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Environment Image Equine Management and Training - by The Frederick A Cook Partnership
Horse Talk Help!
We receive many panicky telephone calls from owners when things go wrong or did not even get started! In this edition of Horsetalk I go through a few of the most common problems people have and list a few of the solutions. Regarding riding difficulties it is impracticable to list them here as each situation is different and an appropriate judgement cannot be made without seeing the horse/rider and knowing levels of capability. Please contact us with specific queries.  
There are quite a few reasons for this. Mostly the solutions are simple even if it takes a while for the outward results to manifest, but sometimes weight loss can be a symptom of something more serious 

(a) Teeth/mouth -The most common cause of a horse/pony losing weight is a problem in this area.

By nature the horse is a "grinder"; for this it is well equipped with a very long jawbone filled with molars. In the wild horses would eat a variety of tougher herbages which would assist in the natural maintenance of it teeth plus it would chew on other objects such as wood/scrub. In our environment, we provide a nice mixed up feed that is easily swallowed without the need for much chewing (hence the reason why we then add such things as chaff to slow the intake of food down and encourage the horse to masticate; and much of the hay is very soft in texture.

Consequently the teeth are not being kept "worn" down so sharp edges develop which after a while, as the tooth grows, can cut into the soft tissue at the side of the mouth, particularly when the horse has the added hindrance of a bit and someone pulling on the end of it!

Once the teeth develop sharp edges the horse is unable to grind its food accurately (the top and bottom teeth work in partnership, not independently). This means that as the horse does not chew its food very well it is not properly digested, but "passes" through instead with very little or no nutritional benefit. If this situation goes unnoticed for a period of time, yet the horse is still being exercised or is outside in cold weather, then it will lose weight, however much you are feeding.

Sharp teeth can cause the sides of the mouth to be lacerated. Also a tooth could have come loose or be growing in the wrong direction. The tongue may be bruised due to an ill-fitting bit/bridle or one that is too severe. Check for signs of any other form of injury e.g. a thorn (horses are prone to nibble at the hedgerow). There may be an abscess.

Watch your horse eating – as it chews if food falls out of the mouth, that is a sign that all might not be well; head tossing, grinding of the teeth and other such evasions whilst being ridden are also signs that all is not well – be the cause teeth or inappropriate bitting, riding technique or a manifestation of some other physical ailment (sore back, tightness in the shoulder etc.).

We advocate teeth being checked twice a year to keep sharp edges at bay.

(b) Worms -

Again, another very common cause of weight loss as the horse will not get the nutritional benefit of what you are giving him. Keep your worming programme up to date. It is well worth having a worm count done if you are at all concerned that your worming programme is not effective. 

Resistances to certain wormers can develop and this is why you should change wormers periodically. Sometimes a horse has a particularly heavy infestation which routine worming does not overcome and a more intense dosage (as directed by your veterinary surgeon may be required).

An effective worming programme is very important – worms can cause colic.

(c) Underfeeding -

Yes, sadly this does happen.

Some owners are, understandably, concerned that their horse might become too "fizzy" if fed certain foods and are worried about being tipped off or run away with. There are so many different feeds on the market these days to cater for all situations that no-one should have cause for concern about their horse becoming too lively because of what it is fed. A car cannot run without fuel – likewise you cannot expect a horse to work without putting something back into its system; that's why we go on diets and exercise – to lose weight!

(d) Not quite the right feed -

It may be that you are feeding a diet that is having too much a laxative effect! Whilst sugar beet has its benefits, if fed too sloppy, it goes straight through and takes everything else with it! Yes sugar beet has to be soaked and to be on the safe side, often it is put in too much water so instead of being nicely moist, a scoop contains as much water as it does sugar beet. At feed time drain some of the excess off or use it then to soak and then cook some linseed in. Over-wet bran also has a laxative effect; there is a difference between "wet" and the "dampness", say, that proper a bran-mash has. Note also feed quality – if feed is musty or well past its sell by date it will lose its nutritional benefits. It is better to pay a little bit more money for good quality hay – in the long run you will actually save money because you will not have to feed so much.

If you are not sure about your feeding programme, please ask for advice.

(e) Stress -

Bullying - horses that live out could be the victims of a field bully. This puts the horse under stress and anything under stress loses weight. Watch particularly at feeding time – you will soon see the signs, the victim will hang back. Some other causes of stress are:unsatisfactory environment, bad management (e.g. irregular feeding, hunger), inappropriate work schedule (e.g. horse not fit enough for work being asked of it, he's physically not capable of doing what you ask of him, boredom.

(f) The Cold -

If your horse is cold he will use his bodily reserves to keep warm. Fibre is vital in this respect as, as it ferments in the hindgut, heat is released which warms the body. This is true for all horses but especially so for those that live out in the winter.

(g) Pain -

If the pain is a result of a direct injury then obviously know about it and can get help but sometimes it's more a case of a discomfort that niggles on day in, day out which over a period of time is stressful. Check you horse all over for signs of a sore spot by pressing your fingertips against his skin. Have someone skilled in the art of equine massage or chiropractory to check your horse out.

(h) The Veteran –

Older horses have more specific nutritional requirements as absorption is not so efficient. Other physical elements (such as arthritis) also come into play so seek advice if you are not sure about the additional attention the older horse requires.

Continued weight loss, having eliminated, the above requires veterinary attention.


We ourselves are the culprits for most loading difficulties.

Check First:

1. Make sure there is enough room – remember horses balance by standing with their legs apart. Is there enough headroom for larger horses?
2. Make sure the floor surface is not slippery
3. How dark is your trailer/box inside? Horses need light
4. Is there something within the vehicle that makes a noise (something may have come loose)?

Points to Note:

1. You may be in the habit of tying your horse up on too short a rope so that he can't move his head
2. Equally, you may be giving him too much rope that he gets his head turned and then loses his balance (or may have got himself stuck at one time)
3. He may get too hot if you're in the habit of piling on the rugs
4. Ventilation is important but equally so Dobbin may not like a raging gale blowing on his face through an open window by his head
5. He may not like a tail bandage –often put on too tight
6. He may not like travelling boots – convenient for us, but not all horses are happy with them
7. If you tend to travel with more than horse, it could be that one is bullying the other – generally being dominant and assertive – in which case make sure the partitions sufficiently extend in the head area so as to stop horses from nipping each other

The most likely causes of a horse that has always loaded without a hitch in the past suddenly saying "no" (having eliminated all of the above) are:

1. He had a bad journey last time out – he may have slipped or banged his head when you went round a bend too fast, pulled up sharply or drove too fast (in the case of a trailer, causing it to sway)
2. He had a bad/stressful experience last time out – vet/show/hunting/a fall
3. You encountered a large vehicle on a narrow road that resulted in you brushing along the hedgerow, the noise of which frightened Dobbin
4. Dobbin slipped up on the ramp or banged his head going in
5. There may have been a problem when unloading

Restoring confidence can be quite a long process depending on the cause and you may need help.


1. Allow plenty of time – horses just know when you're in a rush!
2. Load near a wall or hedge to minimise the escape routes
3. Load on a non-slip surface
4. Make sure you can get loaded in daylight before trying in darkness (but even then make sure you've good lighting in and around your vehicle)
5. Avoid eye contact and aggressive body language
6. Whilst a flick with a lunge whip or lunge lines behind the quarters are methods which achieve results with horses that are being plain stubborn and naughty (i.e. Dobbin just trying us out to see what he can get away with) or just need a nudge to encourage the to go forward, they are not methods to use with a horse that has been frightened or with one that has not been loaded before

Use a bridle fitted with a coupling with a long lead line on it or a lunge rein attached to the offside bit ring, placed over the poll and through the bit ring on the near side to give you more control.

For young horses that have not loaded before, do some work with a "natural method" halter (we do not like to call them pressure halters as this infers the wrong meaning in their usage) for a few days so that they understand how it works (the pressure/release = comfort [zone]) and then load with that rather than a bridle so as not to pull an especially sensitive, immature mouth about or send out the wrong signals.

Another horse already loaded into the vehicle is not a foolproof solution


Usually because last time:

1. Clippers ran rather too hot
2. The blades were not sharp enough and pulled the hair
3. You nipped delicate skin
4. Your clippers are very noisy
5. You took an absolute age and Dobbin became bored/cold
6. It's the wrong time of day; Dobbin is fidgety because its nearly feed time!
7. Dobbin's friends are out in the field and he's been dragged in!
8. There may be a bad memory from previous occasions prior to your ownership.

All of the above bar (8) can be resolved easily. If your horse has a real phobia then it will be a painstaking task to restore his confidence. You will need the help of a competent assistant, lots of time and patience and be prepared to use a pair of veterinary clippers until your horse is happy once again. If he really is extremely stressed, he will sweat, in which case you are defeated so it may be best to resort to a tranquilliser unless you can spare the time to do little and often.

The use of twitch is not the correct way with a horse that is genuinely fearful of being clipped; its use for clipping around delicate eyes and ears is acceptable as a means of keeping a horse stock still (therefore enabling the clipping in these areas to be done very quickly) so that the risk of damaging either is kept to an absolute minimum, provided you are not using the twitch to make up for your own deficient clipping technique or to combat the natural reactions to clippers that are running too hot or blades that are pulling.

Difficulties with mane and tail pulling are because pain has been inflicted. The crest and dock soon become sore if you do too much at a time. Using a twitch as a quick fix is by no means the ideal answer as that's like someone tying your hands together and then plucking your hair out – how would you like it; Once again, a lot of time and patience will win through.


Horses usually drag us about in their eagerness to get to the grass field or back to the stable for a feed so it is understandable and arises as the horse becomes the more dominant one in the relationship and decides where he want to go, when and at what speed!

Lead with a bridle (fitted with a coupling) so that you have more control (unless your horse had been accustomed to a "natural method" halter in which case use that). Make him lead at your pace and if that's too fast, check him back.

In the case of those that won't lead – trying to drag him so that his head and neck are stretched out in the "stubborn mule" stance" will only make the situation worse; don't look him in the face – that results in the classic stand off; a flick up his side with the end of the lead rope will probably result in a huge sideways leap and Dobbin getting away from you; encourage him to walk out by following another or having someone by his quarters (not out of sight which results in the horse trying to look back to see who or what is there, or in the extreme causes fright and a rush forward) to send/encourage him on.

How many times have you been left hopping along at Dobbin's side? I think we've all been there at some time or other! It's o.k. to have a laugh but it can be a potentially dangerous situation. You will need to teach Dobbin to stand, which is not a five minute job so in the interim, stand in front of a wall or hedge and face him towards it.

Firstly ask yourself if you are capable. Do you know how to convey your instructions clearly and correctly?

There is lunging as a means of settling a horse before mounting in which cases horse is wound around at too fast a pace until rider feels its safe to get on (any fool can do that); then there is lunging as a means of actually teaching the horse something.

Many people stand rigid in the centre of the circle hauling the horse's head towards them (the quarters are then turned out into the next field!) and are too far in front of the movement. If you have not had proper tuition it is well worth making the effort to have a lesson. If you don't know what you are doing then you cannot expect your horse to know either.

If the horse has a tendency to cave in or cut across the circle (often referred to as "my horse goes for me on the lunge line") use a double lunge. This gives you much more control over the horse itself and its way of going (you can control the quarters for one thing) and enables you to be much more flexible in your range of exercises.

Has your horse been taught? If a youngster, seek assistance if you have not taught a young horse to lunge from scratch before.

Remember that working on a circle correctly is hard work for a horse so don't prolong your sessions otherwise your horse may become resentful.


You can't blame him, his natural instinct says "no".

It's very scary for a horse – it doesn't know what's about to leap out at him, how deep the water is, that the ground isn't going to swallow him up.

It's a case of encouragement and praise all the way and most definitely not punishment. You must not frighten a horse into water. You know it's o.k. he doesn't. Your friend says there's nothing to worry about bungee jumping, but I'd give them an argument on that one!!! Once in water, many horses actually enjoy it and some will happily swim in deeper water. (Fred had a horse that began swimming out to sea with him!).

At home make sure Dobbin is happy with water running on his feet by let it trickle from a hose pipe down his lower leg; make him walk through puddles.

Start somewhere where the water is still so the noise is not off-putting and that has a gentle slope into it so that Dobbin can be encouraged to walk into it rather than expecting him to leap into the great unknown from a cliff edge!

A lead from another horse does not always work as the splashing can be alarming – better if the other horse, if it will stand still, goes into the water first then Dobbin can see that it is not worried by the experience; certainly don't expect Dobbin to leave his friend on dry land - at least have his pal stood on the other side to encourage Dobbin to go to him; a lead from a ground handler is helpful especially if it is someone the horse knows and has confidence in but this person must not pull at or drag the horse or lead him yourself – get him into the water without a rider first. Again, a "natural method" halter will be helpful.

As with all equine training time and patience is the essence.

* * * * * * * *

These articles will cover all aspects of equine management and training but are only intended to provide a guide and are not to be construed as a substitute to seeking professional advices for individual situations.

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