Mary on Aroma Therapy
Whether your horse plans are for weekend pleasure rides or creating a performance horse, your training program will include many basics. Today, however, our expanded understanding of horse behavior shows us there is more to training than just schooling and lessons.
It is evident that horse training is gaining ground toward a holistic approach of individualized attention through managing, handling, feeding, educating and maintaining for top athletic performance.
Consider re-thinking everything you have known about horses in the past and wiping the slate clean. Then introduce this concept to your thought process: Everything in a horse’s life revolves around movement. The daily sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, the rhythm of their species as one, and the need to roam and nourish. Training horses for any purpose is about our improvisation around the natural cycles of their lives.
Through domestication, we are limiting our horses’ movement, choosing their nutrition options and interrupting their natural rhythms. We owe it to them to give top priority to their internal health: the organs, the nervous system, the brain, the teeth, the feet, and the spine. The outside of the horse will usually tell you what is going on internally. Some horses shut down, harbor their stress and simply won’t give you those obvious signs. As trainers and managers of horses, we must always use our intuition and knowledge to discern what may be going wrong and then offer support from the inside.
WE ARE WHAT WE EAT
Starting any youngster requires us to support their internal systems while they learn and grow. Preparation for stress and pressure is key to a sound and long athletic life.
Ideally, I like to start organic feeding as soon as the foal is able to eat solid food. If you can affect the nutrition of the mare and foal you have a huge leg up on creating strong immune and digestive systems.
Your program should include clean, organic food. Know the sources of your hay or at least have it analyzed for nutritional value and provide organic supplements. Keep sugar out of the horse’s diet (yes, even the peppermint candy) and instead find organic treats you can add to their feed or offer as snacks or rewards.
Include a probiotic to balance enzymes and provide Epsom salts for magnesium in the feed or water to heal the small intestinal tract. Give free access to a mineral salt rock (not processed salt blocks but the actual rocks from the ground). Feed your young prospects at least 3 times per day following weight and age guidelines and offer as much grass hay as they will eat. Use alfalfa as a supplement very sparingly, say one flake three times per week.
Once you have your feed program established, adjust various aspects according to what your youngster is showing you. Always be flexible with feeding and notice how you can support your horse in his/her growth and behavior.
Swift Taylor (Rita) was a recalcitrant, suspicious, aggressive Thoroughbred racing filly that no one wanted to handle. I took her on as the perfect candidate for training from the inside out. From day one I witnessed her letting go of anger, fear, skepticism, nervousness, tension, and so on. As her intestinal tract healed, she began utilizing her nutrition which led to clear thinking and balance throughout her reactive systems. She had an amazing spirit underneath all of her emotional tension and loved to show it.
For young fillies like Rita who are sensitive and nervous, I focus more on hormonal and nervous system support with herbal supplements. For those who are quiet, level-headed, and solid bodied, I focus on joint issues. With all yearlings I make sure they have a vitamin and mineral compound to help them through their early growth.
As I work with their nutritional programs, I also work with their minds. Each day I approach them with a damp cloth to clean out their nostrils and apply an essential oil blend inside their nostrils and around their mouth, releasing endorphins and sending the calming, focusing scent of lavender, neroli, petitgrain, sweet marjoram, basil, almond and sesame oil through their olfactory cavity right up into the brain. Even early on, I’m able to safely tie, groom, pick out feet, put blankets on, sponge bathe and tend to little cuts and swellings with ease.
Approaching horses with essential oils starts your relationship with ease, trust, communication and release. Now you have a horse who is ready to participate as a clear thinking pupil. Spend 20 minutes or so showing them things, asking them questions, giving them puzzles, having them move with and around you, then reward them and give them time to process what they just accomplished.
Finally, the hardest part of this approach is you! How are you around your horses? Approach them with emptiness, no agenda, no thinking, no pre-conceptions on how the day will go. Just be with them, animal to animal. Show them what you want gently but with confidence. Use your voice, your body language, your touch and most importantly your intuition to communicate. Now you will go into daily training with a willing partner.
Starting and maintaining race horses holistically is still far too uncommon. I have experimented with three Thoroughbred yearlings who are now enjoying racing careers.
Swift Taylor, Purim’s Dancer and My Friend Jimmy are examples of Thoroughbred yearlings started with a holistic approach and all three have won and are enjoying sound and successful careers. Swift Taylor won a valuable Maiden Special Weight race in New York just last month!
Purim’s Dancer was bought at auction as a partnership project. She had already had a chip removed from her ankle surgically and her hind quarters were noticeably uncoordinated. She arrived at my barn depressed, shut down mentally, and was in a protective and defensive mode of self-preservation. Once I was able to work with her nutrition and detoxification, she began to come out of her shell and blossom as a beautiful dark brown filly. I kept prompting her by asking, “Where is the athlete you were born to be?” She began believing in herself and has now won 4 races including a stakes race at Santa Anita in California.
My Friend Jimmy was a very big boy, with big ears and a sweet face. He was in pretty good shape when he came to me and I was able to fortify and strengthen everything he already had naturally. With a yearling this large it was so important to support his joints and give him time to grow as I worked with him. He won his second start this winter and continues to train well in Louisiana.
Mary Midkiff, creator and founder of Women & Horses, is a professional instructor, clinician, trainer, and author. She specializes in taking a holistic approach to conditioning and training horses, creating a deep bonding partnership between horse and human, and in providing information, techniques and resources for the female equestrian. Her program, Women & Horses: Aromatherapy for Horses, aired in late February on Horse Racing TV. www.womenandhorses.com