Tag Archives: horse management

Cribbing/Windsucking – case study in minimising the behaviour through management. Part 2: Plan of action & Results

By Wiola Grabowska

PART 2 of LEO’S CRIBBING STORY (and how I decreased it without using cribbing collars) 

leo over the door 2

If you haven’t read the Part 1 in which I explained the background of Leo’s cribbing and my ways of investigating the causes in his case, please see the post linked here: PART 1: CRIBBING/WINDSUCKING CASE STUDY

Plan of action

Agrobs musli leo
Alpengrun Musli

First thing I decided to do was to take control of his diet. “You are what you eat” and all that 😉
After talking to many people as well as having a good read around of tens of Forums and hundreds of opinions I settled for a German feed brand called Agrobs and went for 2 products from their range: Alpengrun Musli and Alpengrun Mash Gut Restorer.
I also learnt (from the earlier mentioned Conference) that there was a study done on several cribbing horses where horses received 9 feeds daily and their behaviour stopped. I couldn’t possibly replicate that but could feed Leo one additional feed which took his meal numbers to 3 a day.

Second action was to give him turnout company. For that I had to wait a long time as I wanted a relatively stable group for him with lower risk of injuries by being out with big, playful athletic horses . Once the yard was in a position to do so, we created a group of 4 small horses/ponies and Leo seemed immediately happier.

leo in the field with friends

The pain/discomfort aspect is something I’d been working on all the time but at the beginning of the year I booked him for an assessment with a very well respected spinal/horseback vet specialist, Rob Jackson and continued his groundwork focusing on restoring healthy biomechanics to the best of my current knowledge and abilities. One method I noticed to have a fairly significant influence on him is the Tellington Touch Method but I will perhaps talk more about it another time.

Last but not least, I removed his shoes…now, I know some of you will say this might have nothing to do with his cribbing but I know shoes can cause low level, chronic feet dysfunction (discomfort/pain) as well as affect blood circulation in the feet. Whether the blood flow in the legs has anything to do with blood flow in the gut I couldn’t say for sure but since the body works as one unit surely we can’t say no for definite?


As of April 2018 Leo’s cribbing reduced to a point that I only see him do it when I create a situation in which he is most likely to crib in i.e. give him a particular treat (sweeter treats make him want to crib more) or take him to some spots where he used to crib a lot. Other yard members don’t see him crib either.

On the basis of my observation of him, I’d say his cribbing has now decreased by 99%.
In the last 6 weeks I noted 2 singular cribbing episodes: one on his stable door for a couple of “gulps” and one by the leg wash area on a post he used to crib on incessantly. None lasted longer than a couple of minutes in comparison to 15-25 minutes I observed before making changes to his management.

He might still return to crib more in some situations and perhaps he does it at night where I can’t see it but I am very happy with this result as my main concern was a danger of colic or other serious health implications that some cribbing horses are reported to succumb to.

Hope this information will help some of you 🙂 Thank you for reading and until next time!


Starting a young horse – an untold story of hoof proprioception?

Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual,” and capio, capere, to take or grasp, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

Here’s how it might go: 

A horse grows up on a farm, free to roam, eat and play.

At 3 years of age or so he is sat on, bridled, worked with a little and turned away for some months to continue growing and maturing.

At 4 years of age or so, he is entering “the real world” – he is starting his schooling. Only in short sessions at first to condition his bones and muscles and to mentally prepare him for more and more concentration required.

He goes out hacking to see the world and…

Oh – he gets “footy” on the roads, on stones, on rough bridle paths etc so he needs a shiny set of shoes. Yes, now he is “all grown up” and ready to be “a real horse”…

How about…

foot sense

If you have children you may have come across the above – it’s called a Foot Sense workshop and it is aimed at introducing children’s feet to various surfaces…More about it here: www.natureandnurture.co.uk

It would be rather interesting if there were “hoof proprioception” workshops for young horses/horses starting their ridden training, wouldn’t it? 

How about, if every young horse producer allowed for hoof proprioception to develop slowly in the same way as we allow for musculoskeletal system of a young horse to adjust to rider’s weight and the pressures of training?

How about, if every young horse’s diet was considered a big game changer when it comes to hoof health and “footiness” was not assumed to be caused only by surfaces as such?

How about, if every young horse was not considered fit to have their training increased in intensity until their feet can cope with demands of that training?

How about, we think about hooves in a similar way we think about muscles, bones, nervous system? How about, if a horse feels the stoney ground differently to a soft sand and rubber surface and shortens the steps accordingly, doesn’t by default mean that his feet are ill but rather that they are simply healthy (feel well) and still weak? Like the rest of his untrained body?

Would that possibly mean that the statement that “most horses need shoes when they start their training” didn’t have to be true? 

Just some questions to stir your Sunday afternoon 😉

Should I buy a young horse as my first horse? – a very short look at preliminary considerations…

A question of this character makes a frequent appearance in Aspire blog’s “search terms” so I feel I should share at least a few thoughts on the subject from time to time 🙂

Oscar 8 months apart
Oscar, a young gelding showing how many physical changes can happen in a space of 8-9 months…


The most appealing quality of youngsters is their so called “unspoilt” nature. Older horses come with their baggage and here is a chance to train a blank canvas. If you are a good painter, have a decent ability to handle your tools well, you have a high chance of creating a nice painting on that canvas, something of a pleasing quality that brings enjoyment to you and many who come to see your work.

If you are just learning your acrylics from your watercolours, you might really benefit from some faint sketch to follow so the shapes make sense…maybe some education on mixing colours so they match those in real life…

Consider:  if despite your inexperience you are set on purchasing a young horse, you might want to surround yourself with a good support team that can step in quickly when needed. This is sometimes seen as a weakness but is anything but. It shows the knowledge and appreciation of the horse’s learning process, development of habits and confidence.


I often see riders being advised against buying their first horse if it is a youngster. As a general rule, I agree. However, if you took your time to educate yourself well, rode many different horses and handled variety of them at various stages of their life, don’t let the general rule stop you from investigating the possibility further.

If a notion of bringing on your own young horse drives you to acquire the necessary skills, then you might not take the general rule too seriously.

Consider: your level of experience and knowledge of training (be honest with yourself), your ability to work on natural crookedness of a young horse, natural lack of balance, natural hollowness of the back, natural curiosity of the world and natural unpredictability of reactions to that world..


Knowing how horses develop anatomically and physiologically, even if in simple terms only, is an absolute must for anyone who takes on a challenge of educating a youngster. The body changes can be huge in a relatively short space of time. Those changes call for adjustments in tack, nutrition, riding demands, rider position, type of training…

Then there is mental and emotional maturity that can only develop well if the rider is aware of what he/she needs to work on.

Consider: if you are a competent rider but lacking knowledge in the above department, don’t give up – consider involving a trainer who will keep you in check and help you read the changes well. Sometimes eyes on the ground and an experienced seat in the saddle a few times a month is all you need to keep everything under control.


This is probably least mentioned aspect of owning a young horse. Many first time owners want to spend a lot of time with the horse, go for longer rides, fun rides, hacks with friends, schooling shows etc etc There are many views on young horse training including how much “stress” is too much and how much is necessary for learning to happen, but one thing is pretty sure: you don’t spend a long time on a young horse’s back…

Consider: youngsters thrive on short sessions, 25-30 minutes is often more than enough for a schooling time. Long rides are out of question for young, growing bones and unfocused minds. Variety is paramount to learning but so is routine and structure to the training.


Young horses have an uncanny ability to know a leader from a boss – leadership comes from confidence in purpose, tasks and actions whilst bossiness, well, they see through it and they will catch any inconsistency.

Consider: you don’t have to be the bravest, most fearless rider to go for a young horse. Sure, it helps to be brave but I don’t believe it is necessary. Look at your level of confidence in your training methods, your handling methods and yourself as a person. Quiet confidence helps with patience, assertiveness, persistence and open mindedness…The qualities that have the power to bring on a well educated young horse.

That’s it for now. If I see more of these kind of searches in the blog’s stats, I will try to bring more content on this subject 🙂 Please feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences in the comments!


Snippets from the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference

Read more about the Conference here: http://www.ises2015vancouver.com/#!schedule/c1cdx


And finally, a quote that really surprised me…I would like to know more about this statement…

Clever idea for every budget savvy horse owner: The Equestrian Index Essentials Card

Here at this blog we are all about bringing you useful content and when I saw Equestrian Index’s idea I thought it definitely needs to be spread 🙂 Take a look at the information below (I asked for their Press Release), it might just saves you some pennies (that you can then save for lessons, or shows, fun rides etc 🙂 )

The Equestrian Index Essentials Card……ESSENTIALLY SAVING YOU MONEY!

Horses as a sport, profession or hobby are expensive. There are no two ways about it!

With The Equestrian Index there is now a way to save money when buying products and services for your yard, stable and horse.


The Equestrian Index Essentials Card supports you every time you buy product from our partners so your annual savings could be really substantial! With our ever increasing partner network your card will bring you a wide variety of products at a discount – some you thought out of reach until now!

The Essentials Card not only gives you great savings throughout the year on essential equestrian purchases – and maybe a few luxuries as well – but will also benefit two Equine Charities. This year, with your help, we will be donating a percentage from every card purchased to RIDING FOR THE DISABLED ASSOCIATION and REDWINGS HORSE SANCTUARY.

So, if you use your card to claim the discounts on insurance, rugs, feed, bedding, safety equipment, passports, freeze marking, worm counts and all our other offers, you could save enough money for those elusive luxury items – like extra carrots or a horsebox!

Your Essentials Card is available at an introductory rate of £10* and is valid for 12 months. As we increase our partner network over the coming months you will have greater access to participating stores in your area! You can also recommend your favourite supplier to become a partner. Supporting local businesses on a national level!

Check out our Savings Calculator to see what less that £1 a month could save you and jump online now at www.equestrianindexessentials.com to get your card! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

*Offer available until 31st May 2015 for more information contact info@equestrianindexessentials.com

Corporate Fundraising Co-ordinator for RDA, Sinead Walsh said: “We are very grateful to Equestrian Index for choosing RDA as one of the charities to benefit from the Essentials Card. This is a great way for people to show their support for us and save money at the same time.”

“Falling in through the shoulder” and other issues not to ignore…

skeleton (2)When your usually healthy, sound horse appears to be lame from one day to another , you might quickly run through all the possible events that could have happened to him in order to determine any possible injuries.

What if there are no signs of any trauma, no scrapes, no wounds, no lost shoes, no seen kicking matches at turn out time…? Lameness can sneak in on any horse in form of repetitive strain injury and that’s indeed were it often brews disguised as tendency to cut the corners on one rein, feeling heavy in rider’s hands, one stirrup that always seem to be a little longer than the other, “funny” walk to trot transitions with bunny hops, squealing in canter transitions, saddle that always seems to slip to one side etc etc

The everyday schooling challenges are where every rider needs to seek potential areas to work on to keep the horse healthy, happy and sound.Let’s look at several very common issues experienced by many riders out there and why they shouldn’t be ignored.


Before we start, it’s useful to remember how much rider’s body affects the natural way of going of the horse. The moment we sit in the saddle we change the horse’s balance as he knows it. If you ride a horse that is very much an asymmetrical animal favouring strong muscles on one side of his body to maintain motion, and you do not correct that tendency to some extent, you are bound to end up with a horse whose one set of legs/muscle chains/joints work much harder than the other set…and while this might not be an issue for a horse in the field it certainly is one for the ridden horse.

The most crooked horses I have personally ridden have been those often described as “happy hackers” possibly due to them never or rarely having any symmetry/straightness focused schooling sessions. If all they do is walking around the countryside, they are likely to be just fine as they are. However, it is always worth adding some gymnastic training into any ridden horse’s life – it simply helps them to “wake up” the structures that do a little less than they should.


Pretty much all horses will favour one foot over another when distributing weight in their bodies. This applies to both front and hind feet. If you watch 100 different people walking by, you can see that similar pattern applies to us too. We tend to drop more weight on one limb than the other, drop one shoulder a little lower than the other, swing one hip a little more than the other…you get the idea 🙂 There are not that many people walking with absolutely even weight distribution through both sides of their bodies.

You probably also know that your horse’s left hoof is a little different than his right hoof – perhaps one is more upright and the other flatter…the shape of the hooves reflect the body use and vice-versa, the way the horse uses his body will be reflected in the shapes of his feet (which by the way, is hugely dynamic and can change from month to month, year to year depending on work the horse is doing, feed he is on, illnesses he went through etc).

Why shouldn’t we ignore the “falling in through the shoulder” then? Every time this happens your horse is overloading the inside foot potentially micro-straining the structures in that foot with every unbalanced step. This is especially important for anyone riding in the arena as the boundaries given by the fence will automatically encourage the horse to “guess” the turning and therefore arrange their body into leaning in posture.

Similar situation applies when we experience “falling out through the shoulder” – that’s when the horse’s favoured foot as far as weight load goes, is on the outside of our turn or circle or even straight line.

Good schooling plan aimed at teaching the horse to use both limbs with more even weight load will go a long way towards his soundness.


Ignoring the tripping is another easy journey to potentially serious limb issues. Many shod horses do trip due to decreased proprioception (“the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts”) in the their feet (equine hooves naturally work like “ground feelers” so if we take that function away there are bound to be come problems) but unless you hack over hundreds of craters and rough ground, the noticeable tripping needs to draw your attention pronto.

Shoulder or neck pain (for example due to ill fitting saddle, use of gadgets that dictate neck posture, rider’s position issues, tense hands on the reins) can also lead to tripping as can riding the horse out of balance (letting it move with most weight on the forehand).

Kingsley remedial shoeing
Example of badly shod feet (remedial shoeing for navicular problems) – this horse tripped frequently on various surfaces, including perfectly flat ones. Even though this picture often causes gasps, this shoeing style is not at all uncommon…

Tripping tells the rider that horse’s motor skills are compromised and need attention. At times, riders tell me their horses “have always tripped”as if that’s some kind of endearing feature that’s there to stay. If you have control over the horse’s management (i.e. it’s not a riding school horse or someone else’s horse you have no say over) I would really encourage you to address the issue.

Start with hoofcare – check feet balance and how correctly the horse is using himself as far as biomechanics of movement goes (very useful articles on this here, just scroll a little to the list of articles on Hoof balance, conformation and symmetry); try chatting with your farrier or trimmer about the issue. 

If you use training aids like pessoa, chambon, side – reins and your horse trips you might need to closely observe how the “aids” actually aid the horse’s balance and whether they help or hinder the development of it.


The glorious array of various pads available that lift here, hold there and offer non-slip areas yet somewhere else do make it seem like wondrous saddle just needs some help staying put.

There is now, however, quite a bit of research available on correlation between saddle slipping and hind limb lameness (which when low grade can be difficult to spot). Below are a couple of articles worth looking at:

Saddle Slip – A Sign of Lameness?

An investigation of the relationship between hindlimb lameness and saddle slip


Many horses learn to use muscles around the poll and within the length of their neck in a way that functions like a barrier for rein aids preventing the latter to reach the mouth. What feels like the horse leaning on the reins or having “wooden/dead” mouth is in fact a combination of muscular effort and ability to set a joint (poll) against the traction of the reins.

Ignoring or fighting the “heavy head” can again lead to various soundness related surprises. In fact, it can be a symptom of them too. Some examples of issues can include: back pain, neck and poll pain, hind limb lameness, poor overall balance and inability to move freely with rider on board.

Providing there is no underlying health problem present already, improving horse’s general balance (i.e. ability to transfer weight laterally and front to back in a way that allows movement similar to one without rider on board) can immediately improve many “contact issues”.


If a horse has only one rider responsible for his well being then that rider’s issues, smaller or bigger, sooner or later, will be very likely reflected in that horse. If you ride for recreation or sport it’s important that you do look into your own postural habits and reflect upon their influence on your horse’s soundness. There is a reason why riding school horses often end up with various physical problems – every month they deal and cope with hundreds of different postural issues in riders who learn on them. Just 15-20 minutes once a week of some form of awareness enhancing exercise (like Pilates, Yoga, martial arts, dance) can make a huge difference to working comfort and soundness of a riding horse.

It’s impossible to correct something we don’t feel so even if we receive fantastic instruction from a trainer who sees what needs changing, we first need to be aware of when something happens and how it feels to us personally. Many a time, a position that is even to us, is crooked in reality. Awareness and visual feedback (mirrors, videos, photos) are a great and very important addition to any rider’s education (unless you only sit on a horse in order to travel from A to B on a holiday trip then I guess you don’t need to build your awareness too much 😉

Do you have any experiences with seemingly unrelated aspects of how we ride and use our horses that led to unsoundness? Please share in the comments below!  


Help! I Bought A Horse! What Now? – Natural or Pampered? ‘Quick’ or Classical or Parelli?

Weekend is coming so I thought we might as well have a chat about one of those subjects everybody has a different answer for! 😉

One of the big questions every new horse owner has to ask themselves is what next? Since this blog is predominantly addressed to aspiring grassroots riders, let’s look at this rider who I will call “Alice” who just bought the “Grey Boy” to do a little bit of everything with, some Riding Club shows, some horse trials, some grassroots dressage championships.

Grey Boy arrived – what’s next??

Alice wants to make sure Grey Boy is healthy and happy with her and that they have many wonderful years together. With this in mind, Alice asks for some advice on management and training decisions she needs to make.

Let’s get to some basics.

Dear Alice,

There are 3 main elements to every horse’s happiness: Diet (nutrition), Environment (turn out options, type of bedding in stable, time in stable, company of other horses, interactions or lack of them) and Exercise (amount of time outside of stable, hours of ridden work, hours of other work). D E E – that’s what’s going to to determine where to keep your boy (not that nice toilet that actually has toilet roll in…although, you know, that matters too 😉 ) .

As far as diet goes it’s important you will have a say in it so go for places that will take into account any changes you wish to make. Avoid livery places where “all horses get the same feed just because that is so”. Unless you found a yard filled just with other Grey Boys and other yous doing exactly the same thing, steer way clear.

Kingsley turn out 16th January 2010Smell some hay. It got to smell fresh. Look inside the stables and check if stabled horses have some hay available. Ask about summer turn out – not all horses can be on rich grass, you might need some non grass turn out option too.

Now environment – look at turn out fields – look for hay stations and conditions of the ground. Are there any trees around for shade? What kind of trees are there? Are they toxic at certain times of the year? Are the fields free from ragwort?

Check if you can decide on what bedding will Grey Boy be stabled on and what’s the turn out policy.

Can horses socialise? They got to be able to see each other, touch each other, play together. It generally makes for a happier, well adjusted animal altogether.  Don’t immediately discount a yard with some turn out restrictions. The yard owner might be looking after the land in dreadful conditions so look at the whole picture. You might just have to ride more in the pouring rain so your horse gets enough exercise on a non-turn out days 😉 However, watch out for vague answers and places with stunning amount of fields that look too pristine (just there to look good) or too damaged – bad field management can mean bad stable management too. 

Kingsley new yardAsk for “new horse on the yard” procedure – you want to see a quarantine stable available and turn out introduction being done in stages. If there is none for him, there will be none for the next one and with many illnesses being cheeky hide and seek fellows, you do want to make sure your yard owner is a responsible one.

Same when it comes to first turn out. You don’t want to be told he will have a great time meeting ALL the boys and girls tomorrow…

Ask who he will go out with once quarantine is over – watch out for individual turn out or just two horses per field because separation anxiety can hit your boy like a train if companion gets taken for a ride…and then you might get a phone call telling you your horse has impaled himself on a gate.

Now, delicate matters dear Alice. 

If you happen to like your horse shod all round, wrap him in duvet rugs, groom him until you can see your reflection in his shine and are hunting for a new sparkly headpiece on eBay as you read, you might want to avoid those yards where other owners prefer more natural way of keeping horses. You can of course consider also doing it more naturally but if you don’t want to change anything, look for other sparkly friends.

Equally, if you are planning to compete Grey Boy barefoot, use one rug on when really needed, out as much as possible and prefer tack minimalism, do seek a yard with like minded owners. It might seem like a detail now, dear Alice, but you got to trust me here. I get it, miracles happen and varied approaches can work well together, but on the whole, never underestimate the power of like minded support. You will enjoy your riding and your horse much more if you follow this advice.

If on other hand, you are unsure how to keep Grey Boy, then grab some books about equine behaviour, evolution, social needs, physiology and basic health. Read them when the boss isn’t looking. Then base your management decisions on this knowledge (not on what a friend of a friend of a friend tells you about their friend’s gelding’s likes and dislikes). 


Now how do you decide which approach to take and which system to follow to make sure it’s all the best for Grey Boy and enjoyable to you…How do you decide who to have lessons with if everyone is telling you different things and prizes that person or another…

One way to go about it is to focus on your values first. What are your principles? Beliefs? Standards? Try this simple one: Let’s say you believe horse is there to do as he is told at all times, to perform when asked and to have no say on the matter. The horse must conform to your lifestyle, time you have for him, resources you have. If these were to be your beliefs, training approach that is focused on why the horse does something and how to approach the issue long term rather than on quick results and super-submission is very likely to irritate you. Equally, if you believe in progressive, solid training on wide foundations, the quick result approach will make your blood boil.

Have a good think about these things dear Alice because the answers might tell you a lot about what you want from relationship with your horse. You see, once you have your principles in place, it’s easy to pick and mix all sorts of training methods because many systems have something that will suit you and something that will put you off. Clarity of your values will make it possible to differentiate and chose. 

So there, dear Alice, I know there are many aspects and details we didn’t discuss here but I hope it will give you a starting point on “what now”…Have a great time with your little prince…


The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?

Kingsley in the field with his “friends”. Horse with many ailments. Often bullied and kicked by field “buddies” at a livery yard with no herd choices.

Sometimes I have this idea of having all horses (including sports horses) living out 24/7,  just being horses, playing nicely together, having no social issues, being brought in for when we ride them then freed again onto their paddocks, walking around with healthy guts, never colic, never weave from stress as they have plenty of space to roam about it and indulge in their motion and chewing instincts, never gain too much weight on rich grass, never lose weight etc etc, I am sure many of you will get the picture.

It seems like the perfect way to go isn’t it? Why argue with million years of evolution and keep horses under the roof, rugged up in 5 rug layers, in lycra hoodies, special no-dust bedding, hay straight from a hay steamer?

Continue reading The Management Dilemma: 24/7 Turnout. Are you in or out?