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Memoirs of a Horse Owner by Sam "Deworming"

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 10, 2012 07:44

Memoirs of a Horse Owner


Horsemanship ....... it is an art, a science, a tradition and a lifelong journey!


The articles written for  are a collection of my personal memoirs as a horse owner.  They are about my experiences and about my understanding of horsemanship.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of  and in some cases, they do not reflect the opinion of the majority of horse owners today.  They are about my journey toward understanding a horse.



     I purchased a horse that had a long history of making routine tasks difficult.  He was well practised and he was good at it.  He knew all about how to make people give up and go to the house. 


    His greatest performance occurred at deworming time.  As a rule, the deworming paste ended up on his forehead and all over his muzzle, on the ground and in my hair.  It is real hard to aim a deworming syringe at the mouth of a moving target and I believe he knew that.   


     Albert Einstein said that there was no point in doing the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again, and expecting a different outcome each time.  I think that applies to horses too.  If you are not getting the results that you want, it would be wise to stop what you are doing and think of a better way to ask the horse to accept the task at hand.


     It seemed to me that if I ever wanted to deworm this horse, without a hassle, and maybe even without a halter and rope, I had to stop what I was doing and think of a better way to teach him to accept deworming. 


     I knew that one of the few things that he was real good at was eating.  He'd eat his share of the grub and anything else that was left within his reach.  He was like a fat kid after a cupcake.  For the most part his oral fixation was just a nuisance.  However it occurred to me that perhaps I could get it working in my favor.    


   Although using treats to train a horse is considered taboo with some folks, I was desperate to find a solution.  The way I saw it, things really couldn't get much worse.  So I decided to give it a try.  


   I started giving him a handful of rolled oats with a syringe full of molasses on top of the oats.  After a few days, I left off on the oats and gave him a syringe full of molasses in his feed dish.  He'd lick up the molasses until the dish was perfectly clean and then he'd come back and lick the dish all over again. 


   Within a few days he was willing to lick the molasses off of the syringe.  It wasn't long before he came to the idea that he could get to the molasses quicker if I put the syringe in his mouth.  Once he was willing to accept the syringe, deworming became a simple task.  


    I know that success at any task depends on my ability to present the task in a way that makes sense to the horse.  I know that I am most likely to succeed when I am able to make my idea seem like it was the horse's idea.  Sometimes it is difficult to figure out how to do that.  Learning to work with what the horse offers is what the lifelong journey into what horsemanship is all about.


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posted by Horse Owner Today    |   November 18, 2011 09:15

I am addressing this question perhaps more as a dressage trainer and teacher than as a veterinarian, so as such this is not a definitive answer, just my opinion of this issue.

Hyperflexion is a relatively recent and controversial topic in the world of competitive dressage horse training.  Proponents of extreme hyperflexion are few but unfortunately several are famous and successful on the world championship/Olympic stage.  They claim that flexion of the horse's jaw/head far far past the vertical for extended periods of work gives more lift to the back and more elasticity to the movement when ridden up in a more normal position during a test.  There are a large majority of trainers who occasionally during schooling use an overbent longitudinal position  [behind vertical, lower neck] and also lateral positions outside of the classic desired "frame". However these positions are used for seconds only to supple or unlock a resistant jaw or to prevent an evasion in another part of the body.  As soon as possible the horse is returned to a normal vertical frame so that the classic goals of forward through the back and soft in jaw can be achieved with the poll, not the third vertebra  or mid neck the highest point.  

There are extremists on both sides [which can occupy one for hours on youtube] with some riders clearly causing physical and mental distress to the horse. In some instances permanent physical damage to vertebrae and supporting structures can occur and/or long term or permanent psychological damage including a resigned helpless and joyless horse.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, other extremists vehemently state that all horses ridden in a bit are in pain at all times and are being abused.  

Most reasonable horsemen and trainers love and respect horses and appreciate dressage as an art as well as a sport.  They certainly fall between these extremes.  I believe that realistic and fair -minded trainers are aware that at times getting a horse to comply may involve some battles of wills and bodies but we all hope this is as brief a period as possible.  

It is prudent to remember that classical dressage changed very little over the past hundred + years as far as ideals and methods are concerned.  Todays sport horses are bigger, more powerful, athletic and more extreme movers with each generation.  It is tempting to rush these fantastic horses to the FEI levels because they apparently can, but producing a horse that keeps a sound body and mind with joy in his work for his lifetime takes as long as it ever did. When a 'new' technique surfaces, such as extreme hyperflexion, I hope that riders and trainers educate themselves, talk to people they trust and continue to use good judgement in training their horses as individuals.

Dr Lisa Wayman DVM contributor to "Ask a Vet"
-Corman Park Vet Svc
-trainer of  2 Grand Prix horses and mother of 2 young horsewomen