5 Ways Your Seat Can Screw Up Your Horse Without You Even Noticing

Something that saddle fitters know but that’s often the last thing riders think of: it’s the riding position as much as the saddle fit that’s affecting their horse’s back and movement. In this Guest Post, ‘Classical Seat’ trainer Heather Moffett looks at how the rider’s seat can make movement harder for the horse.


We all keep hearing about ‘connection’.  It’s a current buzzword and usually means connecting with your horse on the ground, either through loose or in-hand work.

Many riders assume this will enable them to achieve the same connection once mounted.

There is nothing wrong with that. However, they often then wonder why they lose that connection – sometimes literally, complete with the saddle(!) – once they start riding. The fact is that they are, in ignorant bliss, impeding the horse!

The UK’s Heather Moffett has over 40 years’ instruction experience. Chiefly following the French school of classical equitation, which focuses on dressage as an art form rather than competition, she is best known as an authority on the Classical Seat. Recently, she launched The Online Riding School, a library of videos suitable for everyone from complete beginners to advanced riders – visit now to benefit from the introductory offers.

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The Disconnected Seat

If the rider is out of sync with the horse’s movement, the flow and harmony will always be disrupted as the horse struggles to balance the rider as well as himself.

Or, he endures the discomfort of a rider sitting like a lump of lead, driving with the seat against his sensitive back, or bouncing stiffly in the saddle.

The horse has only one way to show his discomfort or pain, as he is mute, and that is by behaviour that is then construed as ‘misbehaviour’.

I often ask riders who kick and hit their horses if they would do the same to their dog. The dog is able to cry out in pain. The horse cannot, and it is his muteness, throughout history, that has led to his downfall and still does to this day.


What Gets My Goat is This

I’ve been a specialist trainer/teacher of the Classical seat for 46 years. In that time, there has been little interest in increasing knowledge of the seat and refinement of the aids.

So many teachers and trainers say that it is necessary to ignore imperfections in the seat until “the horse is going well”. Then they wonder why the horse never progresses, or why force must be resorted to, in order to make the horse submit!

Yes, there is that word submit (or submission) that’s a requirement in a dressage test.

My own teachers soon found that it worked far better to encourage my cooperation in school rather than forcing me into submission! And a horse is no different.

I would like to see the word submission in tests replaced with willing cooperation.

How different would the expression be on many a horse’s face, if he were trained as a partner, and not as an adversary?


So, are you screwing up your horse with your seat, without even noticing? Here are the 5 top points I’d like you to think about.


1. Saddle Fit Woes (Yes, Again)

Poor saddle fit can cause the seat to tip back.

No surprises for this one. Saddle fit is probably the most obvious thing that needs to be right, but many saddles are a long way from perfect. That’s true even in my home of the UK, where saddles are most often professionally fitted.

But, what amazes me is the number of saddles I see with clients coming to me for lessons that have faults that make it damn near impossible for the rider to sit either straight or in balance!

Here are the worst offenders.

The saddle is too narrow. This is still one of the most common faults – it pinches the horse and tips the rider’s pelvis backward, aiding a chair seat rather than the ear/shoulder/hip/heel line which is the only position of balance.

Try walking with your butt stuck out behind you and knees up, as though sitting on a chair! It’s hard enough to even remain upright! Your weight will be over the cantle region, making it difficult for the horse to lift and round his back, and causing him to go hollow.

Stirrup bars are, almost without exception, even on many dressage saddles, too far forwards. This is why the rider is constantly being nagged by instructors to “get that lower leg back”!

I do wonder why instructors and even top dressage trainers, never seem to notice that all of their students are not anatomically challenged and there might just be something wrong with the saddle design and balance!! (Don’t get me started!!)


2. An Insecure Seat
Sucks (for Both Horse and Rider)

7yo Oldenburg x Irish Sport Horse. 1st day to 2nd day of HM course.

Here’s what I mean by insecure. Riders are not taught to absorb and sync with the horse’s movement.

We hear:

“Sit deeper!”

“Relax your back!”

“Go with the movement!”

“Follow the horse’s movement!”

Well, usually if you are following something you are behind it!

Is it any wonder beginners are confused and often never learn to move in sync with the horse?

If this describes you, fear not. I have had riders here on my horse movement simulator workshops who’ve been riding 10, 20 or more years, and still they have never learned to move in sync with the horse.


3. Saddle Seat Glue Hasn’t Been Invented Yet

Gripping the saddle blocks movement.

If you’re bouncing around, or driving with both seat bones to achieve some adhesion to the saddle, or sitting on your back pockets and collapsing the rib cage, you will be making your horse’s life more difficult.

It is so NOT rocket science to learn this!

But until teachers are trained to teach it, the situation will not improve!!

And it is not just novice riders who block their horse through incorrect adhesion to the saddle.

Look at the nodding head, flailing legs (usually with spurs attached) riders to be seen even in the Grand Prix dressage arena…


4. Horses Have the Low Down on Our Weight Issues…

How many times do you hear it said that a horse can feel a fly land on his back? So how much more can he feel his rider, whether good or bad?

For me, my aim – both as a rider myself and also as a trainer – is to be as little burden on the back of my horse as possible.

The horse copes with the crooked rider. Day 1 of HM course.

I aim to do this by sitting lightly, but deeply, in sync with his movement.

If the rider is crooked, possibly due to a problem with the saddle, or is asymmetric due to their own physical problem, the horse suffers.

He has to cope with this and compensate, usually by going crookedly himself.

And there’s more. The use of the rider’s body as a primary aid, is so rarely taught. Yet when utilised, it is the most invisible aid of all. Combined with the seat bones moving in sync with the horse’s back, it is the secret to an elegant harmonious seat, that appears to be doing nothing.

That’s when the horse and rider glide through all the movements as though they are one being – like a Centaur.


5. ‘Feel’ Begins in your Backside (I Mean It!)

Hanoverian X. 1st and 2nd day of HM course.

‘Connection’ means being able to feel, and not just when working from the ground. We all have nerve endings in our backsides – if you are taught what to feel and how to feel, it is within the grasp of any rider, even beginners.

And ‘aid’ really means ‘help’. If you learn to use aids that make biomechanical sense to the horse, they do become truly invisible as the horse becomes more and more sensitive with correct training.

BUT, if the horse hasn’t been schooled to respond to specific aids, then is it any wonder he is confused and ‘misbehaves’? It’s a bit like us lazy Brits here, shouting at foreigners in the hope they will understand English then getting annoyed when they don’t!

Your seat can genuinely aid (help) your horse. This happens when you’re taught not only the hand and leg aids, but also:

  • the weight aids for turning,
  • the seat aid for collecting and for downward transitions,
  • the precise positioning of the torso in lateral work and circles/ bends, etc.

At this point, riding becomes a whole language, which almost all horses quickly understand. Why? Because it is working with, not against, their own body.

Moving in sync with the horse allows the rider to learn ‘feel’, that term that often seems to imply that only a favoured few have the ability to learn it.



So in closing, if you wish to have true connection with your horse, you need to:

a) Absolutely not screw up either his back or his brain,

b) Learn to ride to the best of your ability, and

c) Treat your horse as a partner and friend, and not as a tool merely to win the next rosette.

If winning happens as a by-product of good riding, even better, but if your horse is not progressing, look to your own riding and equipment before you blame your horse. Get these 5 points sorted and you’ll be well on your way to true connection with your horse!



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Why It Matters To 112 Million Working Equines That You Read This Post

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Most of us have a good idea of what animal welfare means and why it’s important. But in developing nations, cultural and economic concerns can prevail when it comes to issues such as ending a working equine’s pain. It is not so long ago that horses, donkeys and mules across Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were primarily working animals. For many equines in other nations, that is still the case.

This thoughtful and sensitive post by Melissa Liszewski, Animal Welfare & Community Engagement Advisor of the Brooke, an international animal welfare organisation, gives an insight into a difficult subject, and describes a compelling legal solution developed in Ethiopia. It was first published on the Brooke’s blog in January 2015.

“I myself have seen animals in the countries we work in and I don’t even know how they have managed to remain standing, let alone pull heavy loads day in and day out …”  

There are so many challenging aspects of the work we do here at the Brooke, but there is nothing like coming across an animal suffering from protracted or incurable disease, injury or debility to really put our animal-loving hearts and minds to the test.

Working Gharry horse abandoned when he became lame, with badly damaged right eye and very low body condition (c) the Brooke

Working Gharry horse abandoned when he became lame, with badly damaged right eye and very low body condition (c) the Brooke

We work hard to relieve hard working horses, donkeys and mules from their suffering.  But what happens when despite our best efforts, and the best efforts of local stakeholders, an animal’s illness, injury or overall condition means they have a poor outlook for a fit and pain free working life?

I have often pictured a lush green oasis where all those hard working horses, donkeys and mules can retire and live out the rest of their days pain free with all the care they need, full bellies and lots of space to just do whatever they please all day as thanks for their many hard years of service.

“The hard reality is that such a beautiful retirement for both the animals we serve and the communities they serve is just a picture in our heads.”

The truth is that there are an estimated 112 million working equines in this world and although we work tirelessly to help as many of them as possible in a meaningful way, we are still only able to reach about 2 million of them.

Much like the owners of the animals we serve, we do not have endless resources so we have to do the best we can for the animals with what we have.

At the Brooke, we accept that euthanasia is an effective way to alleviate suffering and prevent future suffering.  We have a Euthanasia Policy to ensure that when the practice is carried out by our staff or partners it is done with the utmost care and consideration of the animal’s experience.

(c) the Brooke. No  reproduction of partial or entire text without permission of the Brooke. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!

When euthanasia is the only option

When suffering cannot be alleviated by any other means, euthanasia is the only humane solution. However, there are many complexities surrounding the practice of euthanasia that must be considered:

  • Can euthanasia be done humanely?

The answer is yes, but in some countries we work in certain methods of euthanasia are not available, cannot be imported and/or are not legal. Our teams then have the difficult task of weighing out potential suffering at the point of death with potential suffering if the animal was not euthanized, in order to always aim for the best welfare outcome for the individual animal.

  •  Are there legal implications?
Abandoned for 3 months, this horse was blind and suffered from joint problems (c) the Brooke

Abandoned for 3 months, this horse was blind and suffered from joint problems (c) the Brooke

In Halaba, Ethiopia our local team worked hard to get by-laws in place that would allow abandoned animals to be euthanized without the legal risk of someone coming forward after the fact and claiming their animal was taken without consent.

Nationwide in Pakistan, our team is working tirelessly to overcome the challenge of carcass disposal due not only to environmental and practical concerns, but also the fact that illegal donkey meat is a rising problem that could be wrongfully attributed back to our organisation if a euthanized animal weren’t disposed of properly, allowing someone to eat it and get sick.

These are considerations we must keep at the forefront of our euthanasia decisions as the effects could be catastrophic to local initiatives benefiting whole communities of animals if our reputation became damaged or trust lost.

  • Is it culturally acceptable?

There are places where we work that euthanasia is not seen as an acceptable practice due to religious or cultural reasons, or because owners feel they are killing an animal that provided them with a service, and prefer a natural death for the animal. Our staff work sensitively with individual owners in such cases, trying to balance respect for cultural practice or religious beliefs with the welfare needs of the animal concerned.

  • Is it ethical for us to intervene?

It is crucial that euthanasia is not carried out without the owner’s permission, meaning our teams must always obtain informed consent. Our teams in the field strive to ensure owners do not feel coerced into the practice, but come to the decision based on the facts they have been given by medical professionals, and their own desire to do what is best for their animal.

Sometimes, euthanasia is refused because an owner has no other source of income to provide for their family. In some communities we work, for example in India, the Brooke has helped set up group savings funds and equine insurance schemes, which can help owners make the best decision for their animal without economics being a barrier.

When euthanasia simply isn’t possible

Despite our best efforts, for all of these reasons and more, euthanasia is simply not always an option, and we must be prepared to do whatever we can in such cases to work with owners to ensure the animal is well cared for, relieved of their pain and rested until the very end. This is a painful reality at times for our staff in the field.

I myself have seen animals in the countries we work in and I don’t even know how they have managed to remain standing, let alone pull heavy loads day in and day out; deformed and damaged limbs, debilitating disease, old, weak and worn down animals at the end of their working life. I have also seen and talked to owners with their own heart-breaking stories of survival, not knowing what the future holds for their family and how they will get by.

Abandoned for over 3 years before euthanasia, this gelding was suffering from severe knee and pastern joint damage. (c) the Brooke

Abandoned for over 3 years before euthanasia, this gelding was suffering from severe knee and pastern joint damage. (c) the Brooke

Most often, the owners of these animals are not intentionally cruel, and although it may be easy to judge from far away, we must put ourselves in their shoes, as they work hard every day to put food on the table for their family and provide a better life for their children than they had for themselves.

Making assumptions or judging others will not erase or improve the suffering of working horses, donkeys and mules but what may help is a good dose of compassion for both the animals and the humans who care for and depend on them.

Yes, I have seen debilitated working animals abandoned to fend for themselves against hungry hyenas in Ethiopia, but just a few kilometres away in the same country I have also seen poor owners steadfastly caring for animals that cannot work or contribute anything economically to their family, bringing them into their own homes at night to protect them from those very same hyenas.

There are many reasons and situations where euthanasia may be considered and it is always an emotional decision, both for our own staff and the local people we work with, but it is our duty to do what we can to provide comfort and relief to suffering animals who work so very hard for the people depending on them.

The success of the by-laws in Halaba, Ethiopia, along with training of local service providers to ensure humane euthanasia is possible for suffering animals, mixed with engaging local communities to improve preventive husbandry practices and ensure euthanasia is an acceptable option when required, is proof of what can be done to help hard working animals.


This is our mission and this is what we stand for at the Brooke – I hope that you will stand behind us.


The Brooke is an international animal welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules in some of the world’s poorest communities. The charity provides treatment, training and programmes around animal health and wellbeing, operating across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

You can follow the Brooke on Facebook, while more information on the organisation’s work is available on the website: www.thebrooke.org.


8 Golden Rules For Helping Your Thoroughbred Get Right Off The Track

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Sometimes, you can achieve more by doing very little. There’s a lot advice around about what you can do to help ex-racehorses, or OTTBs (Off the Track Thoroughbreds). Much of it focuses on what can be done through retraining, while some of it focuses on dealing with physical issues.

In this guest post, Kerry Warren Couch responds to the recent article about physical issues in OTTBs by stating, clearly and simply, how she has helped her OTTBs over many years, mainly by initially doing very little at all.

(c) All text copyright of the author at  www.thehorsesback.com. No  reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!


I have ridden many OTTBs over the decades of my riding career, professionally and for sheer pleasure. I just adore them – they have so much heart, and they give  everything if the rider is willing to be extraordinarily patient, partnering with their horse and never forcing them.

I loved the Buying an Ex-Racehorse: Can You Spot the Major Physical Issues? article – it’s absolutely on target. I have a few suggestions for folks to consider when they bring their OTTBs home. These come from my personal experience – they may not apply to everyone and all cases, so do keep that in mind.

The author's new OTTB

The author’s new OTTB

Seven months ago, I purchased yet another OTTB. He came from a top trainer/track and we knew his entire medical history, including x-rays. This is NOT typical – I was very fortunate to have access and for my vet to be able to talk with the stable and their vets. Very lucky me.

Despite coming from a top trainer, my new OTTB does have some issues – he IS an ex-race horse, so this is to be expected.

He has benefited from my usual approach, which helps the horse long before we start work.

What follows is my approach to helping every OTTB that comes to live at my farm.

1. Allow the OTTB plenty of downtime

My OTTBs have always needed time to ‘defuse’ from the training barn life, so I turn them out, slowly to acclimatize – but then as they come to understand turn out, I find them pasture mates and allow turn-out at will, so they can go in their stalls or walk out to the field as they wish.

2. Give the OTTB a full check-up

I have a complete chiro assessment done before ANY work is begun – and that includes groundwork. We start working on the serious physical issues right away, but leave simple ones for a little later, so we don’t overwhelm the horse in his transition to a non-track life.

3. Use paddock time as self-help time

I am lucky that my farm has hills, so I can help my OTTBs work on symmetrical muscle building long before I begin groundwork. I purposefully keep their water in their stalls so they must walk the hills every day, from pasture to barn and back. Their attitudes really change with this time to ‘reprogram’.

OTTB SandI also have a designated ‘rolling area’ near the paddock, filled with super soft sand.  I have been amazed at how smaller, simpler issues can be naturally worked out by allowing horses to relax and roll in lovely sand.

My region has hard clay soil, so I had the sand area made, because I know that rolling on hard clay can actually cause or exacerbate injuries. It’s not that expensive and I’ve found that horses LOVE it. Do consider putting it in a well-drained area with a little bit of full sun, as warm sand is wonderful!

4. Use grooming as therapy time

I groom them every day ­– slowly and methodically.  I fully believe this has wonderful therapeutic benefits. It helps with circulation and muscle tone, and helps me partner with my horses without asking anything of them.

5. Work out an individual nutritional plan

Where feed’s concerned, I have full blood panels done and put a nutrition program together based on each horse’s needs. These vary from horse to horse.

I have been fortunate to acquire OTTBs from known training barns, so my horses typically have few deficiencies. This may NOT be the case for so many people who are purchasing OTTBs from a TB rescue operation or general sale.

By the way, I am NOT implying that rescue groups do not take care of the horses. It’s just that sometimes, the rescue folks aren’t told about the horse’s medical history, so they simply don’t know. It is not due to any lack of care or concern on their part.

Hills at the author's place

Hills at the author’s place

We some times see minor anemia, and imbalance in the micro-minerals.  Many OTTBs do have some signs and symptoms of gastric discomfort. This may reflect fore or hind gut ulcers. I don’t like to have an endoscopy performed, as the pre and post procedures often exacerbate the ulcers, if they do exist.

I actually prefer to treat this area empirically. So, if my vet and I both feel the horse is exhibiting signs consistent with ulcers, we treat them without the instrumental diagnostics.

That said, if there IS a serious issue, one certainly may wish to pursue the endoscopy.

Diet is really individualized to the horse. It is not advisable to suddenly change a horse’s diet. I like to implement a tapering program. I keep the horse on whatever he was being fed at the training barn for two weeks, with a very slow changeover to whatever program we have determined for the new horse.

I typically have acquired very young OTTBs, ie, 3-4 year olds. So I know my horses are still growing and will require nutrition appropriate to a growing horse. We do feed a LOW carbohydrate feed mix and will supplement as warranted. If one feeds the proper amount as recommended by the feed company and one’s vet, the horse ought to receive the right blend of vitamins and minerals.

I do like to add flax seed meal, not the seeds. If a horse has really thin walls or poor feet, I add a hoof supplement with biotin and trace minerals. If a horse requires, we will add probiotics. If a horse is a poor drinker, I may add some soaked, drained, no-molasses-added beet pulp.

I think the main thing here is that no two horses are exactly the same.  There is NO cookie cutter approach to caring for horses. There are only general principles:

  • Fresh, clean water, daily (scrub out those water buckets),
  • Plenty of quality hay and forage at will, so the horse does not stand for hours without roughage (the average 1100 lbs horse requires approx 22 lbs of total quality forage a day, which can be a combination of pasture and hay, all hay or all pasture)
  • Get the horse out, moving at will in a pasture so the fore and hind gut can work effectively.
  • Make sure a dentist has assessed their teeth.
  • A fecal test is also a good idea, especially for OTTBs coming from a rescue or general sale.  Good training barns have a worming routine.  This may not be the case with a rescue operation or at a general sale when one doesn’t know much about the OTTB’s origin.
  • I also know the vaccination history of my newly acquired horses, but this may not always be the case for others.  I’d advise anyone to discuss this with the veterinarian.

6. Improve poor hoof balance slowly

I get the farrier in from the beginning to slowly – NOT rapidly – change those hoof angles over several months of trims.

Most OTTBs have under run heels, long toes and flat soles. A slow correction  allows longer term adaptation of the hoof structures and avoids short term soreness. It also avoids dramatic changes that affect posture

OTTBOne MUST take it very slowly.  I believe this holds true for any horse, but particularly for the OTTBs.  Their muscles, tendons and ligaments are put at risk if angle changes are made too rapidly. It leads to transitory lameness, soreness and increased risk of injury, even in the pasture.

I offer the analogy of a person wearing barn boots, day-in, day-out. Then, suddenly switching to three inch high heels and attempting to carry out the same daily chores. OUCH!

I think it is SO important to have all the professionals involved in the horse’s care/transition on the same page and are informed of each other’s interventions with the horse.  It’s really important to have the big players on the ‘team’ communicating with one another:  the chiropractor, the farrier, the vet/nutritionist, hay and feed dealer.

7. Allow time for slow and steady progress

I have also found that my OTTBs have really needed to learn how to enjoy other horses and life before I start any type of training program.

We humans seem to be in such a hurry.  It’s so helpful to let their bodies and minds defuse.

I have noted that less experienced horse owners would do well to remember that these horses are NOT, at this stage, pets. They have frequently not been cuddled or hand fed carrots, or hugged or loved. These horses were working horses. They had a job to do.

I have observed some people new to horses being so enthralled with the idea of adopting an OTTB that they immediately want to love them, pet them, stand very close to them and even throw their arms around their necks.  This is a lovely sentiment but oh, so dangerous. Ex-track horses are often more accustomed to varied stall muckers coming in, varied groomers, different hot walkers, exercise riders, jockeys, etc.

So many OTTBs are simply NOT accustomed to being fussed. They may pin their ears and toss their heads to even bite or nip at the new owner, raise a hind foot, or wring the tail as a warning. People new to horses who start with an OTTB really really need to be aware of this and put together a realistic plan to allow the horse to defuse, detox, rebuild and SLOWLY re-acclimatize to a life where his new people will show affection.

This happens over weeks or months – NOT days. Take it very slowly and give the horse his personal space and time to come to you – don’t force your eager affection on the horse too soon. It may likely backfire.

In time, with patience and understanding, you WILL have a lovely, affectionate horse. But not right away, as a general rule.

Talking to your horses daily, or singing, is good – I sing a lot to my horses so that they learn my voice and intonations.  I do this over a long period, way before I ever attempt to be affectionate with my new OTTB. And even then, I wait for my horse to show me he is ready for me to rub his ears, etc.

Grooming helps this along, too. I often sing while I groom.

8. Enjoy starting work with your OTTB

(c) retiredracehorseblog.com

(c) retiredracehorseblog.com

With all this, they are so much easier to work with – even for their rehab therapies, and physical therapy is always part of the program. They ARE off the track and there WILL be issues, almost always hips, pelvis, back and others…

I give my OTTBs six full months, and sometimes up to a year, as each horse is different.  I know that may not be reasonable for many people, but even so, at least three months would yield a big benefit.


I do hope others have suggestions to add in the Comments section, below. Horses are such magnificent and amazing creatures.  I have spent my lifetime, to date, with them, and I feel I have merely scratched the surface of understanding. I learn something new every single day.  They are wonderful teachers, if we simply have the heart and open mind to ‘listen’ to their voices. 


Equine Lyme Disease Doesn’t (Officially) Exist In Australia – Here’s How it Affected One NSW Horse

Lyme-headerAccording to various authorities, Australia has no Lyme disease, human or equine. Despite this, many Australians are testing positive – and that’s happening with horses, as well.


The following guest post by Cherry Kawamoto charts a journey about the difficulties of identifying and testing for Lyme disease. It relates to her 3yo mare, an unstarted performance horse that I have worked with several times. It first appeared as an article in Equine News, an equine magazine published in Northern New South Wales.

Lyme disease is tick-borne, and a bite from an infected tick transfers the bacteria to humans and animals, including horses. For horses, the varied signs may include stiffness, swollen joints, shifting lameness, muscle tenderness, behavioral changes and certain neurological effects. The sheer range makes it hard to diagnose, yet if caught early, the prognosis for full recovery is good, following administration of antibiotics.

That uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite right

A single horse in a herd can suffer Lyme disease

A single horse in a herd can suffer Lyme disease

My mare was always the odd one out in a small herd of youngsters. Dull coat, an incidence of unexplained hind leg tremor, uveitis-like syndrome blamed at the time on an old corneal scar, general gait stiffness and on and off right hind lameness accompanied by swelling of the hock joint and below.

Then there were the little things, such as positions that would worry her when being trimmed, and unexplained twitchiness about some joints when being body worked. But she showed no aggression, choosing instead to walk away or use her weight to make her point. We shrugged this off as something that she would overcome, given time and training.

At first, I insisted on vet visits for each significant incident. Each visit ended with practical recommendations to treat the symptoms and monitor. With most cases, she improved and seemingly recovered. There was no need to dig deeper.

But as the number of such incidences – both recurring and new – grew, I knew that it was well beyond the law of probability: how could one horse be singled out for so many issues? Something was definitely wrong.

In the meantime, this normally laid back and gentle mare was becoming irritable and a little intimidating. She bit an unsuspecting bystander on the chin (my unlucky husband) and even launched an attack on the household dog.

She became increasingly sensitive to being groomed on her near side and she twitched when she felt our hand touch the sides of her face. The rugs started to consistently slip to the left as she shaped her body to attain a position of comfort under their weight.

But there were days or weeks at a time when she seemed better. On those days, I gently worked her from the ground, mostly at a walk. Even then, I found her somewhat reluctant, and the performance variable. On some days, her hind end engaged effortlessly, and on others, she just resisted all efforts towards a square halt. So after a while, I took the hint and left her in the paddock to take an indefinite holiday.

What next? A worsening of the signs, that’s what

The following Spring, the fresh winds brought her to new heights of sensitivity. She remained on high alert and shied at seemingly nothing. Even the dangling belly straps on her rug became threatening enough for her to consider bolting off.

Then suddenly, she had another inflammatory attack, this time on her left hind. It was a significant departure from the usual pattern: for the past 2 years, the problem had always been her right hind, fueling suspicions that it was some sort of a paddock trauma with periodic setbacks.

But this time it was her left hind. I analyzed the situation. She was not in work, so it could not be work-induced. She was not nursing any stiffness, so it could not be a compensatory problem.

I looked to the paddock for clues. Although generally the type that likes to remain ‘parked’, she hypes herself up during herd gallops and launches her massive frame into the air like a 747 – a reminder of her lineage of Grand Prix showjumpers. But the ground itself gave no indication of any such activity. I wondered if it might even be an unfortunate kick from a paddock mate.

My fears disappeared in a few days, when the inflammation subsided.

© All text copyright of the author, at www.thehorsesback.com. No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!

A growing suspicion: could it be Equine Lyme disease?

The black-legged tick carries Lyme in the US, but isn't found in Australia

The black-legged tick carries Lyme in the US, but isn’t found in Australia

Then one morning, as on so many mornings before, I found myself scrutinizing the mare from a distance and contemplating the situation. As I stood there, the drifting information in my mind seemed to crystallize and I suddenly knew what to do. I found myself calling our horse vet to ask whether we can conduct a blood test – one that would specifically include Lyme Disease.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if my request would go down well. Has there ever been a documented case of equine Lyme in Australia? I was well aware of its controversial nature for human cases.

On the other hand, I was quite comfortable that the clinical symptoms of equine Lyme could explain all of my mare’s unfathomable health history.

My vet patiently heard me out, and agreed to test for Lyme. He also suggested a general blood test, as well as tests to cover other viral and bacterial diseases that might cause one or more of the mare’s symptoms. I thought it was an excellent suggestion.

The test results offer hope – of a kind

Several weeks later, we had the full results. Blood biochemistry and hematology was normal. She was negative for leptospirosis, which might have otherwise explained her uveitis. There were many other viruses she tested negative for.

Equine Lyme mare

All looks normal, but the test for Equine Lyme is positive

But, she came back positive for earlier exposure to Ross River Virus (not currently active) and Lyme. It’s quite common for horses in endemic regions to have full immunity and therefore test positively for Ross River Virus (RRV), without it ever having been detected in the past.

Yet for those horses that succumb to significant clinical symptoms upon infection, it may take many months, even years, for them to build up full immunity. Until such time, symptoms associated with RRV may recur, especially in times of stress.

It was difficult to think about the implications of a RRV diagnosis in my mare’s case: it could explain some of the symptoms, such as recurring stiffness and swollen joints. On the other hand, she may already have attained full immunity. Yet as there’s no medication to eradicate the virus, there wasn’t much we could do in any case.

Lyme, however, is treatable. This gave us the possibility of confirming or disproving the diagnosis by observing my mare’s response to treatment.


Ticks usually carry Equine Lyme

Australia has no shortage of tick species – here are just three

But what about the Equine Lyme disease test?

The Lyme blood tests are notoriously unreliable indicators, producing false positives and – more often – false negatives. The fact that the bacteria can remain undetected by the horse’s immune system means there are fewer antibodies and therefore a greater chance of a false negative result.

There’s also an issue in that there’s no central body controlling the standard of the tests. This means that the ‘gold standard’ approach is to undertake at least 2 blood tests based on different methodologies.

We sent off a request to the US for more testing, with a 6-week wait for results.

There are now suggestions from reputable sources (ie, producing peer-reviewed published research) that different strains of bacterium may be present in Australia, and that these may be vectored by the biting March fly rather than ticks. Here is a starting point for more reading.)


Could the March fly carry Lyme disease?

Could the March fly carry Lyme disease?

To act or not with a partial Lyme Disease diagnosis

With a second test underway, my vet and I decided to place faith in the results so far, and started my mare on an initial 6-week treatment for Lyme. This consisted of a course of three different antibiotics.

The early signs were encouraging. For each new course of antibiotics, she presented with inflammation in different parts of her legs, and patchy sweating on different parts of her body. This is consistent with the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, which is well-documented in human Lyme cases. It’s the body’s response to endotoxins released by a mass of dying bacteria.

We continue to monitor her closely. She is becoming more social and less flighty under windy conditions. She is no longer so sensitive around her head.

Is it Lyme? Possibly. Will she be cured? I hope so.

Our journey continues.


The intention of this article is not to pinpoint Lyme as the culprit of all vague and unexplained ‘unwellness’ and ‘misbehavior’ in horses. It is written in the hope that the information will provide horse owners with other avenues for investigation where the more familiar possibilities have been exhausted. Most importantly, it will hopefully encourage all horse owners to diligently keep a record of their horse’s health and psychological well being, as it was just such an approach that has helped us.

 © All text copyright of the author, at www.thehorsesback.com. No reproduction of partial or entire text without permission. Sharing the link back to this page is fine. Please contact jane@thehorsesback.com for more information. Thank you!

About the author: Cherry Kawamoto (BSc) recently moved back to Australia from Singapore to set up MF Equestrian, a boutique training facility in Nana Glen, NSW. This caters for young horses and riders. For more information, please contact Cherry on mfequestrian88@gmail.com

The Worm That Kills – And Why Only Two Worming Chemicals Can Stop It


Guest Post: After worming with standard wormers, some horses become critically ill with colic. Some even die. This post by Ann Nyland explains why this can happen in horses that haven’t received chemical wormers for a long time. 


New guy in town: the encysted small strongyle

The old idea of worming in rotation lingers on from the early days, when it was first put forward in 1966. In the 1960s, the dangerous worm was the large strongyle (Strongylus vulgaris) and worming treatment in the 1980s and 1990s targeted this worm.

Yet today, the problem worm is the small strongyle (cyathostome).

Rotation is no longer advocated by equine parasitologists. At any rate, no amount of rotating will help against encysted cyathostomes.

Unfortunately, most advice given today is, sad to say, still aimed at the old way designed to  eradicate the large strongyle – even though this worm is no longer the biggest problem.


Too much information – and it’s often wrong

Misinformation about equine worms is all over the net, from natural therapists to chemical companies. Horses have died because of this misinformation.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if something is said about a product, even on companies’ advertising or seminars, it must be true.

It isn’t. On the contrary, It’s common to find statements on ads about wormers such as:

  • “100% effective against all worms of horses and bots.”
  • “(Non-moxidectin, Non-fenbendazole product) safely and effectively rids horses of all major internal parasites, including tapeworms, in a single dose.”
  • “(Chemical) eliminates all common horse worms and bots.”
  • “(Non moxidectin, Non fenbendazole product) has the capacity to treat all common types of parasitic worms (including tapeworms) and bots.”
  • “(Non moxidectin, Non fenbendazole product) has the best combined efficacy and the broadest spectrum of activity of any wormer.”
  • “(Product) completely protects young horses from ascarids, as well as all other worms.”

All of the above statements are misleading.  There is no one product on the market that can be 100% effective against all worms.

In fact, only moxidectin or a single dose of fenbendazole for five consecutive days are effective against this encysted parasite.

So, moxidectin in Equest / Quest / Farnam ComboCare, and fenbendazole in Panacur 100 (or WSB Fenbendazole in Australia), will do the job. If in the US, you need to double the dose of WSB Fenbendazole.


Exactly why are encysted small strongyles so deadly?

Firstly, only two chemicals of all the available wormers out there can kill them. No other wormers will have any effect whatsoever.

What’s more, these encysted worms can stay encysted for years. (Encysted means that it is enclosed in a cyst in your horse’s intestine, after the larvae have burrowed into the intestinal wall.)

Now, encysted worms are normal part of the small strongyles’ life cycle. It’s a normal stage for them. When they finally develop into 4th stage larvae, they emerge from the cyst and enter the large colon. They then become adults, and the cycle starts again.

Now we come to the problem with them: the process of emerging. If there’s a huge number of them, the process of emerging may kill a horse. Even if there are fewer, but still a lot, the horse is likely get colic and/or scour and/or get edema. Or, they may be found dead in the paddock. In Australia, the owner usually assumes it is a snakebite.

The reason for this is that when they emerge, they release toxins from accumulated larval waste products.


What happens if a different wormer is used instead?

When a horse who has a lot of encysted small strongyles is wormed with a standard wormer (in other words, a wormer that isn’t moxidectin or fenbendazole based), the small strongyles encysted in the lumen (lining) of the intestine aren’t affected. Instead, the standard wormer kills the worms that are not encysted.

These worms then die and are passed out of the horse in manure.

This isn’t too bad if the horse doesn’t have many of them. However, if the horse has a lot, this is what happens next.

Because a lot of small strongyles have been killed in one go, those nasty encysted small strongyles, who have been sitting safety inside the horse untouched by the standard wormer, are given the signal to emerge all at once. They do so in big numbers, ready to replace the ones that the standard wormer has killed.

In emerging, they come right through the wall of the horse’s large intestine. They bring with them a large amount of toxins. This is what can kill your horse or give it colic.

If instead you worm with moxidectin (Equest) or a five-day dose of fenbendazole (Panacur 100 or WSD Fenbendazole), not only are the non-encysted adult small strongyles killed, but you will also kill a whole bunch of the encysted ones who were waiting to replace them. There will be no mass emergence of strongyles and no release of toxins.

These wormers are the only safe ones to use on horses with a suspected heavy worm burden.

To recap:

1) Moxidectin and fenbendazole wormers are the only ones that can kill the encysted small strongyles.

2) With other wormers, horses with a heavy worm burden can get sick or die when the encysted strongyles, which haven’t been killed, emerge through the colon wall to replace the non-encysted strongyles that have been killed.

This process is called Larval Cyathostomosis and it is damaging to your horse. The symptoms are colic, weight loss, diarrhea and/or subcutaneous odema. In the worst cases, the outcome is death.


How can you tell if your horse has encysted small strongyles?

Answer: you can’t. Horses can look very well and still be full of encysted worms.

Just imagine that encysted worms have been sitting there, possibly for up to three years. You can be worming regularly with standard wormers and they’re not affected in the slightest. What’s more, your horse can be looking and even performing very well.

Your standard wormer does nothing against the encysted small strongyles, so just ignore advertising claims that these wormers ‘kill all worms’.

If you have never given moxidectin, or fenbendazole for five consecutive days, well, that could be a cause for concern, depending on your geographical location and your horse’s individual circumstances.

Of course, some horses are more prone to worm infestation than others – the old saying “Some of the horses have most of the worms” is correct. In any group of horses, 20% will carry 80% of the worm burden. Many healthy horses have an effective immune response to worms, which keeps the numbers low.

That is, until the horse becomes sick, is badly fed or gets a large number of worms.


But don’t encysted small strongyles show up in fecals?

Now here’s a problem: encysted small strongyles don’t lay eggs.

Repeat: they do not lay eggs.

If you have an egg count done on your horse’s manure, it will not show how badly your horse is infested with encysted small strongyles. This means the egg count could be zero, but your horse could still be infested with these worms. It’s simply impossible for fecals to show how many encysted small strongyles are encysted within your horse’s intestine.

Your horse may not even look ‘poor’. In fact, your horse could appear to be in glowing health and still have a heavy worm infestation. Fat, shiny horses have died from worms. Don’t be fooled into thinking a horse is not heavily infested with these worms just by appearance.

Encysted small strongyles can’t be seen by the naked eye. You won’t see them, ever.

So, if your horse has ever had colic, has scoured or has been ‘off’ after worming, consider treating for encysted strongyles.

Here’s how to put together a program of treatment for your horse with neck threadworms (and maybe the Itch) that includes treatment for encysted small strongyles as well as the ivermectin treatment – How to Fight the Big Fight Against Neck Threadworms

Using moxidectin or fenbendazole for encysted small strongyles

Equest (moxidectin) is perfectly safe for horses, despite the scare-mongering and other such utter nonsense to be found on the net. Trials have been conducted where foals were highly overdosed (details and references are in my book – see below.)

If you have minis or small ponies and don’t have an accurate knowledge of their weight, you can use Panacur 100 (fenbendazole) for five consecutive days.

I immediately worm all rescue horses arriving here with the full dose of Equest for their weight, and then follow up at two weeks, and then again two weeks later. I don’t wait for the horse to gain weight until I worm – that road is paved with dead horses. And nor do I give them half a dose – again, that is a serious mistake.


Ann Nyland lives in New South Wales, Australia. With a PhD in equine physiology, she has published several books on worming for horses.


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