Showing posts with label health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label health. Show all posts

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Horse Racing Preconceived Notions: Weight

My fiancé and I looked at a horse at the track for someone that was interested in it for eventing. This mare was actually in the same barn as us, so we already knew some about her. She was really thin and needed some serious work in the hind end. Other than that, I really liked her. She was as sweet as can be, tall, clean legged, pretty, and smart. On top of that, she was well bred and would be worth at least as much as a broodmare. If she didn't work out as an eventer, she would still be marketable. The lady bought her.

I was looking through Facebook one day and happened to see that the lady who bought her posted pictures the day that the mare arrived (the new owner had tagged a couple of mutual friends in the pics, I wasn't stalking). She looked extremely thin and her previously shiny coat was all puffed up (she'd just left 75° weather to go to 30° weather) from the cold. Plus she had just taken a very long trailer ride that had sucked her down even thinner. In short, the mare looked like shit.

Not the horse she bought. All of these pictures are of horses that are or are close to the weight and condition that we typically want. This guy is bordering on being just a bit too heavy.

I'm not blaming the new owner for posting the pictures. It's a new horse, she probably was a little shocked by her weight, and she probably wanted to track the horse's progress. I would have done the same.

What bothered me were the comments, not only in just the first post of her, but in the ones that followed too (again not stalking, friends were tagged in them). People were saying that the mare just needed groceries and some TLC, that she must think she died and went to heaven. They assumed that she had been neglected. I know it's an easy conclusion to jump to, but they are so far off that it isn't funny. None of them saw what her life was like at the track, but I did.

This mare started her career in a very good barn. Seriously, almost all of this guy's horses look absolutely phenomenal and are the ideal of what a fit and healthy racehorse should look like. They are fed extremely well. This mare was an exception to the rule when it came to weight and muscle. While I'm sure that she was fed and trained just as well as the rest, I never would have guessed that she could have come from that barn if someone hadn't told me. When the next trainer bought her she was already thin.

The next trainer is an old man, the mare his only horse. He spent a ton of time grooming and petting her. She was given more than enough feed and it wasn't poor quality. I was doing something with one of our horses one day and looked over to see this old man crouched down picking as much grass as he could to take to her, not because he was doing it to get her to gain weight, but because he knew it would make her happy. It had to have hurt him. Anything he could try to get weight on her, he tried. He did get some weight on her, but he could never get enough. Even though she was thin, she still had a healthy coat and her eyes were bright. She was always happy and never seemed sour or depressed.

The mare loved him. She would just stand there perfectly and let him do whatever he wanted with her. His hands were arthritic and the mare would patiently walk next to him for as long as it took for him to get the walker snap on and off of her. He was very kind to her and in return, she was just as kind to him. They appreciated each other.

I will admit that it probably took longer than it should have for the old man to give up on her racing career. However, when your wife is dead and you have nothing else to do, it's a little hard to give up on the one thing that fills your day. He believed in her and she would often show just enough for him to justify giving her one more chance.

When he finally did decide that she needed a different career, he just wanted her to have a good home. He wasn't asking much money for her, she was definitely worth at least what he asked because of her breeding. Fortunately, I believe that she did find a good home.

I don't know why the mare wouldn't gain weight. She probably had ulcers (her coat was still shiny and healthy) and I think that the hind end issues bothered her quite a bit, even though she wasn't actually lame. Maybe track life was just too much for her. I don't know. What I do know was that no matter how hard the old man tried, she never put on as much weight as she should have. The point is that he DID try. He may have made mistakes unintentionally, but he never neglected her and he definitely never starved her. She was probably fed more than 95% of horses that have careers outside of the track.

While there are a few people on the track that don't feed well, most do. Anyone that is competent at all realizes that the horses need good groceries to perform well. Not to mention, no owner wants to hire a trainer who's horses are thin and nasty looking. It's just bad business and no good ever comes out of feeding a horse poorly.

Does this mean that well fed horses always look good? Absolutely not. There are so many other factors that contribute to weight loss like ulcers, illness, stress, pain, etc. While most people do everything they can to prevent this from happening, sometimes it happens anyway. It can happen fast, too. Anything can happen. Just like with any other horse on the planet.

I understand that people, who's only knowledge of the track is what they've heard through the media, are going to have a hard time believing a horse would be in bad condition for any other reason than mistreatment and neglect. Even people that have been involved in racing might have trouble believing otherwise. It can be the case, but just as often there are other factors involved. There is almost always more to the story and few situations are that black and white.

In the end, all that really matters is that the mare is in a good home where she gets good treatment. I hope that she will continue to gain weight and muscle. If she doesn't, I hope that the people judging the previous owner don't jump to the same conclusions about the treatment she is getting from the current one. I guess I just wish people would question more and judge less before reaching a conclusion.

*I'm sure that some of the horses in these pictures look slightly thin to people who participate in other disciplines. I guess I'd have to ask if you ever see a person that runs track carry as much weight as a sumo wrestler? No? Why do you think that is? Well, that is precisely why these horses don't carry the same weight as a dressage horse does. You're comparing apples to oranges.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


There is, and always will be, a heavy debate about the use of alternative therapies on horses. To me, it's been useful. However, there is a lot more to it's success than just a simple treatment. I'm not saying that they are for everyone or every horse. If you are considering using alternative therapies, here are some things to keep in mind and how those therapies could possibly fail.

*I generalized alternative therapies instead of going into each one available along with putting everyone who practices those therapies in the "equine therapist" category. This isn't technically correct, but it gives you the basic idea. Mostly, I am referring to chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and massage and laser therapy.

1. It should be used in conjunction with a veterinarian's diagnosis and treatment, not as a replacement.

There are a lot of vets out there these days that approve of or perform chiropractic, acupuncture, laser therapy, etc. under the right circumstances. The equine therapist I use wants the vet to diagnose and approve the work that she will be doing and to make sure that her treatments won't interfere with the veterinarian's. Because she is working with the vet, not trying to replace him, he approves and the horses aren't put at risk.

On another note, if you have someone that performs alternative therapies that IS pushing their services in place of veterinarian diagnosis and care, I would highly recommend not using them.

2. Don't expect a miracle cure.

Alternative therapies can help aid in recovery, but don't expect that someone can magically fix your horse overnight.

3. They can be very useful as a preventative.

Horses tend to be more likely to obtain injuries when they aren't moving correctly. For instance, if a horses is out of alignment or has body soreness, they probably aren't moving evenly. This can put more pressure or decrease the efficiency of another limb and that can lead to injuries/damage in joints and tendons. Keeping your horse loose and aligned helps prevent the damage to other areas. No, that doesn't mean that your horse is suddenly invincible, but it does decrease the risk of injury.

5. There are many factors in keeping a horse sound.

No veterinary treatment or alternative therapy is going to fix a horse that is shod, ridden, trained, or fed incorrectly in the long run. An ill fitting saddle won't do you any favors either. Don't expect treatments to compensate for all of that. Everthing has an equal part to play.

6. It usually takes more than one treatment.

How often do you hear of people getting one chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, or laser therapy treatment and suddenly being and staying completely fine? Very rarely. I don't see why horses would be any different. Be willing to do it correctly or don't waste money doing it at all. This is why you need to go with a therapist that is reputable and known to be honest.

7. Do your part.

This one pretty much goes with #5, but there is more to add to it. There are lots of things you can do yourself to help your horse. If they need their feet packed or leg work done, do it. Learn how to stretch them correctly and make it part of your routine. If you have them, use therapeutic blankets such as Thermotex or Back on Track. Educate yourself on the basics of equine nutrition and what your horse needs to feel well. There are a lot of things you can do to help extend the results of alternative therapies.

8. Avoid the uneducated therapists.

Before you let someone that isn't a vet go to tweaking, poking, or lasering your horse, do some homework. Ask about what training/certifications they have and what type of equipment, when applicable, they use. Try to go with someone that is recommended/approved by your vet. There are many equine "therapists" that have little to no official training. Make sure you pick one that does. Also, remember that it isn't their job to diagnose illnesses and injuries. If they are credible, they will want a vet's diagnosis. No one with a brain wants to put themself at risk of a law suit. The equine therapist we use is a certified thermographer (thermal camera imaging). However, she only uses it to see if there's a problem showing up, not to diagnose what that problem is. If something looks suspicious, she won't touch it until the vet has a look. Thermal imaging should NEVER be used to diagnose injuries or illnesses!

I've found that, when used correctly with realistic expectations, alternative therapies can be a very good investment. They aren't going to make your horse run faster, jump higher, or move better than it is designed to do. What alternative therapies can do is help, not make, your horse perform to the best of it's capabilities while keeping them sound and healthy longer.

Friday, February 21, 2014


You just bought a horse off the track. First of all, thank you! These horses are amazing athletes and deserve a shot at a second career. I love seeing them being given that opportunity.

So now comes that transition period. In the first few weeks/months of being off the track it is easy for them to go from looking like this horse:


To looking like this horse:

Nasty grass hay belly and coat. Loss of muscle over the top line, on the hips, and on the neck. Needs wormed.

Shows the loss of the muscling over the top line and the long coat better.