Horses...they arouse emotion and fuel passionate conversations. What training method is best? Do you shoe your horse or go barefoot? These two topics are the equivalent of the age-old argument, Chevy or Ford?
Perhaps because I grew up in rural Montana around some who would argue these irrelevant points, I recognized early that the devil is in the details. This awareness followed me into my adult years and awoke my intuition.
In our rural ranch environment, chiropractic care for horses was never in our field of discussion, nor was acupuncture, massage, iridology, sound therapy; yet, as I would learn in later years, all these therapies help tremendously in the overall health of the horse.
WHAT’S UP WITH THIS MARE?
In the fall of 2011, intuition visited me as I worked through the training on a young, race-bred Arabian mare. Her training had progressed nicely but there were “holes” in her performance. She wouldn’t take her left lead and she shied away from the bridle as if she’d been mistreated, which she never had.
A veterinary exam discovered nothing. Her teeth were in good order and her conformation and overall hoof health extraordinary. Yet with each day of interaction it was increasingly frustrating to have such a talented mare lacking. There were no obvious issues!
Normally I can “tune” in to the horse in such a way as to make recommendations that will benefit and aid the horse and owner to achieve a new level in their relationship. The spirited mare in training was not giving up any clues to help her in her ability to take her leads easily or quit tossing her head even though we were riding her in a bosal.
Writing down the priorities for this mare, I eliminated diet as a cause. She was free on pasture and had blossomed under our care. For good measure I had fed her a course of probiotics and included diatomaceous earth. Soil tests and a visit with the local extension service had identified a salad bar of good foods she had access to in our 160 acres. She had access to several different types of salt, was fed only whole oats occasionally, never any sugar and received regular fecal exams for effective and accurate worming, just like all of the horses in our care. We fed only grass hay. No alfalfa.
On our list of routine care for horses is hoof health and this mare had been on a natural hoof care protocol her entire life and had never worn shoes. While she had initially come to us with overgrown hooves, her hoof health was text book Pete Ramey style. She had no physical anomalies and none could be palpated. She had routine visits with both a chiropractor and with an energy specialist who used sound therapy, essential oils and tuning forks in addition to massage therapy.
I went back to the beginning on the day of our vet exam and we did a full lameness evaluation. I asked my partner Kirk for his hoof evaluation. So much of a horse’s health depends on their hoof health. When none of these revealed any issues, I contacted our good friend and neighbor who is also an equine and human chiropractor. His visit uncovered a sticky occiput but didn’t correct the poor taking of leads or the head tossing.
Rule out diet, environment, training, behavior, and physical issues and I was still left scratching my head.
THE QUEST CONTINUES...
The mare continued her training and I continued my quest to find the root of the cause for this mare’s inability to take leads or settle her head. When she’d bump me it was if to say, “I need you to get this right!”
Years of experience told me that if I channeled the Universe’s energy and opened myself to allowing the time for this information to come that it would. Many are the times I have been sweating away trimming horses only to have a client “casually” comment on this that or the other that happened to be so relevant to me that the matter could not be a coincidence.
And that is exactly what happened with the little grey mare.
I was trimming one of our client’s horses who shared with me the story of her work with a natural dentist. My attention quickly swapped from the bottom of the horses hoof to what my client was telling me. That this dentist believed the dental care of the horse was directly related to the proprioception of the horse.
My rational mind reasoned that if a dental issue could impact the way a horse functioned and moved then certainly it would affect head tossing! My mare had both of these issues. Might I have missed something in my overall ground up assessments?
Our equine dentist took one look at our puzzling mare and, without even touching her, told me that because she could not move her bottom jaw forward due to excessive tooth enamel on her front incisors, THIS was the reason she would not take her leads and was tossing her head.
When I asked him how he knew this he said, “Simple. See the wear on her front hooves?”
Several minutes later, his dental work with her was finished sans sedation and I turned her loose. She tore off through the pasture. I wasn’t certain but I thought that her transitions were more seamless, not clunky like they had been before. Riding her the next day I confirmed that not only did she take her leads flawlessly she did not toss her head! She also collected beautifully both with a rider and without!
Several weeks later, the hoof trim I gave her complete with a mustang roll was intact. No hoof scuffing.
Dental care done naturally on the horse has much the same effect as hoof care done naturally. It’s all connected.
I’ve been a veterinary technician for half of my professional horse career and a farrier for the other half. My intuitive abilities were lifetime so the relevance of science and the efficacy of intuition and energy came crashing together as I watched horse after horse respond not only to our protocol but, more importantly, to our open-mindedness. Yes, surveying a range of options for evaluating the horse from the hoof up, there are many. But perhaps the most important is to remain open to the horse. That bump of their head means something.
Karina Lewis is a trainer, author, farmer and farrier living in Parker, CO with her longtime partner, Kirk Stanley. Kirk and Karina’s work (and animals) can be seen at www.themirroreffect.com or by visiting their farm website at www.freebootfarm.com.