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Feed the Feet

“No hoof, no horse” is a saying that has been around forever for a very good reason. Our horses rely upon the foundation of healthy hooves in the same way that a building relies upon its foundation – without a good one, everything above is compromised.

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The hooves, like all body systems, are created from the foods ingested. Certainly external forces are at play as well, but, without the complete nutrition needed the hoof cannot meet these forces with strength and flexibility.

Horse feeds came about at the same time with the same philosophy as livestock feeds which were designed to create muscle and fat for meat production. The goal was not the consumption of horses, it was the feeding of muscles and creation of fat layers and slick coats, along with energy for working in fields and on roads. Horses did not live very long and a preponderance of draft blood made for larger, better equipped hooves as foundations.

Our horses now are family members living longer lives, often with smaller hooves from the breeding of lighter types for sport or show. While proper farriery or trimming are absolutely essential – the creation of the hoof structure, strength and health will be determined by diet.

The horse, being designed as a browser/herbivore requires the high fiber diet filled with herbs and forage that Nature provides (we can provide this, too!). To “feed the feet”, we need to supplement the grassy pastures and/or hays with herbs and foods that support hoof health by providing minerals, amino acids, enzymes and safe lipids (fats).

To process and extract the components then provide them in a bag of “complete feed” can often corrupt the very nutrients that are desired. Heat destroys nutrients and most processed foods are created by steaming or cooking. Chemical extraction is used to isolate many nutrition oils before they are blended into feeds and the result is a less digestible lipid with potential residues of the extracting agent. Just as processed foods leave us feeling hungry because we’ve eaten “empty calories”, the horse will feel undernourished and seek roots, barks even eat dirt in an effort to find what his body craves.

Foods that are grown with chemical fertilizers, pesticides (herbicides or insecticides), or are genetically modified present health problems that may show up dramatically in the hooves. The hoof depends on proper blood circulation and nutrient availability to keep the multiple layers of tissue intact. This laminated structure holds the bones within the hoof and lower leg at precise angles. Since our horses walk on “digits” – their legs corresponding to one of our fingers – anything out of balance degrades the entire structure and creates pain.

Humans will show traces of toxins or deficiencies in the growth, color, shape and structure of their finger nails – the cutaneous structure of the horse’s hooves is the same and serves as an indicator in this same way. The choice of organic foods whenever possible will help lessen the body’s exposure to possible toxins.

My personal belief is in simple solutions and simple, nature based practices with horses.  Of course, we need brilliant surgeons for injuries; experienced practitioners for diagnosis and allopathy to assist with overwhelming symptoms – but it is the body itself that knows how to heal and what to do with the nutrients we provide!

Foods that Feed the Feet:

A quality grass hay or pasture source is the base of an equine diet.

To this base, a legume hay or pellet may be added such as alfalfa – Medicago sativa (Lucerne) for gestating, lactating or growing horses. A 10% to 20 % ratio to grass is a safe margin for the addition of the rich legume. It will add protein, calcium, biotin, silica and vitamin A (as well as many trace elements, etc.) to the base diet.

Sea Vegetables are supreme hoof support nutrients.  Kelp – Fucus vesiculosis – provides over 30 trace elements and iodine, calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica, sulfur, iron and vitamin K. One tablespoon daily of powdered Kelp can be added to a bucket feed (of water-soaked wheat bran/pellets/beet pulp or specially blended senior feed or grain combination for the hard working equine) to nourish hoof health and growth (use one teaspoon for youngsters under 2 years old).

Rose Hips – Rosa species – are a good source of Rutin, Vitamin C, Selenium and Manganese. While horses do synthesize vitamin C (their milk is the only source of C for Mongolian nomads); it is a water soluble vitamin that can be used up quickly during stress or illness. The bioflavinoids and vitamin C are required by the body to strengthen capillary walls, clear edema and maintain blood circulation – essential things for hoof health, laminar health.

Flaxseeds – Linum usitatissimum – are full of valuable Omega fatty acids. It is the Omega 3’s that are most nourishing and abundant in Flax (Omega 6 is often inflammatory and can be detrimental especially during injury or laminitis – corn oil has Omega 6 fatty acids). Flaxseeds should not be fed whole – they can be gas producing in the gut. Ground into meal, pressed into oil (not chemical solvent extracted) or boiled into jelly; flaxseeds will increase the strength and suppleness of the hoof wall, nourish collagen production, maintain moist shock absorbing properties of the hoof capsule and add multi amino acid proteins to repair the wear and tear of the entire hoof. You can feed up to one ounce of oil daily; mix the meal with water into a mud like consistency (building up to 8 to 12 ounces of meal over a 10 day period) with wet wheat bran (when phosphorus is needed) or soaked pellets or beet pulp; or use one handful of seeds to a pot of water, soaked overnight then boiled for one hour to make a thick jelly. These ratios would be per horse, per day except for the jelly which can be fed 3 to 4 times a week.

Nettles – Urtica diolica – when dried (the herb leaves are dangerous fresh as they “sting” the skin and cause histamine reactions!) can be fed, one handful dried leaves to the bucket feed or made into a tea, per day per horse. They are full of silica which holds intact the structure of all skin, nails, hair, hooves and claws. Nettles are rich in iron which creates hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying property of blood. This iron is organic – an inorganic iron supplement has been proven toxic to fatal. Copper is also present in nettles and required along with the iron for support of circulation and nerve/muscle fiber functioning. Nettles aid hoof health by also strengthening nerve endings and receptivity.

Fenugreek seeds – Tigonella foenum-graecum – are rich in Lysine (amino acid that maintains normal cell growth, regulates pineal gland and is necessary for formation of collagen in connective tissue – lysine is necessary for all amino acid assimilation; the building blocks of protein!), vitamin A and vitamin D (it compares to fish liver oil, an animal source not recommended for herbivores). Fenugreek internally and externally aids in the release of abscesses.

Black oil sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are rich in oils, vitamin E and minerals as well as the amino acid Methionine (essential to hoof health, it is sulfur based to protect and maintain the integrity of skin, coat and hoof). Sunflower seeds with hulls can be fed from 1 to 2 cups daily; hulled – feed ½ cup.  Raw, dried pumpkin seeds can be fed up to ½ cup daily. They also have anti-parasite properties and are prostate “friendly” (male horses do have prostates!).

The horse on fresh pasture receives abundant enzymes. A horse with no fresh foods in the ration will need supplementation of enzymes for proper digestion of all the other good foods provided. Enzyme rich, fresh additions can be yams, carrots, bananas, oranges, fresh parsley, peppermint, garlic and/or papaya flesh. If your horse is lamanitic, IR or Cushinoid, avoid the fruits and roots with sugar content.

“Feed the feet” and your horse will reap the rewards with better health and soundness.

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Moving Horses Safely

 

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Whenever horses are transported, for competition, to get medical care or even in an evacuation; we can prepare ahead for safe travels with a few guidelines and good habits.

The fact that a horse will get into a trailer to be driven from one place to another is a testimonial to that horse’s trust. We must honor such trust by making the trailer itself as safe as possible and by driving the horse around in a sane and aware fashion. We need to have schooled our horse to calmly load into the trailer and it is advisable to show different types of trailers and vans to a horse so that unfamiliar rigs won’t be frightening in an emergency.

Loading into a trailer can be enhanced by opening light sources, hauling with a trusted equine companion, staying calm (by giving plenty of extra time before needing to be on the road), having hay or a mash in the feeder, shavings on the floor to muffle sounds and teaching in-hand skills ahead of time (horse will walk over tarps, plywood and rubber mats; he will walk forward from verbal cues and can be touched all over with a wand/whip that can ask him to move sideways).

The floor of the trailer may well be the most important part. If the floor the horse stands on has any weaknesses, tragedy can result. I always take a strong pocketknife and jab it into the floor boards at several locations. If the knife slides easily into the wood, that floorboard is not safe (it is probably rotten). Any wood rot means the entire floor should be replaced. By cleaning out the trailer stalls after every trip and washing the floor, then drying it, we can make the floor last longer.

The next inspection point needs to be for any protuberances, sharp edges or gaps (that a hoof or head could get stuck within) that could cause bodily harm or panic. I also always look for wasp nests, spider webs and the like where a venomous creature might hide! Those must be removed before a horse or human gets into the trailer.

Hitches, balls and electrical connections should be working properly. Tires need to be inspected and tire pressure checked. A spare is a necessity and jacks/wheel chocks, lug nut wrenches, even flat fix should be handy. I carry extra halters and leads, first aid kits, water (in an Aquatainer), buckets, flashlights, lavender essential oil and Bach Flower Essences’ Rescue Remedy.

The floor of the trailer needs rubber mats to provide traction for the horse. The movement of the towing vehicle and trailer is extreme for the standing equine and any slick surface is dangerous (I once linseed oiled the trailer floor boards to preserve them and the rubber mat slid out from under my mare!).

Ventilation in the trailer is essential for the horse’s health, no matter what time of year. Horses exhale and sweat a lot of moisture into an enclosed space and can make it oppressive quickly. In winter, leg bandages and blankets can keep the horse warm. In summer, open every single vent there is and be sure to provide drinking water as often as possible. If you use a slant trailer and leave windows open (never leave them folded down, horses can try to crawl through openings), put fly masks on horses to protect their eyes.

There are many articles of protective clothing for the traveling horse. Tall horses can wear “head bumpers” which are cushioned helmets that protect the very vulnerable “poll” at the top of the equine head. Shipping boots or bandages protect the legs and “bell boots” protect the hoof and heels in case the horse steps on himself. Rubber hoof boots can add more traction and a bungee or “safety” tie to secure the horse by the halter is a practical method. Always tie horses with a quick release knot that can be untied with one swift tug.

Providing hay (we soak it in some water just before) to munch can be calming for the horse and keeping his gut working is a healthy choice.

Drive your rig with awareness of the animal trying to balance inside. Pull out and stop gradually; go slowly around turns and corners. A horse can become difficult to load and haul if every time he rides in a trailer he is miserable or terrified.

Use common sense when traveling. Never unload horses beside a busy highway. Do not let a horse graze (nor pick grasses) from the side of roads where pesticides are likely to have been applied. If you are on the road and the horses become upset in the trailer, pull over and let some traffic go by. Some vehicles (and often motorcycles) can have the little high pitched sound “whistles” mounted that serve to chase deer away from the road. These sounds can overwhelm a horse.

Load and unload him in the trailer with awareness of his feelings and according to the type of rig. If he is tied in the stall of a “straight” load trailer, always untie him from the front before opening the rear door and butt guard to unload him!

When you have to back up your trailer, hold the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand slowly in the direction you want the trailer to go. Back up very slowly, making corrections slowly. If the rig tries to jack knife, pull forward to straighten up and start over.

Hauling horses can be a “snap” if you think ahead, prepare and stay focused on safety.

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Running on the bottom of the tank

Several years ago, I had an art studio in Tubac, Arizona. Across the courtyard from my place in “The Tower” was another artist, Linda. She and I both drove Jeeps.

Artist Complex

Linda kept her gas tank full all the time (back then, gas had climbed to over $5.00 a gallon there!) by filling it each time it got down to 3/4 of a tank. I frantically, holding my breath, made it to the gas station as the gauge read empty and put in 1/4 of a tank’s worth each time… we were spending the same amount of money, but I was in a constant hyper-vigilant state, living in limitation and fear (as far as the petrol was concerned!).

Tower Studio, Tubac

I was running on the bottom of my gas tank. In doing so, I created misery for myself (all through that part of Arizona are long stretches with no gas stations) when a simple solution, obvious but ignored, would have given me peace of mind. I could have filled my gas tank to the brim when a painting sold and adopted Linda’s practice of keeping the darn thing full!

I see this situation unfold in other strange ways in my life now. I was letting dishes gather in the sink to be washed because I “had no time”, but I did have to make time eventually to wash them. My solution now is to unload clean dishes from the dishwasher the moment they are done and place the dirty dishes as they are dirtied into the dishwasher immediately. Now, I’ve not had a working dishwasher until this home, so my appreciation for this is great.

What may seem so simply obvious can become overlooked and unknown when a person (especially a horse person) crams 24 hours worth of work and projects into 12 hours! Yet, I think about Linda a lot.

What would Linda do? I have asked myself – about laundry piled beside the full hamper; the full trash cans and it is cold and dark outside (to take them to the dumpster); the empty toilet paper rolls, dust bunnies in the corners, houseplants wilting, nose prints on the storm door (canine) – would she walk by and intend to address these later. I think she would just do what she saw needed to be done. And, unless it interferes with a lesson I have to teach, I just do what I see needs to be done now, too.

I remember being more like Linda in my past. I was organized and focused and had a great deal of confidence. I now remind myself (and am reminding you) that – if I can do something once, I can do it a hundred times – if you can trot one twenty meter circle, you can trot a hundred of ’em!

And, if you are feeling overwhelmed or disorganized, think, “What would Linda do?” It’s working for me.

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Horses ARE light shining in our lives!

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Trail Riding clears out the cobwebs!

 

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Andy Alee me

Malie First Trail Ride 2

 

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Water is Life

We have very much needed all the rain we received last night.

Grateful horses, plants and people at Dharmahorse today.

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Fuzzy Therapists

Within the past two decades, the phenomenon of Equine Assisted Therapies has brought a profound and realistic way of healing humans through contact with horses. Having worked within the industry in both the psychological and physical therapy aspects, I have seen the astonishing results that are possible.

Sometimes the horses are used merely as tools to facilitate the benefit to the humans. Other times, the well being of the horses is brought into the equation as an actual part of the process. This latter approach can be integral to the most permanent healing as participants experience compassion and empathy, allowing personal growth and healing with respect for all life.

Love is

When the dynamic of the Holistic approach is applied, things like children talking who had not in years; releasing of traumatic memories; circulation and feeling improving in legs/hips/back of a rider, etc. become common place. I love what horses can inspire in us.

There was a study done through our University through the observance of a program facilitated by my horses and myself years ago. The conclusion of the study was that horses in therapeutic service built resiliency in humans, especially children. I know that the struggles of my own childhood might have consumed me if not for the healing power of the horses in my young life.

Every horse owner knows that they have a shoulder to lean upon, an ear to listen and a gentle soul who cares in the embodiment of their horse(s).

My personal dream has been to create a space in which people with disabilities (Hippotherapy) and those in need of emotional support (Equine Assisted Learning and Psychotherapy) could commune with the horses in sanctuary at Dharmahorse. We do provide this very thing in a limited way. Our vision is to expand it in a facility supported by compassion and respect. While many programs see the horses as potentially disposable, I think such a protocol sends a mixed message to people who may also feel “expendable” or imperfect.

Horses come in all sizes, shapes and temperaments. Appropriate qualities for the job they will do are, of course, a priority. But the gentlest, best schooled horse in the world can be “untrained” in a matter of days with incongruent handling and confusing expectations. It behooves us to see both the client and the horse (as therapist) as partners in the process and not burden the equine, either physically or mentally, beyond his capabilities. They are individuals, just as we are.

Within the equine assisted therapeutic programs, there exist numerous possibilities for children as young as 3 or 4 years to elder equestrians in their 70’s, 80’s and beyond (I have students in these categories who learn focus and who stay agile thanks to easy, gentle horsemanship). And there are national and international organizations that oversee the facilities, the instructors, the programs and the therapists of their members.

The value of the horses in these settings goes well beyond their contribution as “mounts”, tools or objects. Horses will become ambassadors of kindness and respect; teachers of self control and commitment. If you are passive with a horse, he ignores you. If you are aggressive with a horse, he will fear you. If you are assertive with a horse, he will respect you… if you are trustworthy, he will trust you. We can learn a lot from a horse.

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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

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Healing Takes Time

So often we humans see things as either healthy or unhealthy, sound or unsound when it comes to our horses. Truth is, there are so many variations of condition that our horses are often somewhere in between and in the process of healing one thing or another most of the time.

Immune systems are on alert 24/7 and things like stress from weather conditions or travel or training can put additional strain on the body’s defenses. Tissue damage from wounds or strains will call in the resources of cellular support through granulation, inflammation, mineralization and/or fluid fill.

Obvious problems are dealt with promptly through Veterinary intervention or owner care and sometimes the human goes to “out of sight, out of mind” mode.  Many times a malady is addressed with the strongest allopathic medicine available which can suppress symptoms to ease the equine, but the condition and its cause are still viable. This makes the horse more vulnerable to further injury or illness because the body has not been given the time needed to actually heal.

Bodies know how to heal. All we do is support that process and reduce further damage while easing discomfort. If we remove the body’s own innate systems of protection (pain, inflammation and edema), then we must rest the horse and not act as if nothing had happened. Flesh, bone and blood need time to heal. Pain keeps the body from reinjuring something; inflammation acts as a natural “splint” to help immobilize a traumatized area.  All injuries receive an increased supply of blood to bring healing and detoxifying agents immediately to the site.

Sometimes, after a horse has not fully recovered “quickly enough”, alternative treatments are considered. At Dharmahorse, the “alternatives” of herbs, Homeopathy, hydrotherapy, oils and nutrition are our first choices as we endeavor to enhance healing while determining the underlying cause of disease or disorders. The pharmaceuticals that the Vet prescribes are in addition to our support of the body. We believe that relieving only the symptoms prolongs healing time.

As stewards of our horses, we need to take a “Whole Horse” approach and we must recognize that when the body is healing an injury or a malady it is at work! Rest is the great equalizer. “Tincture of Time” is the powerful remedy.

Since we have had horses here with skull fractures, cancers, laminitis, founder, split open hooves, COPD, ulcers, severed tendons, contracted tendons, heart murmurs, enteroliths, Uveitis, Cushing’s syndrome, arthritis, abscesses, hypothyroidism, no teeth, hives, bowed tendons, knocked down hips, upward fixation of the patella, pelvic misalignment and more… we have learned the lessons of patience. And we have learned that bodies really do know how to heal – given time, support, nourishment and love. Everyone at Dharmahorse is in one phase or another of healing, not only the horses, but the humans as well.

And that is the incredible symbiosis of horse/human relationships. We support each others’ healing with positive experiences, compassion, touch contact and empathy. When we can see the big picture of ongoing healthy choices and practices, we can heal each other.

herb properties

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Changes in the Weather

All animals are affected by the changes of season. Their “internal clocks” are moved by the changes of light as the earth tilts and the hemispheres have more and less daylight. Our horses are beings of Nature and their systems are ruled by these rhythms. Mares will cycle as the light increases. Horses start shedding their winter coats as the days get longer (more a factor than warmer weather!). It is the degree of the cold, day in, day out that determines the thickness of the winter coat.
Yet, changes in temperature, air pressure and moisture have a huge impact. Going from a warm climate to a cold climate is usually easier on the healthy horse’s metabolism than going from cold to hot. In all cases, they adjust, but more consideration is necessary for the horse who arrives at the desert or tropics with a heavy coat and circulatory system adjusted to keeping his core warm. This horse might need to be body clipped and might require fans in his shelter to help his sweat evaporate. We had this very thing at our Sanctuary when a horse arrived from Maine.
The horse arriving at a frigid location after leaving the heat will need shelter and probably need his water warmed a bit, but he will grow a proper long coat quickly and instinctively stay in motion to create body heat.
Water consumption can be influenced by the weather and with horses, the results can be life threatening. It is inadequate water intake that can set a horse on a downward spiral. While this can cause dehydration, overheating, kidney stress and mineral imbalances; it is the digestive disturbance that can become a matter of life and death in mere hours.
This “upset stomach” is called colic and it can be caused by toxins, rich or unfamiliar foods, gas, parasites, constipation or ulcers. The constipation is a result from low water consumption. It can very quickly turn into an “impaction colic” that can require surgery to alleviate.
Horses have long, twisting digestive tracts with a small stomach and an inability to vomit! All foods ingested have a massive, narrow path to negotiate and this requires a large amount of moisture. Horses on pastures have the advantage of eating food with moisture included. Horses on hay need fresh, clean drinking water available at all times. Horses that eat pellets or cubes need those soaked well in water before being fed.
If the weather turns cold suddenly, horses tend to drink less. If the weather turns hot suddenly, horses need to drink more than they are used to drinking. It’s a real balancing act. We feed regular sopping wet wheat bran mashes at our stable. The bran provides needed phosphorus for horses in our area of the country and is a base to which we add their healing herbs. And, best of all, it carries precious moisture into their guts every day. We have a tribe member who brings appropriate fresh, moist foods to the horses which also maintain “gut motility”.
Our 2017 “Owner Empowerment Workshop Series” starts off March 4th at Dharmahorse with an afternoon about Colic. These are workshops on “Prevent”, “First Response” and “Return to Health”. These three aspects are the foundation of care for horses who face any disease or disorder.
While none of us can control the weather, we can adapt our equine care protocols to support good health and soundness no matter what blows down the mountain. We can keep waterproof blankets handy; fly/dust masks, fans and clippers at hand; electrolytes to feed for excessive sweating; milk of magnesia to dose for hard dry stool and we can consult with Veterinarians, equine specialists and teaching stables to add to our knowledge tool kits.

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