pads to cover the entire sole of the horse’s foot. This will help to protect the hoof and reduce any risk to the animal.


The horseshoe is an important piece of equipment that protects the hoof, particularly when horses are working on hard surfaces. There are various types of horseshoes available, and you can choose the appropriate type according to your horse’s particular requirements. If you do not have professional shoeing skills, it is advisable to seek assistance from a well-trained farrier. It is extremely important to fit your horse’s shoes properly, as proper shoeing will help your horse to achieve maximum performance.

Equine Anatomy


The importance of understanding equine physiology

Physiology is the scientific study of the mechanisms of living things. Physiology reveals how cells, tissues, organs, and systems help to maintain normal bodily functions in healthy animals, as well as examining how an animal responds to changes in its environment.  A physiologist is an expert in physiology. Changes to normal physiology imply that disease is present in the animal. A good knowledge of physiology, therefore, can help an owner to maintain their animal’s health.

The horse is an athletic animal, which means that it is ever more crucial to understand equine physiology. A physiologist can help to increase your horse’s athletic performance, prevent injuries and identify problems in their early stages. Doing so can prevent injuries from becoming severe and can increase the strength of the animal. This can be of great economic value to the owner of a sporting horse! Physiological analysis can also be a helpful factor in assessing new horses before buying them. Following the advice of a physiologist, a horse owner can ensure that they choose and purchase an animal that is healthy and strong.

Basic equine anatomy

Anatomy is the scientific study of the body structure of a healthy animal. Anatomy can be subdivided into gross anatomy and microscopic anatomy. Gross anatomy is the study of healthy structures in the body which can be seen using the naked eye, whilst microscopic anatomy is the study of healthy body structures that cannot be seen with the naked eye and require the use of microscopes. In basic anatomical terms, the horse’s body is made up of skin, the musculoskeletal system, the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the lymphatic system, the endocrine system, and the urinary system.


Skin is the largest organ in the horse, made up of haired areas, non-haired areas, pigmented areas, and non pigmented areas. The skin is divided into three layers.

ï Epidermis
ï Dermis
ï Hypodermis

The epidermis is the outermost layer of the horse’s skin. It is a keratinised stratified squamous epithelium. ‘Stratified’ implies that there is more than one cell layer. The outer cell layers are keratinised. Keratin is a protein which is an essential part of the epithelial cells in the epidermis. Keratin helps the skin cells form a barrier and forms the outermost layer of the skin. The only living layer of the skin is the basal layer, which lies on the basal membrane. The basal layer continuously forms new cells, and these cells replace those cells which are sloughed off due to friction and physical damages in the outermost layers. The epidermis acts as a barrier and prevents pathogens entering into the body.

The dermis lies directly under the epidermis, and is divided into the papillary and the reticular layers. The papillary layer is located directly under the epidermis. The dermis is a connective tissue layer consisting of blood vessels, nerve endings, hair follicles, glands, collagen fibres, and elastic fibres. The blood vessels in the dermis have a thermoregulatory function. The thickness of the dermis differs by body region and horse breed.

The hypodermis is located at the very bottom of the skin, and is a loose connective tissue storing a large amount of adipose tissue. The hypodermis is absent in the lips, cheeks, and eyelids of the horse.

A Horse’s Skeleton

The horse’s skeleton consists of two parts.

  1. The Axial skeleton
  2. The Appendicular skeleton

The axial skeleton of the horse is made up of the skull, vertebral column, sternum, and ribs.

The skull is formed of connecting skull bones called the frontal bone, parietal bone, interparietal bone, temporal bone, ethmoid bone, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, incisive bone, palatine bone, pterygoid bone, mandible, and the maxilla.

The vertebral column of the horse consists of 7 cervical, 18 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 5 sacral, and about 20 caudal vertebrae.

The sternum is formed from the interconnecting of sternebrae. Ribs are connected to the sternum via cartilage.

Two forelimbs and two hindlimbs form the appendicular skeleton of the horse. A horse’s limbs are highly adapted for fast running, and the horse can make long strides via the straightening and lengthening of its limbs.

The skeleton of the forelimbs contain the scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, carpal bones, metacarpal bones, phalanges, and sesamoid bones. The scapula connects the forelimb to the axial skeleton. The humerus connects with the scapula, forming the shoulder joint. The radius and ulna form the antebrachial skeleton. The radius supports the humerus to form the elbow joint. The ulna is fused with the radius, but this fusion is interrupted at an interosseous space.
             There are eight carpal bones arranged in two rows, 4 bones per row. The radial carpal bone, the intermediate carpal bone, the ulnar carpal bone, and the accessory carpal bone located in the proximal row from medial to lateral. There are four carpal bones in the distal row arranged from medial to lateral.
          There are also 3 metacarpal bones, called metacarpal 2,3 and 4. Metacarpals 1 and 5 have disappeared over time whilst metacarpals 2 and 4 have significantly reduced in size. These are called splint bones. Metacarpal 3 is the prominent metacarpal bone in a horse, and  is called the cannon bone. It is well adapted to carry weight.
     The horse has three phalanges called the proximal, middle, and distal phalanges. There are two sesamoid bones called the proximal sesamoid bone and the distal sesamoid bone. The distal sesamoid bone is also called the navicular bone.

The skeleton of the pelvic limb/hind limb of a horse contains the pelvic girdle, femur, tibia, fibula, tarsal bones, metatarsal bones, phalanges, and sesamoid bones. The pelvic girdle connects the hind limb to the axial skeleton.
     The pelvic girdle is formed by connecting three bones; the ilium, the ischium, and the pubis. The femur connects with the pelvic girdle, forming the hip joint. The hip joint of the horse is well adapted to weight-bearing. The tibia connects with the femur and forms the knee joint. The fibula articulates with the lateral condyle of the tibia.
     There are six tarsal bones; the talus, the calcaneus, the central tarsal bone, and the three distal tarsal bones. Metatarsal bones, phalanges, and sesamoid bones are similar to their corresponding bones in the forelimb.

The nervous system

The nervous system of the horse is anatomically divided into two parts.

  1. The central nervous system
  2. The peripheral nervous system

The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord. The CNS integrates information received and coordinates the activity of all parts of the body. The brain is protected by a bony structure called the skull, and the spinal cord is similarly protected by a bony structures called vertebrae.

The horse’s brain weighs between 400 and 700 grams; compared to its body weight, this constitutes a ratio of 1:800. (For reference, the brain to body weight ratio of a dog is about 1:100. It is fair to say, therefore, that the horse has a relatively small brain (Dyce, Sack, & Wensing, 1987).

There are no connective tissues in either the brain or the spinal cord. Both the spinal cord and the brain are anatomically divided into white matter and grey matter. The white matter contains myelinated axons and oligodendrocytes. The grey matter contains neuronal cell bodies, dendrites, glial cells, and initial unmyelinated axons’ portions.
           In the brain, peripherally located grey matter is called the cerebral cortex, whilst the inner white matter area is called the medulla.

In the spinal cord, peripheral white matter and central grey matter form an “H” shaped area. The central canal is located in the middle of the “H” area, and is lined by ependymal cells. Sensory fibre from the spinal ganglia enters through the dorsal horns of the “H” shaped area, and motor neurons spread from the ventral horns of this area.

Meninges are connective tissues that cover the brain and spinal tissue to protect them.  There are three types of meninges.

  1. Dura mater
  2. Arachnoid
  3. Pia mater

The dura mater is a dense connective tissue layer located externally. The arachnoid has two parts; the layer which contacts the dura mater and the trabeculae system that connects it to the pia mater. There are cavities between the trabeculae which form the subarachnoid space, and are filled by cerebrospinal fluid. Arachnoid villi penetrate the dura mater, where they absorb cerebrospinal fluid into venous sinuses. The pia mater is a loose connective tissue which travels between the brain and the spinal cord.

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) transmits signals between the central nervous system and all the other parts of the body. The main components of the peripheral nervous system are cranial nerves, spinal nerves, ganglia, and nerve endings. The PNS has two divisions.

  1. Sensory division/Afferent division
                 This division is composed of sensory neurons and conveys information from the sensory receptors to the central nervous system.
  1. Motor division/Efferent division
                The motor division carries signals from the central nervous system to muscles, glands, and other tissues. The motor division can be divided into the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system innervates skeletal muscle cells and leads to muscle cell excitation. The somatic nervous system consists of a single neuron between the central nervous system and skeletal muscle cells.
          The autonomic nervous system can be either excitatory or inhibitory. Nerves in the autonomic nervous system innervate smooth and cardiac muscle, glands, gastrointestinal neurons but not skeletal muscle cells. The autonomic nervous system encompasses two neurons connected by a synapse between the central nervous system and the effector organ. The preganglionic neuron is the first of these neurons; passing between the central nervous system and the ganglia. The cell body of the preganglionic neuron is located in the central nervous system. The postganglionic neuron is the second of these neurons which passes between the ganglia and the effector cells.

There are two divisions in the autonomic nervous system.

  1. Sympathetic division/Thoracolumbar division

                 The neurons of the sympathetic division are attached to the thoracic and lumbar regions in the spinal cord. This division prepares the body for fight or flight responses.

  1. Parasympathetic division/Craniosacral division
                     Neurons of this parasympathetic division are attached to the brainstem and the sacral portion of the spinal cord. This division controls the body’s processes during normal situations such as digestive responses.

The autonomic nervous system controls the internal body processes such as blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, body temperature, digestion, metabolism, urination, defecation, sexual responses, production of body fluids, water, and electrolyte balance.

The cardiovascular system (CVS)

The cardiovascular system consists of 3 components.

  1. The pump (Heart)
  2. The circulatory fluid (Blood and lymph)
  3. The circulatory system (arteries, arterioles, veins, venules, capillaries)

The CVS is the body’s transport system. It distributes oxygen from the lungs to cells and tissues, removes carbon dioxide from cells and tissues, distributes nutrients that are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, removes metabolic by-products in cells and tissues, and transports hormones from their origin sites to their target locations. The ultimate role of the cardiovascular system is to maintain homeostasis throughout the body.

The weight of the heart depends on the horse’s breed and the amount of training it has had.

The heart is located in the thoracic cavity within the mediastinum between the left and right pleural cavities and is protected by the ribs from about the third to the sixth intercostal spaces. The dorsal aspect is horizontally in line with the middle of the first rib, and the ventral aspect is located on the sternum. The long axis of the cardiac silhouette is oriented vertically in the horse (Reece, Erickson, Goff, & Uemura, 2015).

The base is the dorsal part of the heart, and the major blood vessels enter and leave from this section. These major blood vessels tend to hold the heart in a fixed position, though the ventral side of the heart is relatively free within the pericardial sac.

The cardiovascular system has two circulations.

  1. Pulmonary circulation
              Pulmonary circulation carries deoxygenated blood to the lungs to remove carbon dioxide from the blood and absorb oxygen. Pulmonary circulation starts from the right ventricle, where deoxygenated blood is transported to the lungs via the pulmonary artery. Deoxygenated blood is converted into oxygenated blood in the lungs and flows back to the left atrium via the pulmonary veins.
  1. Systemic circulation
               Systemic circulation distributes oxygenated blood in the left ventricle to the whole body through the aorta and carries deoxygenated blood to the right atrium via the cranial and caudal vena cava.

The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is a subsystem of both the circulatory system and the immune system. This provides a drainage function, removing excess fluid within tissues and returning it into the bloodstream. Nutrients leave the arterial end of the capillary bed, while tissue fluid containing metabolic waste reabsorbs back in at the venous end. Not all of the fluid is drawn back into the bloodstream, however. If this fluid is allowed to accumulate in the body, it will lead to the forming of an edema. This is where the lymphatic system comes in to play. It picks up this excess fluid and returns it to the circulatory system via lymphatic vessels. Whilst the circulatory system is a closed loop, the lymphatic system travels in one direction and is open-ended.

The lymphatic system also assists the absorption of dietary fat from the intestine. The lymphatic system has an immune function. The lymph vessels are connected to lymph nodes, and lymph is filtered within lymph nodes before reaching the bloodstream. Lymph nodes contain macrophages, dendritic cells, and lymphocytes. These cells destroy the pathogens in the circulatory lymph. Lymphocytes produce antibodies which enter into the bloodstream. These are immunoglobulins that can destroy specific antigens.

The lymphatic system is made up of lymphoid organs. There are two types of lymphoid organs.

  1. Primary lymphoid organs. EX Thymus and Bone marrow
             (Lymphocyte production, maturation, and selection occur in the primary lymphoid organs.)
  1. Secondary lymphoid organs. EX Lymph nodes, spleen
            (Matured lymphocytes enter into the secondary lymphoid organs, and these lymphocytes react with pathogens while the lymph is being filtered.)

The gastrointestinal system

The horse’s gastrointestinal system comprises the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, intestines, and other associated structures such as the liver, pancreas, and salivary glands.

The horse is quite distinct when it comes to feeding behaviour. Horses use both lips to collect feed and introduce it into their mouth.  Therefore both of a horse’s lips are sensitive and mobile. A hairy integument extends across the upper lip of the horse.

The oesophagus is a narrow tube-like structure that runs between the pharynx and the stomach which carries food between these two organs. The stomach lies between the oesophagus and the small intestine, entirely within the rib cage, mostly to the left of the median plane. The stomach is the most dilated part of the digestive tract and has a capacity of 5-15 litres. When moderately filled, the stomach lies opposite the 9th to the 14th intercostal spaces. The stomach divides into cardia, fundus, body, and pylorus. The fundus region of the horse’s stomach is known as the blind sac (Saccus cecus). The horse has both glandular and non-glandular regions in its stomach. The margo plicatus is a boundary that lies between two regions.
      The non-glandular part of the stomach is located towards the blind sac and the body lies near the lesser curvature. The glandular part of the stomach is located in the rest of the body and the pyloric part. Feed enters into the stomach via cardia, and once digested then enters into the duodenum through the pylorus opening.

The intestinal tract of the horse is divided into small and large intestines. The small intestine has three parts.

  1. Duodenum – 1m long
  2. Jejunum – 25m long
  3. Ileum – 50cm long

The large intestine also has three parts.

  1. Cecum
  2. Colon
  3. Rectum

As hindgut fermenters, horses have an expanded cecum.  This is about 1m long and has a capacity of 35 litres. Microbial fermentation occurs in the cecum. The cecum is made up of three parts: the base, the body, and the apex. The colon has ascending, transverse, and descending parts. The rectum is the terminal part of the large intestine. This is about 30cm long.

The pancreas opens with its pancreatic duct on the major duodenal papilla. The accessory pancreatic duct opens on the minor duodenal papilla. The pancreas has both exocrine and endocrine functions.
     The exocrine function of the pancreas is the production of digestive juice, which is released into the proximal duodenum. The endocrine part of the pancreas comprises of the pancreatic islets, which produce insulin and glucagon.

The horse’s liver is asymmetrical, and the bulk of the organ is displaced to the right. The most distinctive aspect of a horse’s liver is the absence of a gallbladder. Liver cells produce bile, and this bile enters into the duodenum via the bile duct, through the major duodenal papilla.

The endocrine system

The endocrine system releases hormones directly into to the circulation of the body. These hormones are then transported to their target sites through the bloodstream. The pituitary gland, pineal gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, and adrenal glands are the main endocrine glands in horses.

The pituitary gland has two parts.

  1. The Adenohypophysis
                Adenohypophysis produces growth hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and prolactin.
  1. The Neurohypophysis
                The neurohypophysis does not produce hormones, rather, it stores and eventually releases the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.

The pineal gland produces melatonin. It assists in the maintenance of an animal’s biological clock. The thyroid gland of the horse lies on the trachea, and paired lobes are widely dissociated but connected by an insubstantial isthmus.
    The thyroid gland produces thyroxin. Thyroxin is mainly involved in the metabolism and growth of the animal. The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone. This regulates calcium metabolism.

The entire body structure and its functions are absolutely amazing and can be very interesting to study. It can be fascinating to see how the body’s normal structure is formed to allow optimal functionality!


Dyce, K. M., Sack, W. O., & Wensing, C. J. (1987). TEXTBOOK OF VETERINARY ANATOMY (Fourth Edition ed.). 3251 Riverport Lane: SAUNDERS ELSEVIER.

Reece, W. O., Erickson, H. H., Goff, J. P., & Uemura, E. E. (2015). Dukes’s Physiology of Domestic Animals. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Horse diet: What should horses eat?

Horse Grazing

What should horses eat?

The importance of a healthy diet

Horses are non-ruminant herbivores, as well as hindgut fermenters. Compared with its body size, the horse has a relatively small stomach. Normally, the capacity of a horse’s stomach is 5 to 15L. A balanced and healthy diet is the foundation of a horse’s health. A healthy diet is considered to be a combination of all six major classes of nutrients: water, fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals. The amount of nutrients required varies from horse to horse and changes according to the life stage of the horse, its breed, weight, and workload. It is important for a horse to maintain a steady weight. If this increases or decreases too drastically it can badly affect your horse’s health.

It is important to adapt a horse’s diet according to its requirements. This helps to control any harmful effects and aid the horse in maintaining a normal and healthy condition. The nutritional requirements of a horse varies according to age. Young horses, for instance, require a high amount of protein and energy. When pregnant or lactating, mares require an increased amount of nutrients.

As horse owners, we all want our horses to be healthy and high-performing. A balanced diet plays a significant role in this. A balanced and nutritional diet is extremely beneficial to a horse, helping it to maintain a healthy weight. It is also essential to give the animal the proper amount of feed. Various diseases, such as laminitis, can occur in animals which are overweight.

A healthy diet helps to ensure strong bones and teeth. Consuming the correct amount of calcium phosphorus is essential for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth. Giving your horse a balanced and healthy diet with allow it to be more energised and to perform to the best of its ability. Providing clean forage at floor level can also help the animal maintain good respiratory health.

A healthy diet helps with the maintenance of hair, increases muscle mass, increases milk production in lactating mares, maintains electrolytic balances, and prevents dehydration. Horses with a good diet are also likely to have a higher ability to fight off illness and to recover from illness or injuries.

What do horses like to eat?

An adult horse typically requires dry feed amounting to 2- 2.5% of its body weight each day, with the large majority of this made up of roughages. Horses also eat fruits, vegetables, concentrate, supplements, salt, and treats.

Grass: This makes up the significant part of a horse’s diet and is the animal’s natural feed. Horses enjoy the pleasant chewing sensation and the smooth texture of grass. Grasses contribute to the maintenance of a healthy digestive system. You should always make sure to provide clean pasture without anything toxic mixed in. Recommended grasses for horses’ grazing include rhodes grass, crested dog’s tail, cocksfoot, brown-top, prairie grass, and red grass.

Legumes: Legumes contain more digestible energy and crude protein than grasses. Legumes can be planted alongside grasses to increase the nutritional value of forages. Lactating mares and performing horses need more energy than other horses do, it is advisable to provide a mixture of legumes and grasses for these animals. These should be avoided, however, when feeding overweight horses. Alfalfa and clover are commonly grown legumes that are good to include in a horse’s diet.

Hay: Hay is a form of processed forage made by cutting grass and turning it in the ground to dry it out either under sunlight or mechanically. Grass is harvested before it flowers in order to produce hay. Hay is a preservative method of forages; if there is no fresh forage available, for example in cooler months, hay can be used to to fulfil a horse’s nutritional requirements. It is important to make sure your hay is of good quality and that there are no toxic plants mixed in. Hay containing legumes is more nutritious than plain grass hay.

Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are good examples of low-fat treats for horses which improve the moisture content of their feed. It is important to wash, clean, and cut fruits and vegetables before feeding them to your animal. Carrots, apples, bananas, apricots, beetroot, cucumber, celery, blackberries, peaches, and oranges are all suitable for horses. Some fruits and vegetables, however, can be poisonous to horses. Make sure to avoid these toxic fruits and vegetables, which include avocados, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Concentrate: Concentrate is often used to improve the nutritional value of horse feed. This is a hard feed made up of grains and cereals. Concentrates have higher energy than forages. It can useful to feed this to horses who have high energy requirements. Make sure to add the correct amount of ingredients while processing and mixing. Oats, barley, and maize are good examples of concentrate. Crushing and boiling the raw ingredients before feeding helps to improve the digestibility of the concentrate.

Supplements: supplements are used to add extra vitamins and minerals to a horse’s diet. If your horse eats hay, it can be very beneficial to add a supplement to ensure its nutritional requirements are met. An excessively high dose of supplements can cause the development of toxic conditions, so it is important to measure an exact amount of these. Good supplements can improve the quality of a horse’s skin, hooves, bones and muscles, can strengthen the immune system, the function of the nervous system, and can help maintain and repair cells.

Salt: A horse’s average salt requirement is 1-2 tablespoons per day. Horses love to eat salt in the summer months, and consume this either from a salt lick block or from loose salt in a bucket. If your horse is not consuming the correct amount of salt using these methods, you should add salt into their diet.

Treats: Horses love treats. Plenty of horse treats are readily available at your local supermarket, in particular fruits and vegetables which are great treats for horses! Apples and carrots tend to be a favourite. Before choosing commercial treats, carefully consider the ingredients as some contain high sugar content and can be full of additives which are not beneficial to a horse’s health.

Water: A horse requires an adequate amount of freshwater in addition to its feed. Water is one of the most important requirements to keep a horse in good health. If your horse does not consume a sufficient amount of water, it will show signs of dehydration, decreased feed intake, reduced physical activities, and dry mucous membranes. It is therefore important to supply easily reachable water sources to the horse throughout the day. The water level should always be kept high as horses do not like to drink water from sources where the levels are low. Horses also do not like to drink water that is too hot or too cold. They prefer to drink water at 25 0C. There is therefore a huge responsibility for those in charge of farm management to maintain a comfortable and controlled zone for horses to live in.

Essential tips for horse health

*Supply plenty of fresh, clean water throughout the day.

*Horses should be fed with plenty of forage, and stabled horses should be provided with higher amounts of forage than concentrate.

*Give the horse a balanced diet. This will help to prevent laminitis and other conditions caused by the horse becoming overweight.

*Make sure not to include any toxic plants, vegetables, and fruits in your horse’s diet.

*Rapid changes in diet can be harmful and should be avoided. If you need to change your horse’s diet, this should be done gradually.

*Take into consideration any special requirements your horse may have, particularly pregnant and lactating mares and ageing horses.

*B Vitamins can help to reduce a horse’s stress.

*Vitamin E helps horses to recover from diseases.

*Ensuring a horse’s food has a pleasant odour and a soft texture can help increase the palatability of feed and increase a horse’s feed intake.

How should a horse be fed?

First, calculate the horse’s nutrient requirements according to its special needs. It can be very helpful to check this with a veterinarian. First and foremost, ensure that you give the horse fresh, clean water before feeding. Then provide the horse with an adequate amount of roughages (good quality forages and hay). These are a horse’s primary source of feed, and horses will eat a large amount of these.
Give a measured portion of concentrate (according to the horse’s specific requirements) throughout the day. The amount of concentrate consumed by the animal per day should be significantly lower than the amount of roughages it consumes. Make sure to supply the correct amount of supplement alongside feed. Giving the horse special treats will help to build the bond between you and your horse. Avoid feeding your horse immediately before or after exercises.

If the feed you provide is unpleasant to the horse, or if it is provided in an insufficient amount, the horse may refuse to eat.  Ultimately this will result in malnutrition and weight loss. Animals prefer to eat highly palatable, tasty feed. Providing an excess of feed, on the other hand, can result in a horse becoming overweight.

Concurrent infections are more common in horses suffering from malnutrition as this can result in reduced immunity. Overweight animals, on the other hand, cannot bear their own weight. Extra force is exerted on their joints, which, with time, will likely lead to osteoarthritis. This can result in severe pain to the horse while walking and riding. Laminitis is another condition that occurs in overweight horses. For all these reasons, it is essential to manage a horse’s nutrition well.

Avoiding horse poisoning.

Some foods are toxic to horses and can be harmful even in small portions. Keep your horse from toxic feed such as chocolate, caffeine, tomatoes, avocados, garlic, onions, potatoes, meat, bread products, cabbage, broccoli, dairy products, ragwort, acorns, and lawn clippings

Introduction to Long and Short Strides

Fix Yourself To Help Your Horse

As a horse rider, it is important to have a good understanding of strides, their lengths, and how to measure them.
        Stride length is a measurement made between two neighbouring successive steps or jumps made by the same leg. This length is usually measured in feet or metres.

Before any equestrian event, it is important to have a good idea of your horse’s stride length. It is also very important to have the ability to shorten or lengthen strides whenever required. Most equestrian events are designed according to a standard stride length. There is generally a 57 – 60 foot distance between two obstacles. If you are jumping an oxer of up to 3 feet, there should be 57 feet between obstacles; if you are jumping 3 feet or more, there should be 60 feet between obstacles. 12 feet is considered to be a standard stride length which means the the horse will have four strides between two obstacles.
       Before starting an equestrian event, you should check whether your horse does indeed take four strides between two obstacles. If your horse takes 3 or 5 strides, the rider should work to adjust the horse’s strides to the standard length. This will improve the horse’s performance, and will help to build a better relationship between rider and horse. If the rider is able to lengthen and shorten the horse’s stride at will, the horse will be able to balance well whilst being ridden. This will allow adjustments to be made with the rider in the saddle without stopping the horse or even changing from one gait to another. When increasing stride length, the front legs should stretch more towards the front, whilst the hind legs stretch more towards the back of the horse. The ultimate result will be that the horse covers more ground in the same number of strides.

Short stride is a common effect of hind limb lameness. Neurological problems can also cause short stride in horses. Identifying a short stride is simple, however identifying lameness is more difficult. To help diagnose lameness, eliminate pain, and reduce the spread of inflammation it can be very helpful to engage the assistance of a professional. It is also vital to seek professional knowledge about how to treat lameness in your horse, and how to properly manage horses which are suffering from lameness.

Horses sometimes develop short stride as a result of practising in small, indoor areas. If this is the case, try selecting a better arena with a better floor for your horse.

Normal stride length and movement

12 feet is considered to be a standard stride length. Modern riders place huge effort into achieving standard stride with their horses. It is important to remember, however, that “driving” the horse forward is not an acceptable method. As a horse rider, you must “allow” the horse to move forward keeping your body in a position vertical to the horse’s back.  Achieving longer strides without losing the horse’s balance is important. For this to happen, the horse must relax its topline musculature, so it can be very helpful for the rider to allow the horse a free ride.

Diagnosing issues

First, it is important to know the causes of short stride in order to be able to diagnose any issues. As mentioned previously, lameness is the main cause of short stride, however false riding can be another cause of this.

Let’s discuss how to diagnose this issue. First, find an outdoor arena with a good amount of space and a good surface to allow for clear footing. Warm the horse up before starting a walk and observe the horse while it is walking. If the horse appears unwilling to walk and shows abnormal behaviours while walking, it is usually safe to assume that lameness is the problem. If there are no abnormal walking behaviours but the horse’s strides are short, work on lengthening the stride. Remember, over-lengthening of the horse’s stride can also be a problem.

Place two obstacles at a 57 to 60 feet distance from one another and then canter or trot. Count the horse’s strides. If your horse makes three strides for a distance of 60 feet, your horse’s strides are lengthened; if your horse makes five strides, your horse’s strides are shortened. Both lengthened and shortened stride can reflect badly on riders who participate in equestrian events.

In modern dressage, most riders say that it is easier to lengthen a canter than a trot. Select an outdoor area with a good terrain and mark two points on a straight line with 60 feet between them. Say “Go!” loudly when you pass the first point and say “Stop!” when you pass the second point. Continue riding until the number of strides becomes consistent. Your target is to make four strides between these two points. Remember that it is important to maintain the rhythm and tempo of the canter.

Measuring the length of a horse’s stride can be very useful. A standard stride length is 12 feet. There are two basic methods used to measure a horse’s stride length.

  1. The intuitive method

We have already discussed this method in different ways. You will need a vertical, an oxer, and a measuring tape. If your horse jumps less than 3 feet,  place the two obstacles with 57 feet between them, or if the horse jumps 3 feet or more than then place the obstacles 60 feet apart. Start your workout and count each stride loudly.

  1. The mechanical method

For this method you will need a rake, a clear and unmarked arena, and a measuring tape. First, rake the floor to make a clean riding path. Warm your horse up and then allow it to canter along this path. Allow the horse to make several cantering movements. Finally, you can find the length of your horse’s strides by measuring the spaces between the hoof marks with a measuring tape.


Shortened strides are quite common, so it is often necessary to lengthen your horse’s stride to a standard level. Here are some golden tips for improving your horse’s stride:

First and foremost, be aware that a horse is an animal just like you. They feel love, and they can sense kindness, anger and sadness. Stay calm while you are riding. Many riders become angry when their horse is not making the desired strides, and this can be extremely counterproductive. Be calm and kind-hearted to your animal. Then start performing lengthening activities. Place vertices at various heights and allow the horse to jump over them. Maintain a good rhythm of movement. This will boost your horse’s confidence, and will passively increase stride length. When measuring stride length, count out loud. This will help familiarise the animal with your voice and will help it to maintain a good rhythm.

Muscle Imbalance and Spasm in Horses


Introduction to muscle imbalance and spasm

The muscles of a horse’s body hold the backbone and limbs together in the correct position. Properly functioning, healthy muscles, therefore, are responsible for balanced posture and movements. Muscle imbalance is a common issue that affects the wellbeing of a horse. This causes deviation in posture and leads to sub-luxation of the skeletal joints, limiting joint movements.

It is important for the size and strength of the muscles on each side of the body to be symmetrical. If a muscle or group of muscles on one side of the body becomes weaker, stronger, looser, tighter, larger, or smaller than the corresponding muscle or muscles on the other side, this will cause muscle imbalance.

Muscle imbalance does not occur suddenly. It is a condition which often results from carrying out unbalanced exercises, exercising with improper form or bad posture, carrying out several daily life activities, and in very rare cases is congenital. Injuries, poor nutrition, and neurologic issues can also muscle imbalance in horses.

Muscle imbalance can lead to an unbalanced appearance, pain for the horse, limited movements, and instability. It also leads to an increased risk of injury to muscle, bone, joints, tendons and ligaments. Fatigue is the main cause of sports injuries in horses. This occurs when the horse moves in an unbalanced posture. Ensuring that muscles are balanced can relieve fatigue and prevent injuries.

Muscle spasm is a painful condition where a muscle or group of muscles contracts forcefully and involuntarily. When this condition occurs, the muscle can become unable to relax. Muscle spasm can occur in any muscle but most commonly occurs in the limbs and the muscles of the abdomen. A sustained muscle spasm is known as muscle cramps, and a condition where painful muscle cramps occur in the limbs is called charley horse. Muscle spasms in the horse’s back limbs are known as shivers. Equine shivering is characterised by periodic involuntary spasms of the muscles in the pelvic region, pelvic limbs, and tail. Sometimes forelimbs are also affected. Affected horses show stiffness, s sudden jerky extensor movements in the tail (tail elevation), and a tendency to move backwards.

There are many potential causes for muscle spasms in horses. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in the extracellular fluid is the most common cause. Excessive sweating causes dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Horses which have been intensely exercised in hot, humid weather conditions can suffer from a depleted water level in the body caused by sweating which takes place to help dissipate the body heat. Fluid loss occurs at a rate of up to 15-20L per hour when horses sweat. This can result in huge deficits in minerals like Sodium(Na), Potassium(K), Chlorine(Cl), Magnesium(Mg), and Calcium (Ca).

Otobius megnini ear tick infestation is another common cause of muscle spasms in horses.

Diagnosing muscle imbalance and spasms

In order to diagnose a muscle imbalance in a horse, a clinician will take into consideration information from the following sources:

  • The horse’s history
  • A physical examination
  • The horse’s biochemical profile (obtained via a serum enzyme test)
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood test
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Muscle biopsy
  • Genetic test

An informative history is required when assessing almost any disease in an animal. A history of any muscle problems such as cramping, pain and weakness, and the frequency of such problems is essential information. It is also useful for the clinician to know the animal’s exercise schedule, diet, vaccination and medication history, as well as all information relating to factors that are often precursors to muscle problems such as lameness, stress, and strenuous exercise carried out.   

There are a few characteristic clinical signs in horses suffering from muscle imbalance and spasm. These can be diagnosed via careful physical examination and palpation. Palpation of muscle mass provides important information about any muscle pain the animal is suffering, as well as swelling and muscle tone.

If a horse’s limbs are balanced, they will land in a perpendicular way as the horse moves. Observing the horse both while standing and while walking, therefore, can help identify any gait abnormalities which may indicate that the limbs are unbalanced. Shivering horses show tenseness and trembling of the hind limb, a sudden elevation of the tail, or a tendency to move backwards, picking up their feet. Muscle imbalance and spasms can very often result in lameness, and a lameness evaluation can be carried out by means of a flexion test. This test indicates if the animal is experiencing any muscle pain or problems with its joints.

Extremely fatiguing exercises such as endurance rides can cause increased creatine kinase(CK) level in the serum. The standard level of CK in serum is less than 1000U/L. A serum biochemical profile can determine the animal’s CK level. Measuring the levels of electrolytes and mineral concentration in the horse’s urine and blood can help to detect electrolyte imbalances in horses which are suffering from muscle spasms and cramping. For this diagnosis, urinalysis and blood tests can be carried out. Dehydration is the most common cause of muscle spasms and can be determined as part of these tests.

Electromyography (EMG) is a technique which detects muscle potential by placing a needle very close to the motor endplate. When muscle contract action potential occurs, this can be observed as a wave pattern in the EMG. If the horse is suffering from muscle spasms or cramp problems; this wave pattern will appear irregular.

Muscle biopsy is an important technique used to obtain diagnostic information regarding muscle problems. Genetic tests can also be used to help detect congenital myopathies in horses.

Different causes of myopathy

The word ‘myopathy’ is  defined as a disease of the skeletal muscles.  The major sign of this disease is muscle weakness which occurs due to dysfunction of muscle fibres. Other symptoms are muscle cramps, pain and stiffness. Myopathies can either be genetic or acquired. There are several myopathies that commonly occur in horses, all of which have several possible causes.

Types of Myopathies

  • Equine exertional rhabdomyolysis(ER)
  • Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy(PSSM)
  • Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis(HYPP)
  • Fibrotic myopathy
  • Inflammatory myopathy
  • Nutritional myopathy
  • Toxic myopathy
  • Atypical myopathy
  • Post anesthetic myopathy
  • Ischemic myopathy

Equine exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER) occurs due to abnormal Ca homeostasis within the muscle cells; causing muscle contraction to be intermittently disrupted, damaging the muscle tissue of the horse. The most common causes of this are excessive exercise and a high-grain diet.

Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) is a genetic disorder that occurs due to a dominantly inherited gene mutation.

Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) is another genetic condition that results from a point mutation in the Na channel gene in the skeletal muscle. When these abnormal Na channels are activated, they decrease Na-K exchange through the channel. This results in an increase in intracellular Na level and K level in the extracellular space, causing hyperkalemia. The most common cause of this myopathy is feed that is high in potassium, such as soya bean meal or oil, sugar molasses, beet molasses, alfalfa hay, brome hay, canola oil, grains such as corn, wheat, oats, and barley or beer pulp.

Fibrotic myopathy occurs when the inner thigh muscles are injured via exercise, trauma, or IM injection.

Inflammatory myopathy occurs via bacteria, viruses, and some parasites infecting the muscles.  Equine influenza 2 and Equine herpesvirus 1 are common viruses which cause this myopathy.
Sarcocystis fayeri, an infectious parasite, enters the horse via feed which is contaminated with canine feces.  Another infectious parasite, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, can enter a horse via a tick bite.

                       Bacteria such as Streptococcus equi equi and Clostridium spp. (C.septicum / C.perfringens/ C.chauvoei) can be a cause of inflammatory myopathy in horses. S.equi, Staphylococcus aureus, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis often cause muscle abscesses.

Nutritional myopathy in horses is associated with a deficiency of antioxidants like Selenium (Se) or vitamin E (Vit. E). A Vitamin E deficiency occurs when the horse eats low quality grass hay. This condition is common in foals up to 2 weeks old and young adult horses.

Toxic myopathy is caused by ingestion of poisonous portions (leaves/fruit/seeds) of certain plants like coyotillo (Karwinskia humboldtians), coffee sennas (Cassia occidentalis), white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), and box elder seeds (Acer negundo). As well as certain plant toxins, ionophores are also toxic to horses. These are often used as a feed additive for poultry and other livestock, but should not be fed to horses. If a horse’s feed is accidentally contaminated with ionophores, toxic myopathy occurs. Horses are ten times more sensitive to ionophores than any other species.

Atypical myopathy is a fatal muscle disease caused by the ingestion of sycamore seeds, seedlings, and leaves.

Problems in the horse’s circulatory system cause post-anesthetic myopathy and ischemic myopathies.

How to treat muscle problems

As long as you get to the root cause of a horse’s muscle problems, treatment is easy. In mild cases, owners can manage these problems themselves, but in severe cases it is essential to seek help from a veterinarian.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is the primary cause of most muscle disorders. Ionized Ca in the serum is an essential mineral which allows muscle contraction to take place. To prevent a hypo-calcemic condition, a sufficient amount of Ca, Mg, Na, K, and Cl, as well as essential minerals for healthy muscles should be provided as part of the horse’s diet. Changing the horse’s diet is a common treatment for several different muscle problems, however the exactt dietary change required varies according to the problem. A horse with nutritional myopathy, for instance, must be provided with sufficient dietary Se and Vitatim E.
          A diet containing fresh grasses is good for horses with HYPP as fresh grasses have a high water content, and eating them can also help to reduce K intake.

There are no antitoxins for muscle problems like atypical myopathy and toxic myopathy, however certain medications can help stop or reduce the absorption of toxins from the intestine.

Besides dietary changes, horses should be provided with freshwater or electrolyte supplemented water to help prevent dehydration. Anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics are the main treatments for inflammatory myopathy. Injectable methocarbamol, IV fluids and pain relievers can also be used to treat muscle disorders. If these treatments do not work sufficiently, surgery may be required.


Healthy muscles are essential for the wellbeing of a horse. Because horses are athletic animals, injuries and muscle disorders happen frequently. The common causes of these disorders are strenuous exercise, dehydration, electrolytic imbalance, intoxication, and genetic mutations. The best way to prevent these disorders is through providing sufficient dietary nutrients, however problems can often be treated with proper management and medication.

Degenerative Joint Disease in Horses

Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Introduction to Degenerative Joint Disease

Degenerative Joint Disease is a common condition in horses, also commonly known as osteoarthritis. This is a non-inflammatory form of arthritis which frequently occurs in synovial joints. A synovial joint is a moveable joint characterised by a fibrous capsule, articular cartilage, and a synovial fluid-filled cavity. The articular cartilage is hyaline cartilage that lines the epiphysis of the joint end of two bones. Articular cartilage helps to minimise friction while transmitting mechanical forces between two bones and increasing the joint’s contact surface area.  The joint capsule is a fibrous capsule which helps to cover all structures of the joint.

          Knees, hocks, and fetlocks are commonly affected by osteoarthritis. The condition can occur within a single joint or within multiple joints. Depending on the location, it can be either symptomatic or asymptomatic. The condition is common among horses of all ages, but it occurs most frequently in adult sporting horses. The causative agent for degenerative joint disease is still unknown, however stress occurring in the joints due to heavy workload, poor management, genetic problems, and poor practice methods can cause a predisposition to this condition.
        Degenerative changes in the articular cartilage are the leading cause of osteoarthritis. Horses which are able to carry heavy loads have thick articular cartilage. As the animal ages, the thickness of articular cartilage gradually decreases, and eventually the animal’s weight-bearing capacity also decreases.

Bone damage in the joints causes mild changes in the smooth surface of the articular cartilage in the epiphysis of bones. This leads to degenerative changes in articular cartilage, which is the major predisposing factor for degenerative joint disease.

Some breeds of horses are more susceptible to osteoarthritis, and have certain sites that are more prone to this condition. Osteoarthritis in the hock joint, for instance, is common among cutting horses, and osteoarthritis in the knee joint is common among racehorses.

What are the symptoms? How do I diagnose my horse’s pain?

As a horse owner, you should always identify symptoms of any condition as soon as possible in order to prevent these conditions from becoming more severe. If you fail to identify the early clinical signs of degenerative joint disease, the results can be profound. If you have identified early signs of osteoarthritis, you should commence treatment as soon as possible. It is always advisable to contact your veterinarian if symptoms appear.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive chronic disease, with clinical signs including lameness, stiffness, swelling of the affected area and pain. The most common clinical sign in affected horses is lameness. You can read our lameness article for a more detailed look at this condition and its symptoms. To give a basic run-down of the condition, lameness is defined as an abnormal gait or lack of capability to maintain a normal gait. Lameness is not a disease in itself, but is a clinical symptom of other conditions. Lameness usually results in pain and mechanical restriction of the horse’s limb. 

Another clinical symptom in horses suffering from osteoarthritis is stiffness. Animals suffering from this symptom are often reluctant to move and present restrictions in the motion of the affected limbs.
         Accumulation of fluid in the joint capsule causes swelling to the affected area. Changes in colour and increased temperature around the joint can also be indicators of degenerative joint disease.

When osteoarthritis is chronic, the articular cartilage is completely worn out. This means that there will be a lack of cartilage covering the edges of the two bones in the joint around the epiphysis. Free margins of the bones directly touch one other when the animal makes any movements, causing severe pain and discomfort to the animal, resulting in stiffness, lameness and restriction of movement.  If you attempt to exercise an animal suffering from this condition, it will likely display aggressive behaviours. It is important to identify the condition early and remove the animal from work to give it some relief.

Horses affected by this condition may also feel stress and may reduce their feed intake. This can result in the animal suffering from emaciation, weight loss, and lack of power and energy in performance. If you think your horse may be suffering from osteoarthritis, take immediate action. Contact your veterinarian, who will perform further diagnostic methods and start treatments. If you fail to take immediate action, your horse’s performance may be affected permanently. 

A number of confirmatory diagnostic methods such as X-rays, arthroscopy, nuclear scintigraphy, and serum biochemical tests can help to confirm if your animal is suffering from osteoarthritis. Arthroscopy is a new and very sensitive technique which identifies defects in the articular cartilages. Using this method, a clinician can obtain a clear image of the inside of a joint. This helps to diagnose osteoarthritis in its early stages. Although X-ray is commonly used as a confirmatory method, it is not able to identify changes in articular cartilage. It can, however, identify the narrowing of the joint space caused by the loss of articular cartilage.
      Nuclear scintigraphy is another very sensitive test. This is a method of bone scanning from which inflammatory joints can be identified. Serum biochemical testing is a biological technique which can also be used for the early diagnosis of joint disease. A biomarker is used as an indicator, which can give the clinician an idea of the metabolic processes inside a horse’s body. Changes in the specific serum enzymes (biomarkers) in the blood can indicate that a joint disease is present.

How to look after a horse with DJD?

Above all, it is important not to panic if your horse is diagnosed with osteoarthritis.  By managing the condition with great care, you can help to reduce the spread of disease within the horse and keep the animal comfortable. Do not use the affected animal for heavy workouts. Mild exercises, however, are recommended to maintain activity in the joints. Affected horses can tend to become overweight due to a lack of exercise, and it is important to do your best to avoid this happening. Providing sufficient shelter and good bedding will help the animal lie down and get up easily.

        Sadly, degenerative joint disease is incurable. Although it is not possible to cure the disease, it is possible to reduce its spreading, reduce the animal’s pain, and help to allow the articular cartilages to regrow. In order to achieve all of the above, try the following:

Trim the horse’s hooves properly to ensure its balance. Shoes should be fitted using proper methods as improper shoeing and unbalanced hooves predispose the animal to degenerative joint disease and make the condition more painful and severe.

Some of the easiest treatments to carry out are hot and cold therapies. Hot therapy can reduce pain and stiffness by increasing blood flow. This helps to relax the ligaments and tendons. Cold therapy helps to reduce the swelling and pain around the joint.

A healthy balanced diet can provide essential nutrients for joint repair. Some nutrients in the diet can even help to relieve pain. Proper nutrition will prevent your horse from becoming overweight, a condition which can incur further issues and symptoms.


You should now have a good knowledge of degenerative joint disease and its clinical signs, diagnostic methods, prevention methods, and treatment! To summarise, it is a degenerative disease affecting the articular cartilage. Also known as osteoarthritis, it is a complex condition which can result in gait abnormalities and pain. This can lead to a significant decrease in performance.  Do consider preventative action, and keep an eye out for any symptoms in your horse so that you can treat the disease promptly and effectively!

Why do Horses have Hooves?

Equine Sports Massage Therapy

What are Hooves?

Horses are digitigrade which means they walk using their tips of their toes. Because of this, they need a strong, insensitive surface to protect their sensitive toe tips from hard surfaces. Hooves are a keratinised horny hard covering that do just this. A horse’s hooves, therefore, are essential for the animal’s function and survival. Hooves continue to grow throughout the horse’s life. Horses have a single solid hoof on each foot. This can vary in size according to the size of the horse, its breed, and its ability to run and jump.

It is important to take good care of the hooves of domestic horses. These are riding animals, and their hooves are likely to come into contact with various different hard surfaces. These horses therefore have a high risk of developing hoof problems, and paying attention to the maintenance of their hooves can help to prevent these. There are several things an owner can do to ensure optimum hoof health. Remember that a hoof is a living structure. It must therefore be provided with essential nutrients for its growth, strength, and repair functions. Always provide your horse with a well-balanced diet. Make sure to provide constant access to fresh water.
    Trim the wall of your horse’s hooves every two weeks. This will help to smooth out the hoof and remove any irregular parts. When trimming, ensure that the hoof is even and balanced. Balanced hooves help to reduce stress on bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It is also very important to choose a properly fitting shoe made from high quality material. Fit the shoe very carefully and make sure to place nails in the correct places. Failing to do so can cause damage to the inner sensitive areas of the hoof. Remove large and small debris from your horse’s frog using a hoof pick and a stiff-bristle brush.


The structure of a hoof

The tips of a horse’s toes are covered and protected by a keratinised hard structure called a hoof. The hoof covers the most distal phalanx known as the coffin bone (or pedal bone). The circular limit of the hoof capsule is called the cornet. This lies between the hoof capsule and the normal skin of the leg. The cornet is also known as a coronary band.

A hoof has four parts, known as the wall, sole, frog, and periople. The wall is the outer cover that protects the sensitive inner structures. This is the part of the hoof that can be seen when the animal is standing.

The thickness of the wall can vary between 6-12 cm. The hoof wall has a hard, horny texture, and is effective at absorbing shock. The hoof wall has no blood vessels or nerve endings. It grows gradually throughout the horse’s life span. Normally it grows by about 3-8 inches per month. It is important to trim the hoof wall to help maintain a balanced hoof. Healthy hooves are inflexible structures. Therefore if an injury occurs inside the hoof, the injured tissue cannot swell to the outside. This tissue remains inside the hoof and can cause lameness. The hoof wall is made up of three layers. The pigmented layer is the outermost layer of the hoof wall. The main role of the pigmented layer is to provide protection. The white line is a line between the sole and the wall. The water line offers support and resistance.

The sole covers the underside of the hoof. The hoof itself is a slightly concave structure. This means that there is only a small portion of the sole which is in contact with the ground. The sole also helps to protect internal structures within the hoof. It is whitish-yellow to yellow-gray in colour.

The frog is a thick, V-shaped structure that projects down from the heels. There is a sulcus (central groove) in its midline. The frog’s main function is to provide shock absorption. Sensitive nerves within the frog help the horse to understand where it is standing.


Why use horseshoes?

Horseshoes are u-shaped metal pieces that help to protect a horse’s hooves from hard and rough surfaces. They cover the bottom part of the hoof. Most horseshoes are made of aluminium or steel. Nails are used to fit shoes to the hoof. There are many different types of horseshoes, each designed for different purposes and for different breeds. Horseshoes can vary in size, shape, thickness, and material. A farrier is a specialist in hoof care who carries out shoeing, trimming, balancing, and other related tasks.

The main benefit of horseshoes is that they protect and maintain a horse’s hoof health. In turn, this can help to maintain other bodily functions, including respiratory, circulatory and immune system functions. Horses are riding animals, so it is important to pay special attention to hoof protection and proper horseshoeing. When a horse rides on hard surfaces its hooves are at a high risk of damage. Horseshoes can help protect the horse from such damages.


The Role of Evolution

In ancient times, horses had relatively short legs, small bodies, four toes on their back legs, and three on their front legs. Scientists believe that millions of years ago, horses were forest dwelling animals, before later moving into the open grassland. As predators could easily identify them on open grasslands, they had to gain the ability to run fast to protect themselves. As a result, their body mass increased and they developed longer legs to help them face this new situation.

As horses’ bodies became heavier and their legs became longer, they lost their side toes, however their middle toe still remained. The middle digit grew larger to carry the animal’s body weight, and a single hoof developed to cover the middle digit. Researchers have found that a single hoof provides better support and and can bear a horse’s weight, allowing it to run faster than if it had many toes. As a result, horses have now developed a hoof on each foot.

Bridle Sensitivity


The Importance of Getting the Right Bridle

The bridle is a piece of equipment used to control a horse’s movements. It consists of three parts; the headstall, the reins, and the bit. The bit is a horizontal metal bar which is placed in the horse’s mouth, in the interdental space. The headstall is a strip of strong, flexible material (usually leather) which is placed around the animal’s head. The reins are connected to both sides of the bit and connect the horse to the rider.  The rider holds the reins on either side of the bit, allowing them to handle the horse while riding. The various types of bridle include snaffle bridles (the most commonly used type of bridle) Weymouth bridles, and bitless bridles

To allow your horse to perform its best, it is essential to ensure that the bridle fits properly. It is important, therefore, for a rider to know the proper method for bridling their horse. Here is a simple guide:

Before you fit the bridle, you should first check whether the saddle is in the correct position. You can use a lead rope to restrain your horse while fitting the saddle. Next, groom your horse sharply. While grooming, it is important to pay attention to the horse’s skin to identify any abnormalities, particularly in the head and saddle areas. If you do spot any problems, it is advisable not to bridle the horse until it has recovered from any issues or disorders. 

Next, check your bridle. It should be clean and in good condition. After having fitted the saddle, you can then fit the bridle.

Make sure to stand on the left side of your horse. This will help to protect your head from any sudden movements from the horse. The headstall should then be placed over the horse’s head. Hold the bit with your left hand and gently press into the horse’s mouth. Make sure you do not knock the bit against the horse’s teeth. Raise the headstall to the horse’s ears and secure it behind them. You can then gently fold the horse’s hair under the reins. Check whether the bit and all the bands that make up the bridle are straight, and that loose strap ends are tucked into their keepers. After that, you should ensure the bridle is in the correct position. You are now ready to start riding!

A horse’s head is a very sensitive area due to the presence of many sensitive nerve endings. In particular, there are many nerve endings in the vicinity of the headstall, and pressure from the bridle can stimulate these, causing pain for the animal. If the bridle is not fitted properly, this can also cause some behavioural changes in your horse, including head shaking, lack of engagement, and aggressive behaviours. Fitting the bridle correctly, therefore, is essential to ensuring a good relationship between rider and horse.

The horse’s head is covered by a very thin skin. Veins and muscles are located under the skin. If the bridle is fitted too tightly, it can cause damage to the skin, muscles, and the underlying tissues. This can be debilitating to the horse and can greatly affect its performance.

It is important to choose a correctly sized bit which will fit the horse’s mouth without causing any irritation. Too narrow or too wide a bit will cause severe pain to the mouth. Additionally, if the bit is placed too low in the horse’s mouth the horse may try to place its tongue over it, or may form a habit of fighting against the bit.

If the bridle is buckled too tightly, this can cause swelling of the bursa (fluid-filled sacs) between the first two cervical vertebrae and the nuchal ligament. The swelling of the bursa can cause pain and head imbalance. This condition causes atrophy of the top-line muscles and also results in the horse developing “ewe” neck.

If the headstall or the reins are overly tight, this can be very uncomfortable for the horse. Tight reins put pressure on the horse’s neck. The horse also requires free movement to chew after the bridle has been fitted. The jaw must be able to move in both directions. If the bridle is fitted too tightly this can lead to muscle cramping in the horse’s jaw.

After a saddle has been properly fitted you should be able to fit your hand under the headstall. If it is difficult to do so, this means that the headstall is too tight. This can place pressure on the horse’s skull which can cause irritation for the horse as well as negatively affecting its performance.

Choosing a Bridle

There are several different types of bridles available, and it is important to choose the correct bridle for your horse’s measurements. Choosing the correct bridle for your horse will ensure its comfort when riding and will help to develop a strong bond between rider and horse. Bridles made from high quality materials can be expensive, however a genuine leather bridle will likely be most comfortable for your horse.  You should clean and oil your bridle properly and regularly to ensure its long-term maintenance. 

  1. Snaffle bridles

This is the most common type of bridle, including a single set of reins. There are various different kinds of snaffle bridle available on the market. Depending on the type of riding you do and your own preferences, you can choose from synthetic leather or genuine leather, and you can choose between lighter or heavier leather.

     2. Weymouth bridles

The Weymouth bridle is also commonly known as a double bridle or a full bridle. It consists of two bits and two sets of reins. There are two types of Weymouth bridles: dressage style double bridles and show style double bridles, which can be differentiated by the texture of the noseband.  A dressage-style bridle has a thicker, crank noseband, whilst a show-style bridle has a flat, traditional style noseband. Both types of bridle usually have a padded headpiece to decrease the amount of pressure on the animal’s head.

     3. Bitless bridles

Bitless bridles can place pressure on key areas of the horse’s head without putting a bit in the horse’s mouth.  The horse is controlled from the noseband rather than via a bit. This type of bridle is normally used as a temporary measure for a horse who has suffered a mouth injury.

     4. Inhand bridles

This type of bridle has a very simple design.


The bridle is an extremely important instrument for controlling a horse. There are different type of bridle available on the market which you can choose from according to your requirements. Fitting the bridle correctly is very important to help maintain your horse’s optimum performance. As a rider, it is your responsibility to choose a suitable bridle so that your horse stays happy and healthy.

Understanding Equine Ligament and Tendon Injuries

Equine Sports Massage Therapy

Horses are commonly used for athletic purposes because of their speed and endurance. A horse’s limbs are adapted for fast running, the downside of which is the commonness of limb injuries.


Introduction to Tendons and Ligaments.

Ligaments and tendons are vital parts of the musculoskeletal system of a horse. Ligaments are short flexible fibrous bands that connect bones and hold joints and organs in place.

A tendon is a flexible inelastic fibrous band that attaches bone to muscle. It transmits force from muscle to bone.

Both ligaments and tendons are made up of fibrous connective tissue mainly composed of type I collagen fibres. As well as collagen fibres, ligaments also contain spindle shaped fibrocytes, which synthesize collagen and ground substance.        

          A tendon contains proteoglycan, elastin, glycosaminoglycans, inorganic components, and a few tenocytes, which are rod or spindle shaped fibroblast-like cells which synthesise collagen.

Morphologically, both ligaments and tendons are similar. As mentioned earlier, these are mainly composed of type I collagen that is arranged in a triple helix. The dry matter of tendons and ligaments is made up of approximately 80% type I collagen, with some type III collagen also present. Collagen fibrils are arranged in bundles and appear as a crimped pattern when viewed under a light microscope.  

Normally, tendons are surrounded by a tendon sheath.

Bones have roughened areas where ligaments and tendons attach to the bone.  This area is known as the enthesis. Ligaments and tendons attach to this site through osteotendinous or osteoligamentous junctions.

The horse’s forelimbs and hind limbs contain several tendons and ligaments. There are two main types of tendons in the horse’s limbs, named according to their function. Flexor tendons are located on the backside of the limb and help to flex the limb. The superficial digital flexor tendon(SDFT) and deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) are present in both the forelimb and the hind limb of a horse, allowing the lower part of the limb to be flexed.

Extensor tendons are located on the front side of the limb and help with limb extension. Lateral digital extensor tendons found in both fore and hind limbs; common digital extensor tendons found in the hind limbs; and long digital extensor tendons in the forelimbs are all important tendons that allow the limb to be extended.

Ligaments located on either side of a joint are called collateral ligaments, and can be divided into medial and lateral collateral ligaments. Annular ligaments and suspensory ligaments also help stabilise the joints by wrapping around them or connecting two bones together.


What causes tendon and ligament injuries?

Injuries to tendons and ligaments can result in the disruption of the internal organisation of these structures. Injuries can be divided into acute injuries and overuse injuries.

An acute injury occurs via a sudden trauma to the horse, for instance a fall, twist or blow, sprains, strains, contusions, jumping at high speed, and sudden accidents.

Overuse injuries occur gradually over time. These occur when an athletic (or other) activity is repeat often, not allowing the body sufficient time to heal any injury sites.

Most tendons are short and strong, so rarely get damaged. Longer tendons, however, are more frequently damaged during races and exercise.

Enthesis, where the ligaments or tendons attach to the bone, are vulnerable to both acute and overuse injuries.


Different types of injuries.

Strenuous exercise can result in the tearing of collagen fibres in the tendons and ligaments of horses. Over-stretching of tendons, work on un-level ground, high speed jumping or sudden accidents can damage these structures.

The degree of damage can vary from minor to severe with total tendon rupture being the worst outcome.

Mild injuries may result in bruises caused by the rupturing of blood vessels in the injured site. In fortunate cases, these mild injuries may not lead to lameness.

Severe damage leading to tendon rupture can ultimately result in lameness. If a tendon sheath incurs damage, this may even result in the animal’s death.

Injuries can affect any tendon or ligament in a horse’s body. SDFT and DDFT injuries are the most common injuries in horses. Both tendons run down the back of the limb from the knee/hock joint level to the lower limb. SDFT occurs on the pastern bone, one of the middle phalanxes of the horse, whilst DDFT ends on the back of the pedal bone, a distal phalanx. SDFT injuries commonly occur in the forelimb of the horse but can also affect the horse’s hindlimb. DDFT injuries can occur in both the forelimbs and the hind limbs of a horse.

Ligaments provide support to joints. Direct trauma or excessive force to a joint can cause ligament injuries to occur.

Ligament injuries commonly occur in suspensory ligaments, collateral ligaments of the coffin, fetlock and hock joints, and the palmar annular ligament of the fetlock joint.

The most commonly injured tendons and ligaments are those on the plantar or palmar aspect of the distal limb.


How to diagnose tendon and ligament injuries?

To diagnose a tendon or ligament injury of the equine distal limb, a clinician will consider the history of the animal including exercise time and types of exercises carried out. Inflammatory signs such as swelling, heat, pain, and lameness can be diagnosed via a physical examination.

The repair of tendons and ligaments occurs in three phases:

  1. Inflammation
  2. Cell and matrix proliferation (healing)
  3. Remodelling and maturation

The inflammatory phase is short. A haemorrhage occurs in the injured site of the tendon or ligament. A hematoma is usually formed at this stage. Consequently, there is increased blood flow to the area and cardinal signs of inflammation such as swelling, redness, and increased temperature can be observed in the injured site. This can result in severe pain to the animal, and the horse will usually become lame.

During the 2nd phase, the healing of the ligament or tendon occurs. The scarred tendon is not as strong as a healthy tendon. During healing, the usually predominant type I collagen is replaced by type III collagen. In the remodelling phase levels of type I collagen do increase, however this does not return to previous levels.

During the inflammatory phase, lameness can be observed. This can usually be resolved, but in some tendon and ligament injuries such as DDFT overstrain injuries, persistent and marked lameness can be observed.

The location of the injury can be found thanks to inflammatory cardinal signs such as swelling of the injured site. Swelling of SDFT is most apparent when assessing the palmar contour of the limb. In severe SDFT tendinopathy, the affected limb shows greater than normal overextension of the metacarpal joint when the animal is walking. A clinical examination will confirm the ligament and tendon injury, but the extent of the damage is difficult to assess by external observation and palpation alone.

Therefore, an ultrasound scan is carried out for further diagnosis. An ultrasonographic evaluation allows the damaged structures to be visualised if the injuries occur above the hoof capsule of the horse.

Additionally, radiography and gamma scintigraphy can be used for diagnosis. The advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) for horses has enabled us to identify injured ligament and tendon areas where ultrasonography is limited.


How to Treat Tendon and Ligament Injuries?

There are several treatments for tendon and ligament injuries.

Physical therapies like cold pressure treatments can be carried out in the acute inflammatory phase of tendon and ligament injury. To carry out this treatment, apply ice 2 or 3 times per day. Because ice packs numb pain and cause vasoconstriction, they reduce the swelling of the injured site.

As well as cold hosing, we can also administer anti-inflammatory drugs like phenylbutazone to help reduce inflammation. This helps to reduce the inflammatory signs and the pain of the horse. Bandaging the affected area controls the mobilisation of the joint. This helps to improve the healing process.

       Even after the healing process is complete, injured ligaments and tendons are weaker than normal uninjured ones. Therefore re-injury is common in damaged sites. We must therefore look after an injured horse carefully. Box rest can be a helpful method to ensure this. During box rest, the horse requires mild exercise to prevent the injured sites from accumulating with adhesives, which could otherwise lead to immobility of the injured joints.

                       Tendon injections such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) can also be administered to help speed up the healing process. Nowadays, however, it is more common to inject stem cells or platelet-rich plasma directly into the injured site soon after the injury occurs. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy is also used as a treatment for tendon and ligament injuries in horses.



Healthy tendons and ligaments are vital to maintaining a horse’s wellbeing and athleticism. 
       Tendons attach muscle to bone, while ligaments connect bones to other bones. Both ligaments and tendons are bands of connective tissue that can be injured through sudden traumatic accidents and overwork. The injury of these structures is a common cause of lameness in horses. Understanding these conditions will help you to prevent these injuries from occurring and to treat them properly if necessary.  Remember, early identification can save the animal from undergoing severe pain. If you miss the early signs, conditions can worsen, making it difficult to restore your horse to its normal fitness. If you do not feel confident in your knowledge of these conditions it is always advisable to seek help from a professional. 

Halting and Collection



Halting’ is a term used to describe bringing a horse to a stop.  Learning to stop a horse is the first step in becoming a great rider! This technique will help you to develop a bond with your horse and is reasonably easy for beginners to learn. This does rely, however, on your relationship with your horse having a strong basis of confidence and understanding. 

 Stopping occurs in three phases which involve interacting with the horse through the use of your body, riding equipment, and even voice commands.

In a dressage test, a halt must be carried out at least once. Asking a horse to stand still will disturb its innate instinct of flight. When you command the horse to stop, the horse must think ahead and must come to feel comfortable and balanced.  It is essential to gain the horse’s complete confidence by showing it that nothing bad will happen if it halts.


What is a good halt?

In an ideal halt, the horse should be straight and square. Each leg should bear the same weight equally so that the horse can stand up straight.

If the stop is unbalanced, the horse can tip on its forehand and drop its poll when it stops, or it may throw its head back against the touch and fail to stop square. The horse should remain calm and comfortable while waiting for the next orders from its trainer. When asked to move away, it should then step forward. 

Halting is usually the very first technique taught when learning to ride.


How to practice halts

Gaining trust is an important part of halting. There are many goals to fulfil when perfecting halts, such as making them square, straight, and still. It is important not to confuse horses with multiple, conflicting exercises. Concentrate on one goal at a time and wait for a lesson to be understood by your horse before introducing anything new.

Patience is also very important. Perfecting a halt is a slow process that can take years of preparation. Balance, straightness, squareness, and self-carriage develop over time as a result of proper dressage training.

The whip should never be used as a punishment.  Instead, it should be used to improve the sensitivity of forward driving aids. Using the whip during a halt will cause stress to your horse and result in a loss of trust.

It is also important not to halt a horse when it is feeling afraid, as doing so can result in the horse developing a fear of stopping.

Good timing is the key to achieving a successful stop, and practice is the only way to perfect this. If you overdo this, however, your horse may grow to hate halting! Practice a few times a week, including 10 or fewer interruptions in each session.

Avoid stopping at high speeds as this is rough on the horse’s legs, and can also trigger a change in the horse’s attitude towards the technique. Instead of this, “downshift” in phases. If you are in an extended canter, for instance, transition to a medium canter, then collect the canter before stopping.


Stages of halt

When your horse feels balanced, comfortable, and attentive, this is a great time to start practising halts! If, however, your horse does not seem prepared, try an easier transition. For example, instead of halting from a canter, try a transition from canter-trot or canter-walk. This will strengthen the horse’s equilibrium and reactivity to your instructions and will prepare it for halting in the future.

Regardless of speed, it is important to integrate a transition so that the horse is ready to stop. If you close the reins and fail to control your legs, the horse will lose engagement when it stops. The stop will then become unbalanced, and the horse will not be square.

Step 1

Support your horse by performing two or three shorter, more collected trots or walking steps before you halt. This will force the horse’s hind legs underneath it, helping it keep its balance. Give your horse a simple half-halt and halt. Be careful not to ride to a halt too abruptly, as this will unbalance your horse.

Maximise the quality of your horse’s gait by riding it from back to front, using your legs and the reins. Teaching the horse to be more responsive to rein aids is essential; in order to do so, practice trot work transitions and half halts. It will take several exercise sessions before the horse learns to move forward in response to pressure from your leg. It is also important throughout your work to think about increasing the “RPMS” of your horse rather than “MPH”. After working on all of these things, you can then teach the horse to halt.

Step 2

As a second step, practice half halts. These help to rebalance the horse by teaching it to carry its weight on its hindquarters. These also improve the horse’s self-carriage power. To begin, you must sit straight on the horse. Use your rein aid to signal to the horse. Lengthen your legs slightly then tighten your back muscles to create resistance. When the horse shows signs of stopping, signal to it to keep moving forward. In order to do this, you can use verbal commands until the horse becomes more used to this technique.

Step 3

Next, try to carry out a full halt. In a good halt, your horse should stop immediately from a trot without taking any further steps. In the early stages of training, your horse may not be able to do this but as training progresses, you will be able to direct the horse to take fewer steps before eventually completing the transition from trot to stop without walking.

      If the horse executes a stop correctly, sit still and let the horse relax and rest. Loosen the reins and relax your shoulders. After a few moments, you can resume putting a little pressure on the horse via your legs and the reins.

Step 4

When the horse has made a fine, square, straight stop and is obediently waiting for your next order, it is very important to reward it with a treat or with verbal praise. This will help the horse to remember this moment in a positive light and to strive to repeat it. When you are satisfied that you have rewarded your horse sufficiently, ask the horse to walk on.

If all this has been carried out properly, you should now be able to make a smooth transition from halt to walk. Not every halt you make will be perfect, but if you focus on making your aids consistent, your horse will continue trying to do the best it can. 


What is collection? 

Collection is a technique where the horse’s centre of gravity is moved backwards. Energy is guided in a more horizontal direction with less forward movement. This is a way to reinforce the top line of the horse, to add brilliance to its gait, and to boost its physical resilience.

Collection itself is a mixture of engaged hindquarters, a light forehand, raised withers, a shortened, rounded back, an arched jaw, and a gentle bridle.

Since horses naturally bear about 60 percent of their weight on the front of their legs, when we ask a horse to collect, this often means moving its centre of gravity backwards, raising its shoulders and lightening its front end.

A lifted, engaged back creates a lightened forehand, making it easier for the horse to spring into action and for its joints to withstand shock.

Achieving a successful collection takes a lot of work and it is important to practice in the correct manner. This can initially be physically exhausting for a horse as the technique differs from its usual way of moving. The horse must therefore build muscles which help support the required posture and action.


Why is collection important?

Collection is an important element of riding. If a rider wants to make more advanced movements or to jump, collection is essential. This helps the horse to walk athletically and comfortably. Not only this, but it helps avoid wear and tear to the horse’s legs. Through training, the horse learns to collect himself when asked to do so by the rider. If performed well, an observer will get the impression of a horse with great strength under perfect control.

In dressage assessments, collected gaits consist of walks, halts and trots. Collection is also an important aspect of jumping. Most horses will find it difficult to leap exceptionally high fences.  Without the aid of collection, the horse cannot gather enough strength to jump over a high fence. Increased speed is not a replacement for a good collection. The horse must lift his forehand upwards on takeoff and gain adequate height to jump over the fence. Without performing a collection, the horse is likely to jump flat, without a tilt, and will be much more likely to pull a rail. 

Collection provides many benefits, enhancing the balance of the horse, as well as improving its athleticism, responsiveness, and grace, making it a pleasure to watch and ride.


Loss of collection

Collection is an important gait, helping with riding and activities such as jumping. A horse who cannot collect may find it very difficult to smoothly shorten its stride and may be forced to reach too close or too far away from a hurdle.

To perform this correctly, strong engagement of the hindquarters and upward rounding of the back is required. Muscular-skeletal problems resulting in pain can often interfere with this functionality. In such cases, soreness to the back and lameness are major contributing factors to this problem. 

The synchronisation of activities can be difficult for horses with neurological disorders and horses suffering from such problems may find collection difficult. A horse with low-grade abdominal pain (most often caused by gastric ulcers), or a horse whose general fitness is poor may also have difficulty with this technique.

Effective practice is essential. Without practice, it is impossible to achieve a perfect halt or good collection, but as with so many aspects of horse riding, you will usually find that your hard work pays off!