Horse Health Issues

The one topic horse people don’t talk about…sheath cleaning!

People just don’t seem to talk about that awkward subject of sheath cleaning! I have learned that most people don’t know how to do this or how often it should be done. Well, I think that should change so I have made a DVD on the subject. It is like sheath cleaning 101.

You will learn not only the anatomical side of sheath cleaning but the behavioral side as well. I have found that most people haven’t learned how to do this basic husbandry task because they don’t know how to get their horse to stand quietly for the procedure. All of that is about to change.

Your horse will learn to stand quiet and relaxed while you get to the business of sheath cleaning. In the process you will develop a great rapport with your horse and you will find that the training principles will reach beyond just sheath cleaning.

I have had a great amount of interest in this DVD…matter of fact it kind of surpassed me. I am happy to finally have it available. If you would like to learn more visit the link below:” title=”Positively Simple Sheath Cleaning”


Teaching Your Horse to Stand Quietly for Sheath Cleaning (Fun!?)

Maybe I should start off putting a rating of PG-13 on this post. This is one of those topics that horse people tend to avoid. We can deal with a lot of horse issues but sheath cleaning does not tend to be one of them. It really is a simple task and everyone should be familiar with every part of their horses anatomy. Not to mention, your horse should be comfortable allowing you to touch any part of his body, at anytime. This is just plain ole good horse sense. What if an emergency came up and you needed to address a wound…you get my point. It is part of being a good steward. Keep in mind it is not necessary to have your vet perform this task or to have him (your horse, not your vet) sedated. With a little bit of basic behavior training and positive reinforcement you can get this accomplished in short order. Think of all of the money you will save doing it yourself!! I would love to her your thoughts, comments or what has works well for you.

Your Horses Behavioral Changes & Physical Causes

Jane McClaren commented:

Hello, I have for the first time in my riding life (50 years) an under motivated horse. He is sweet, kind beyond imagination, but doesn’t like to be schooled/ridden. A hack is sometimes OK, but he might tend towards distraction and consequently become fixated on something else, then fear follows, and, well you know. We have found his attitude might be caused by physical discomfort, such as ulcers. In early January I put him on a months treatment of Ulcer Guard. Dramatic changes followed. He was happy and forward. Now in early April the old signs are coming back, particularly when grooming him around his gut he is agitated, and snarly. Here’s my take on all this. Shawna has the answers to motivate your horse, no doubt about it. I’ve used clicker training and it works, and now I am reminded to get it out again. It takes a lot of time and patience. Two keys to good horsemanship. But, I wonder Shawna and all your followers, are you finding ulcers more often than not? I will do the above suggestions, small steps, lots of reward, and I particularly like: doing something after that the horse clearly enjoys. Jesse and I love hanging out together. I sit in a chair and he grazes. Sometimes he comes close so I can scratch his poll, he seems to like that too. I agree with Shawna, spending time with our horses, doing something they enjoy too, something other than being on their backs and asking and asking, this is precious and award-filled time to spend.

Hi Jane,
As always, you bring up some great points!! I was responding to your comment on a previous post when I realized I should turn it into new blog post. As I followed my train of thought I realized I didn’t want people to miss your comment since you touch on some important topics. I am hoping others will chime in with their thoughts and observations.

First point, I want to to remind everyone to always check for physical causes when you are seeing a behavioral change, or any issue, with your horses. This is very important. It is always my first thought when I am trying to figure out what is going on with my horses. I will discuss the behavior with my veterinarian. It may be that the behavior change is the first alert to a physical issue. Pain is their bodies way of telling our horses to avoid certain activities so they have a chance to heal. The resulting behavior change can communicate this pain or discomfort to us if we are paying attention. As their stewards we are responsible for recognizing possible problems since they cannot verbalize what is bothering them. Also, keep in mind, for survival reasons they are hard wired to mask the pain so they would not appear vulnerable to predators, if they were living the wild. Once we have ruled out any physical discomfort, injury, illness or even nutritional needs, then I move onto dealing with it behaviorally.

However, in some cases the behavioral change starts because of pain or discomfort but the behavior may continue after the initial, physical cause has been addressed. The unpleasant association (reinforcement history) still remains. For instance, let’s say your horse has a sore back and each time you get in the saddle the pain becomes worse. This may manifest in a behavioral issue with mounting. He may not show any other overt symptoms. So, you talk to your vet and report the changes you have noticed in your horse. Together you determine there is an issue with his back, you come up with a plan for recovery and he is given time to heal. After some time your horse seems to feel better and doesn’t show any signs of soreness. However, when you try to mount, you are seeing the same unpleasant mounting issue. He remembers that the mounting process resulted in pain and he is anticipating the same old pain. Double check to be sure there isn’t another underlying issue. If all checks out it is time to address this behaviorally to rebuild a good association (reinforcement history). Mounting/sore back is an example that I see often but it can happen with a whole slew of physical ailments. The main point I want to make here is that we need to always rule out a physical cause for a change in behavior. Especially before we move onto a training plan to address a new, problematic behavior.

Now your question about ulcers…I would love to hear from others on their experience about this subject. I have only had one horse that has taken me down similar road. He came in and he was a real curmudgeon on the outside, until you got to know him. Then he was pretty sweet. He had been a high level show horse and he had some issues with jumping. The first day I groomed him I thought “How do they get him groomed everyday!?” He was fidgety, sometimes he would groan and, as you said Jane, he was snarky. But this seemed to be his behavior with a lot of things, not just grooming. He was progressing along nicely with training and his personality was getting sweeter but he still had the grumpy grooming attitude. I called the vet and we decided to give him a thorough exam including scoping his stomach. Ulcers was on our list of concerns. It turned out he had a lot of scarring from previous ulcers. It seems it had been a previous, chronic condition but he was healing. This probably explains his cranky grooming behavior and he had to relearn a new set of rules since he was getting better. He continued to jump, travel and learn but he never had ulcers again….nor stopped at a fence again!! That is my only experience with ulcers. I know there can be different causes for ulcers and I am certainly no expert. In my limited understanding stress can contribute to the condition. I find the positive reinforcement/clicker training reduces stress in training as well as with new situations. Traveling and competing can become a joy instead of a worry if we create a good association. We can also re-train a new, better association if, as you pointed out, we take the time and practice patience.

Let’s face it, as an industry, there is a great deal of focus on the horses physical well being. I mean, just look through any horse magazine or website, a large majority of the ads are addressing physical needs. It is all about the best supplements, medications, feed, tack, blankets, boots, pest control, grooming products, footing, bedding, barns, fencing, trailers, the list goes on and on. These are all important considerations. Next you see a lot of articles geared for the rider. How to get more control, how to get a better half pass, sliding stop, jumping, rider position, flying changes, shoulder in, safe stops, trailer loading, how to be more effective with your aids, this is another list that goes on and on. Again, this also important information. After all the better we are at teaching and executing these things the safer and more enjoyable our horses are to ride. However, relatively speaking, very little is aimed at the horse’s mental well-being or on what would help the horse to be happier for his sake, not ours. There is a tendency to focus on their physical well being or what we need them to do for us. Their psychological well being seems to fall by the wayside. I am a big believer in balance. All work and no play can indeed make Jack a dull boy, or a grouchy, sour boy. It is not enough to say they get turned out or live outside, or in a dry, well-bedded stall. I think it is important to spend time with our horses that they value and find enjoyable. If we are always seen as work and pressure/release training we are not exactly going to be the highlight of their day…in fact we may be their least favorite part of the day. Who wants their horse to run away from them when they go to catch them? Or one who just gives up and abides because they have no other choice? No one wants that kind of relationship with their horse. But who can blame them if all we do is take, take, take but don’t give back? If we never give our horses something that they value or find enjoyable? A reminder…this does not mean something we perceive as valuable but that our horses find enjoyable. I have found if I keep a balance between work, play, quiet time, they are much happier about all elements of their lives. I think it is important to do some of these activities together so the association becomes associated with you and enhances your bond. Turning them out is great (and necessary) but if all of the fun stuff happens when you are not around it can strengthen their desire to spent time away from you. I try to have half of our time together include something besides riding or prepping for riding. Training sessions using positive reinforcement are great since they really enjoy these for the rewards but also for the psychological stimulation. But so are some other activities like hand walks, exploring new things, and sitting quietly with your horse. This depends on what your horse seems to enjoy. If he has been subject to a lot of work and not so much quality time it may not be that fun for him to spend time with your right off the bat. As the balance shifts he will learn it is not all work and no play and begin to enjoy your time together. Anyway, some food for thought. Thank you Jane for your comments and question. Okay gang…I would love to hear what you have observed with your horse, what you do for fun or what you have experienced with ulcers…whatever is on your mind.

On Target Training, Shawna Karrasch

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