Horse enthusiasts of all disciplines attended the 25th Annual Horse Symposium held in April at the 4-H Training Center in Ballston Spa, NY. Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension and sponsored by the NYS Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, the annual event featured four guest speakers and interactive, hands-on demonstrations.
“We had a super line-up of professionals here to talk about how we can help our horses,” explained Susan Ripley, Equine Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Saratoga County.
Biomechanics and balance
Kicking off the day’s activities, Sheila Schils, PhD, MS explained what the term “biomechanics” really means. “We all know Newton’s third law of motion that whenever there is an action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” she said, “rarely is the answer to rehabilitation to make just one change, instead you have to take a whole horse approach.”
During her presentation she described how the science of physical therapy can be used to develop specific exercises, both in hand and under saddle, to aid in the rehabilitation process for horses. She developed the use of functional electrical stimulation (FES) in horses for injury rehabilitation and prevention.
Carol Vischer-Safran, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM followed Schils with a brief discussion on the different tools veterinarians use to diagnose injury. “Most training issues are due to pain and not a bad attitude,” she said.
Observation and palpation are the first “tools” Vischer-Safran uses in an exam. “A veterinarian’s hands and eyes are still the most important tools they have to observe a horse,” she emphasized.
Horse owners can learn the basics of palpation and observation to stay in tune with how their horses are feeling. At a minimum, she suggests horse owners feel their horse’s legs for heat, swelling in the tendons or ligaments and to routinely monitor the horse’s digital pulse.
“The best way to feel heat is to lay your hand just barely outside the hair line where it meets the hoof. The heat will radiate out,” Vischer-Safran explained.
Digital radiographs, ultrasound, MRI and other imaging technologies can be used as needed for further insight into the source of a horse’s pain, but are not an end-all, be-all in diagnosis.
Later in the day, Schils and Vischer-Safran teamed up for a demonstration on evaluating a horse’s movement and how to develop balanced movement. Vischer-Safran, demonstrated how FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) can be used on horses to restore functional movement.
The whole horse approach
“Any time we can do proactive things rather than reactive treatments is a benefit for any horse,” Susan Ripley said.
To foster a proactive approach, symposium attendees also had an opportunity to learn how the horse’s mouth is an integral piece of keeping him comfortable. Edward T. Earley, DVM, from Williamsport, PA shared findings from his current research projects and aggressive dentistry techniques such as “bit seats”, canine reduction, incisor leveling and pulp exposure of cheek teeth. He also offered information for proper bit sizing and wolf tooth extraction.
In the afternoon, Lorre Mueller, Masterson Method Certified Practitioner and Instructor provided a hands-on demonstration of the The Masterson Method. She showed how the approach is an integrated form of bodywork where the horse participates in the process by following the neurological responses of the horse to the practitioner’s touch. She then showed how she uses those signs to help the horse release tension and to move them through a range of motion while in a relaxed state.
Mueller’s approach is unique in that she also uses equine osteopathy, adapted from human osteopathy, to look at the horse as a whole. Through considering every system within the horse she is able to help the horse use its natural healing ability to find balance and wellness, through restored mobility.
“She has blended the two modalities and finds the soft techniques of the Masterson Method, a perfect fit with the deeper understanding of the body and its systems, required in osteopathy,” Ripley said.
Used tack sale
Throughout the day, members of the Ponies and Horses 4-H Club ran a used tack sale. Hundreds of high-quality used pieces of tack were available for purchase. The young riders carefully cleaned each piece of tack to get it ready for the sale. “The sale will help us improve the 4-H center and raise money for our events,” said Sophy Legere a member of Ponies and Horses.
From saddle pads and bits to splint boots and sheets, symposium attendees had an opportunity to find just what their horse needed while supporting the 4-H program as all proceeds benefitted the Saratoga County 4-H Horse program. “Last year we sold $800 worth of tack,” said Ripley, “and the left overs were taken to a benefit fundraiser and another $500 were sold.”
“The funds raised help offset the costs of judges and ribbons for the horse shows and for hosting clinicians,” explained Carter Older, 4-H / Livestock specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Saratoga County.