Care Tip: Horse Blankets Go On & Off With Ease

Everything takes longer in winter. Us humans are putting on and taking off outerwear all day. And we’re doing the same for our horses.

Once blankets get muddy, the task is even less appealing. Here’s a quick trick:

  1. Undo all straps and stand on the near side of the horse (the horse’s left side)
  2. Grab the neck of the blanket and fold the first third back where the saddle would goMurmer blanket single fold
  3. Grab the tail cover and fold the last third over the first. Now you have a blanket burrito!Murmer blanket burrito
  4. Go to the off side of the horse (the horse’s right side)
  5. Slide both arms under the blanket burrito and slide it off
  6. Place the burrito over any object: a blanket bar, a fence, a saddle rack, even a hay-bale will do
  7. When it’s time to put the blanket back on, reverse the above steps
Happy Blanketed Mare

Happy Blanketed Mare

Ok, so what’s so special about this method? By folding the blanket in inside-out thirds, the grime stays on the outside of the blanket. This keeps dirt away from the horse’s skin and off of the rider. By placing the burrito in the middle of the horse’s back, the blanket will be in the correct location to avoid shoulder rubs. And finally, this trick keeps the blanket orderly. If you’ve been riding for an hour in sub-freezing temps, it’s helpful to know which straps go where. Trust me, your numb fingers will thank you.


Please Vote! 2014 Equestrian Social Media Awards Finalist

Merriam-Webster defines amateur as a noun meaning “a person who does something for pleasure and not as a job.”

I write and I ride for the sheer joy of it.

So this post is my sincere thanks to the friends, family, and followers who join my adventures in text, and to those who nominated Capital Cowgirl for the Equestrian Social Media Awards

ESMA_2014_Finalist_logo-1 copy

Because of your support, I am honored to report that Capital Cowgirl is a finalist in the Amateur Horseperson category (#5). We’re right up there with some incredible entrants.

But I think this category is special. Most of us horse-folk are amateurs.

Though our minds are in the barn, our workweek time-clock is not. Pride in a clean stall doesn’t get a promotion. A perfectly executed trot transition won’t result in a bonus. And horses empty our wallets rather than fill them. But our lives are fuller because of it. We do it for the love of a horse.

I write because I love the feel of a velvet nose on my cheek, the smell of fresh shavings, the sound of hooves in a barn aisle. And I know that others do too.

If you enjoy my content (the treat recipes, horse care tips, product reviews, craft ideas, stories of my mare, or the progress of the rescue horse) please consider giving Capital Cowgirl your vote. Head to the ESMA website and vote using this form before February 7th.

Thank you for reading, thank you for engaging, and thank you for your support!



New SmartPak Saddle Pad: Dressing for the Ride You Want

No doubt you’ve been told to “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” But have you ever thought about dressing for the ride you want?

When it comes to the career world, the saying relates to how others view you. In the context of horses, dressing for success is about confidence and mental preparation.

My mare has had almost three weeks off: she was sick, I was sick, and then I was away. Last night she was stiff and unhappy under saddle.

You're back! Do we have to work??

You’re back! Do we have to work??

Today when I arrived at the barn, she was visibly in season. By all accounts, it was not likely to be the kind of ride that I wanted. I kept a positive attitude, excited to try our new saddle pad.

My husband put a SmartPak gift card in my stocking at Christmas. He is a SmartMan. (Get it?! See why you should give SmartPak a try here.) My black Roma pad was on its last leg. You know the type. It’s become so worn, the batting feels nonexistent. Even after a wash, it just doesn’t seem clean.

I ordered the SmartPak brand Medium Diamond Dressage Pad in eggplant with her name in Ballantine Script. Purple because she is royalty in my eyes. Personalized because she is a Southern belle, you know. The website showed a brighter green for the embroidery. I was thrilled when it arrived a true sage.

Tacking up, the billet straps could have been a bit longer. The knee and thigh roll and placement of billets on a dressage saddle tend to require longer saddle pad straps than for a jumping saddle. And the mare’s hormonal flux was in full display. But we made do with shorter straps and higher energy and headed to the indoor dressed for the ride we wanted, if not the one we seemed likely to have.

Fit for a Queen!

Fit for a Queen!

She was a dream. Transitions were effortless. Not one ear pin. The mare was attentive and quiet even with a rambunctious young gelding in the arena. We cantered a balanced and lively twenty-meter circle in each direction. A lovely ride.saddle pad new

Do I really believe it was the saddle pad? Of course not. But it helped me stay positive about the ride. And that can’t hurt.

Besides, she looked darn cute in it. Isn’t that reason enough?

Cold and Rainy: Caring for Retired Horses

Am I right in saying that retired horses rule the roost?

They have often won our loyalty with years of faithful companionship. My retired off-the-track-thoroughbred-turned-Pony-Club-championship-novice-level-eventing horse owns my heart and I will forever love him.

A handsome gentleman

A handsome gentleman

Remember the song “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold”? That’s my mare and my gelding. Both precious in my eyes: new friends and old.

My OTTB is home on my parents’ farm with his buddy Pete. I’m lucky to be visiting, even just for a few days. In large part, these two get to do what they want when they want. They are quite happily spoiled.

Even in sunny Florida, it’s important to take special care of these more seasoned horses in the winter. Today was quite rainy and the temperature is slated to drop to 41 tonight.

They tend to stay out of the rain, preferring to buddy up under the barn awning like this:

Morning showers

Morning showers

And we very rarely close their stall doors. But when I fed them this morning, I placed grain, carrots, and hay in the stalls in hopes it would entice the geldings to stay dry.

The bribe: stay inside for hay!

The bribe: stay inside for hay!

It worked. We blanketed them at dinner before the cold set in. Warm, dry, well-fed, and in good company. All taken care of for the night, the way dear friends should be.

One Month Cur-OST + Legend IV = Even Sounder Horse

Her appetite and love for dirt show no signs of slowing down

Her appetite and love for dirt show no signs of slowing down

My mare has not truly been sound in a very long time. 2013 was not a great year for us. Two ligament injuries, stall-rest, and arthritis left her quite lame. Read more about our soundness struggle here.

Just before Christmas, she came down with a respiratory infection that resulted in a week of stall rest and quarantine. I kicked off the New Year with a cold virus and secondary sinus infection that kept me out of the saddle for an additional week. And the brutal temps accompanying the polar vortex meant several days of hand-walking only.

But she completed her bi-daily loading doses of a product called Cur-OST EQ Plus on Christmas. After trading questions with the founder of the company, I decided to add the Immune and Repair formula to her daily regimen for the next three months. And she received her first dose of Legend, a hyaluronan injectable from Bayer that can be used in the joint space (Intra-articular “IA”) or in the vein systemically (“IV”).

Intra-articular injection of hyaluronan has been shown to block the inflammation response in joints with osteoarthritis. Veterinarians often administer IA hyaluronan with a corticosteroid to maximize the anti-inflammatory and pain relief effect of the injection. But IA administration is not a risk-free silver bullet. Infection is a real and severe possibility.

The mare had been showing decent progress with the combination of EQ Plus, light exercise, and cold laser. I was terrified of the possibility of joint infection. So I figured we could try Legend IV. There is a lower risk associated with this method of administration. Legend studies indicate that 96% of horses receiving the product IA show good or excellent improvement. For IV administration, the number is 90%. If there were ever a time to bet on horses, I can’t think of a better one than 9-out of 10 odds in favor of a sounder mare!

So, after one month of EQ Plus and cold laser, and two weeks of Immune & Repair and Legend IV, how is she doing? Have a look (and please excuse the poor quality of the video):

I could not be happier with my gamble. I just hope our luck holds out!

Clean Tack with Higher Standards Leather Care

The best this leather has looked in years

The best this leather has looked in years

It’s a belated Christmas and Year of the Horse gift to myself! My bridle and saddle are brand new.

Scratch that. The leather looks brand new. For a fraction of the price. The buckles? My bit? Reins? Stirrups? Those will have to be the subject of another post.

And the tack certainly doesn’t feel brand new (thankfully). It is perfectly supple with a nice shine and without any greasy or sticky residue.

As a former pony-clubber, there isn’t much I love more than happy leather. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but cleaning tack is a favorite pastime.

I thought I had perfected my ritual…until I tried this product.

This review of Higher Standards Leather Care by Across the Ditch sparked my curiosity (thank you!!). The company is located in Florida and sells via an Etsy shop.

I ordered the seasonal cinnamint soap and conditioner combo.

Higher StandardsThe product arrived within a few days. I was tickled to find butterscotch and peppermint candies in the envelope.

Don’t let the indulgent smell of the soap fool you. It is a powerhouse cutting through jockeys, sweat, and dust with ease. And in another nice personalized touch, there was already a tack sponge in the jar. The conditioner smells slightly sweet and didn’t overwhelm my hands with goo.

Higher Standards will have a permanent spot in my leather care kit. Consider adding it to yours!

In the meantime, does anyone have a recommendation to transform the metal on my tack??

Winter’s Cold and Winter Colds

My mare’s been sick. I’ve been sick. And it’s been brutally cold out. Here’s how the horses are holding up:

Sister is getting cabin fever...

Sister is getting cabin fever…

Let me out!!

Let me out!!

Even the barn mascot is looking a little stiffer than usual

Even the barn mascot is looking a little stiffer than usual

2014 New Year’s Resolution: New Breeches

At my fittest, this is the goal!

At my fittest, this is the goal!

I have saddle bags. And not the kind that carry your lunch. These are the kind a few over-indulgent lunches become.

I will turn 30 in the Year of the Horse. I am determined to lose (and not find) ten pounds. I believe it will improve my riding.

Studies estimate that horses can carry from 15-20% of their weight without compromising performance or health. While I am well below that range for my mare (she is a big girl), I know that shedding a few pounds will lessen the strain on her muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints.

When I reach my goal weight, I plan to buy a beautiful pair of full-seat show breeches as a reward. I don’t know yet which to choose. Help me stay motivated. Let me know what pair you covet (and why) in the comments below!

4 Companies With Superior Customer Service

2013 has been busy. As a result, I have purchased from several online vendors, and four have excelled in customer service: 2 horse-related, and 2 life-related. I highly recommend my friends, family, and readers give these companies a try. In no particular order:

  • Zulily. This online discount store offers incredible daily deals for women, maternity, babies, children,  men, the home, and often for horse-lovers! I love to open a daily email and see Kerrits or Ariat. But there are also great products for your non-horsey life like my personal favorite Sistema. A few months ago, I ordered a teething necklace for a friend who was a new mom. The package got lost in the mail. One email to Zulily customer service, and they had refunded my purchase and given me a $10 Zulily credit. The products are all excellent quality. The customer service exceeded my expectations. I will be a loyal customer for a very long time!
  • SmartPak. I admit, when I first started seeing ads for pre-dosed supplements in little disposable blister cups, I was skeptical. But this company has wowed me. First, the supplements are measured accurately, stored appropriately, and labeled for safety. And they aren’t much more expensive pre-measured than if you purchased them in bulk and dosed your own. Second, there is free shipping on SmartPaks over $40, orders over $75, or to delivered to your boarding barn weekly. Third, with the SmartPerks program, you get 10% off all SmartPak brand equipment. And finally, the expert service with this retailer is unrivaled. They know the names, ages, breeds, ailments, and feeding regimen of all three of my horses. They provide advice and answer questions whenever I call. And if it’s the middle of the night and I’m worried about a symptom, SmartPak has an online equestrian health library free of charge.
  • Brookstone. These products make life easier and more comfortable. Really, that’s all you need to know! But they cemented my business this year. Every holiday season I find great gifts at Brookstone. This year, I purchased most in an actual store. But I ordered a gift for my husband online and paid extra for overnight shipping. With the UPS debacle, the package was delivered late. I emailed Brookstone to let them know. Without any debate, the company sent me a note within 24 hours promising to refund the shipping charge.
  • Good Vendors Keep Humans Happy and in the Saddle

    Good Vendors Keep Humans Happy and in the Saddle

    Nouvelle Research (Cur-OST). Dr. Tom Schell has created a line of nutraceutical products for horses, humans, and dogs. My mare has been on Cur-OST EQ Plus GTF for 22 days now. When I began seeing improvement within a week, I emailed Dr. Schell on a Sunday night with questions. He responded almost immediately, and patiently answered each of my follow-up questions. The night after placing my order for the EQ Plus, I decided to add the Immune & Repair formula to her regimen for three months. I called and spoke to “Molly” who grabbed my EQ Plus shipment and added the new supplement to save me a second shipping charge. The products arrived the next day. Nouvelle has proven to be customer-centered and I look forward to a healthier horse in 2014 as a result.

3 Ways Winter Complicates Viral Respiratory Infection in Horses

Boarding barns are a little like daycare. If one horse gets sick, it’s just a matter of time before the whole barn is exposed.

Playful Geldings Share Mischief & Hopefully Not Germs!

Playful Geldings Share Mischief & Hopefully Not Germs!

There is a mild viral respiratory bug (thankfully not Strangles and not Herpes) making the rounds in the D.C. Metropolitan area. I keep my mare at a very clean barn with excellent horse-health management. And she has not been off the property since she arrived almost 2 years ago. Even with the best hygiene practices, trainers, farriers, and vets visit; new horses arrive; and boarders take trail rides or lessons off-site. Over the fall, a handful of horses presented with snotty noses, coughs, fever, or stocked-up legs.

A horse 3 stalls away from my mare had a positive culture for Streptococcus equi zooepidemicus (“Strep Zoo”). This bacteria is common in the respiratory tract of horses. When a viral infection has dampened a horse’s immune system, Strep Zoo can take over and result in nasal discharge, coughing, and pneumonia.

Last week, my mare’s breathing sounded hollow, but with a clear nose and clean tight legs, I figured it might just be the dusty indoor arena. Saturday the barn manager sent me a note that her nose was a mess.

She has been quarantined since. As difficult as it has been, I have not gone within 20 feet of her. The vet administered the first of three doses of EqStim. This Neogen product is intended to boost the immune system so that the body can better fight the secondary bacterial infection. The mare is also receiving daily doses of oral antibiotic. While it is never a good time to have a virus in your barn, winter makes prevention and treatment especially difficult.

  1. Exercise in cold weather inflames a horse’s airways. This can suppress the immune response for up to 48 hours afterwards! Winter air can also dry out the mucosa in the nose and throat. Horses tend to drink less in winter, so dehydration is common. Barns and indoors tend to get dusty. This leaves a horse more susceptible to asthma and infection. Tip: If the mercury dips to 23 degrees or lower, keep your rides at the walk only. Use a bucket warmer and keep a salt lick readily available.
  2. Horses are in confined spaces more often in winter. On snowy nights, horses huddle together in pasture or breathe in the shared air in a closed barn. The indoor arena is crowded. The potential for infection is high. Tip: Be aware of a drop in appetite, snotty nose, coughing, dull eyes, lack of energy, increased respiration or fever and remove symptomatic horses from the herd as soon as possible.
  3. Humans (and horses!) are wearing more clothes that are less washable. Boarders, barn staff, vets, and farriers may be diligent to wash their hands, rinse boots, and launder breeches. But what about fleece-lined leather riding gloves? A waterproof oilskin barn jacket? These winter essentials aren’t made to be washed with detergent and hot water. Tip: If possible avoid symptomatic horses. Make a disinfecting solution of 1/4 cup bleach per gallon of water for boots, plastic, and rubber. Handle symptomatic horses last. Wash hands often. Wear disposable rubber gloves atop winter gloves and discard after each use.

Do you have experience with prevention and containment of respiratory infection? Share your tips in the comments!


Make a Holiday Stick Horse With a Sock

Sharing horses with kids is a magical event.

Being at my inlaws’ house, I’m having horse withdrawal. So I made a toy to woo the kids in the family. Nothing says “Cool Aunt” quite like a homemade hobby horse.

Howdy Partner!

Howdy Partner!

What you need:

  • Sock
  • Yarn
  • Quilt batting
  • Buttons (two, or googly eyes if you prefer)
  • Felt
  • Dowel (or broomstick)
  • Large plastic yarn needle
  • Sewing needle
  • Thread
  • Optional: thin leather strap for a bridle (from an old purse or belt)

Prep: Cut a small notch the circumference of the dowel about 6 inches from one end. Cut several pieces of yarn into 5-6 inch pieces for the mane. Turn the sock heel side facing you.

Eyes: With the sewing needle and thread, sew button eyes just toe-ward of the heel.

Ears: Cut two teardrop shapes of felt. Fold the wide base of the teardrop in half. With sewing needle and thread, sew from the inside of the sock to the outside, through the folded ear, and back into the sock. Repeat 7-8 times to secure the ear. Tie several knots inside the sock and cut the thread.

Head shape: Cut batting into three long strips about 3 inches wide. Roll each strip into a cylinder. Place the first cylinder horizontally into the toe of the sock. This is your “nose.” Place the second cylinder perpendicular to the first. This is the “face.” The final cylinder will be perpendicular to the face, and parallel to the nose. This is the “jowl” of the horse.

Mane: Pinch the top of the sock between the ears to make a small fold. With the plastic needle, thread 5-6 inch pieces of yarn through and tie on top of the pinched fold. Continue the length of the neck, but leave 1-2 inches at the bottom without “mane.”

Neck: wrap a 5 inch strip of batting around the top of the side of the dowel with the groove. Pull the ankle of the sock over this cylinder and tuck the excess sock under the lip of the bottom edge of the batting. Cut a 24 inch piece of yarn. With the plastic needle, coarsely whip-stitch the bottom edge of the sock-covered batting. Use the excess tail of yarn to tie a secure knot and bow in the dowel groove.

Optional Bridle: Wrap the leather around the sock horse’s “nose” and stitch in place on either side using sewing needle and thread. Sew the excess leather piece to each side of the “bridle” to form reins.

Hobby Horse: Training the next generation of Capital Cowgirls!

Horses Modeling 3 Mud Varieties

Having grown up mostly outside and in the barn, I was shocked to learn that I never knew mud until I moved to Maryland.

Apparently what I had experienced was more appropriately titled “wet sand” or “semi-moist soil.” This year, I’ve been baptized by snow’s wicked stepsister: mud. And there are several different varieties that plague the best riding plans. From least difficult to remedy to most:

1) Watercolor Mud. This thin grime boasts an almost silky texture. Though it looks epidemic coating entire blankets, it is easily dusted away.

Sam mud

2) Meringue Mud. Transforming teddy bear-like winter coats into miniature snow-capped mountain lookalikes, this silt is most often found on necks, legs, ears, and tails.

Murmer mud

3) Kiln-fired Adobe Mud. Upon encountering this sludge, you legitimately wonder whether your horse tromped through a batch of uncured cement.

Murmer mud hoof

All kidding aside, it’s important to groom horses regularly, especially in wet conditions. Mud can trap moisture, bacteria, and fungus in hooves and on skin. Thrush, scratches, and rain-rot do not a happy horse make. And just think,  the elbow grease you expend in a vigorous curry will keep you warm; the muscle behind an active hoof-pick will keep you fit; and the shine of your horse’s coat will keep you the envy of the indoor!

(If your horse does succumb to the scurf, Abby Phillips has a good primer on treatment.)

Cur-OST + Cold Laser + Light Work = Sounder Horse?

Equine lameness can be discouraging and expensive to treat. I’ve been dealing with a less-than-sound horse for over a year. Several x-rays, ultrasounds, months on stall rest, shockwave treatments, two MRIs and a stay in the vet hospital later, as of Thanksgiving, she was still noticeably lame.

A sound horse? Priceless.

A sound horse? Priceless.

Two weeks ago, I started the mare on cold laser treatments and Cur-OST EQ Plus GTF, a nutraceutical supplement formula purported to provide anti-inflammatory benefits. (Read more about my mare and why I’m trying the product here.)

Since starting the laser therapy and the Cur-OST, I have ridden her mostly at the walk for 15-30 minutes daily. Last week’s snow kept the horses inside. I assumed I would arrive to find the puffy stocked up legs of a horse who hadn’t moved much in 48 hours. All four legs were clean and tight.

This weekend, I added a few straight line passes of trot. The mare felt more comfortable. By Sunday, she was offering trot without being asked. On Monday, the vet agreed the mare had improved significantly on a straight line, moderately to the left, and somewhat to the right.

Especially with the holidays, my wallet is feeling light lately. And the supplement is costly. The easy rides, the laser, the passage of time, the Cur-OST, or some combination seems to be helping my horse. I’m not a vet. I don’t claim to understand if, why, or how treatments succeed or fail. I’m just a girl who loves a horse. With that in mind, I ordered a new shipment.

Though the gift at the top of my list won’t come in a box, a happy healthy year for this special mare would be a Christmas miracle all the same. I’m choosing to believe this one will come true.

P.S. What’s on the top of your Christmas list?

Horse Treat Recipe: WHOA Cakes

During the holidays, we wind up baking (and eating) lots more often. On yesterday’s menu: Apple-Spice Cupcakes for humans. Today: WHOA Cakes (With Honey Oats and Apples) for horses. And unlike the Cob Cookies I made earlier this week, Whoa Cakes are tasty enough for people, too!

Whoa Cakes

Whoa Cakes

Whoa Cakes feature cinnamon. In addition to providing delicious seasonal flavor, cinnamon may fight fungal infections and lessen muscle soreness. Try a batch:

  • 1 c rolled oats
  • 1.5 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 2/3 c unsweetened applesauce*

*Note: I have a Vitamix high-speed blender, so I cored one medium Mcintosh apple and blended my own.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Drop spoonfuls into greased muffin tin. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool and serve. Family (both two- and four-legged) will ask for these treats by name!

Horse Treat Recipe: Cob Cookies

It’s snowing. Weather like this keeps me out of the office, off the road, and away from the barn. But like many horse lovers, it doesn’t keep me from thinking of my four-legged friend.

I created a new recipe for my first-ever batch of homemade horse treats: Carrot-Oat-Banana “COB” Cookies.

COB cookies

COB cookies

Horses get the bulk of potassium in their diet from forage. With the icy weather lately, my mare has been in her stall for a few days straight. This interrupts her normal grazing pattern. Bananas are a good source of dietary potassium. As with any treats, these are best in moderation. Cob cookies are a good option without too much sugar.

  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1/2 c unbleached bread flour
  • 1/4 c steel-cut oats
  • 3 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 c water
  • dried banana chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a non-stick muffin tin. Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl. The mixture should be runny. Spoon enough into the tins so that the bottom of each well is covered. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the muffin tin from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Turn each “cookie” upside down. The bottom will be softer than the top. Press one banana chip into the softer side of each cookie. Return the tin to the oven for 5 minutes. Place the “cookies” on a clean plate and let cool in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

And finally…

The Taste-Test Face

The Taste-Test Face

Cob Cookies. Mare-tested. Capital Cowgirl-approved.

2014 Equestrian Social Media Awards: Please Consider Nominating Capital Cowgirl?

Murmer Snow

Sunrise Silhouette, Winter 2012.

Do you know about the Equestrian Social Media Awards? Take a look at the acceptance videos from past winners and see the depth and breadth of how the equestrian community (businesses, thought-leaders, pleasure riders, charities, and professionals) is using social media.

It’s no surprise really. Horse-people share a unique passion that transcends profession, age, riding style, language barriers, and geopolitical boundaries. And we LOVE to talk horses.

Capital Cowgirl is entered in four categories for the 2014 “ESMA” Awards: Amateur Horseperson, Newcomer, Blog, and North America. Have you enjoyed the content? Please take a minute to fill out the nomination form and tell the ESMA judges why. In most categories, you can select up to 3 entrants. Consider nominating entrants in each category if you feel so inclined. Just by scrolling through the nominees, I have found some great new information. Happy nominating!

Rescue Horse Exercise: Poles and Grids In-Hand

Horses are built to move. These powerful grazing herbivores are not adapted to a sedentary lifestyle. While most tolerate periods of time spent in a barn, horses (and people!) are healthier and happier with consistent exercise.

Sam mid-grid

Sam mid-grid

To remedy this, we have to work both his mind and his body: to harness the feedback loop between the two in a positive way. When an animal has physical discomfort, it triggers a mental reaction; but when the mind is tense, the body will follow. To break the cycle, we alternate between exercises that relax and challenge both mind and body. And both have improved greatly in the last several months.

We started a new challenge: poles in a grid.

I started with three wooden rails on the ground spaced four-and-a-half feet apart. Sam followed me through at the walk, the trot, and then without even a rope between us. I raised alternating ends of the three rails about 9 inches of the ground and repeated the process. I returned the first and third rail to the ground and then elevated the center rail on both ends. And finally, I raised the center rail to 15 inches.

Grid with center rail at 15 inches

Grid with center rail at 15 inches

I did not have him trot over the rail at this height. Though Sam is becoming more fit by the day, training (or retraining) a horse is a marathon and not a sprint. Continued progress is important. The worst outcome would be to overextend him physically or mentally. Besides, I was exhausted. I may have been picking arena sand out of my teeth if I had attempted a running start.

Consider incorporating in-hand grids into your training. The exercise is good for your horse’s mind and body, and yours too!

Trying Cur-OST on Lame Horse

Have you heard of CurOST? Until a few years ago, I hadn’t either.

In 2010, I had the privilege of watching the World Equestrian Games with friends and family. As we walked the aisles of gift shops and exhibits, I picked up several samples. Over the last few years, Nouvelle Research has emailed articles about their product line, and if I can be honest, I often deleted them. After all, my horse was sound and going beautifully.

A former barn-mate, show-buddy, and friend, Beth Stelzleni, has become an expert equine nutritionist, eventer, and trainer. I vaguely remember her posting glowing reviews about this product, but I did not realize that Beth is actually an ambassador for and routine user of Cur-OST.

Cur-OST EQ Plus

Cur-OST EQ Plus

When my mare suffered severe injuries to two ligaments last August, she started a regime of joint and ligament supplements. She was healing nicely while on stall rest and for the first few months under saddle. When we began trot, she came up lame again: first on the left hind, then her back, the left fore, and most recently the right fore. Based on ultrasound and X-rays, it seems she may have some residual inflammation in the original injury (lateral collateral ligament) and mild arthritic changes in the left hock, right fore navicular bone, and both fore coffin joints.

Daily Previcox brought some relief, but the mare was not sound. After consulting with my vet, we turned her out, stopped the Previcox, and purchased Cur-OST EQ Plus GTF formula. Per Nouvelle’s research, a spice you may find more often in Indian food than in your barn may reduce the inflammatory processes that degenerate joints or slow the healing process in soft tissue. Curcumin, a principle ingredient in Cur-OST, comes from the turmeric plant.

Dosing out the Cur-OST has been on my “to-do” list for weeks now. My mare gets a daily SmartPak, which I have found is the most effective and convenient method to ensure my mare gets an accurate and consistent dose of her supplements. Cur-OST does not come in SmartPaks (yet).

First, I needed 30 small containers. With Christmas around the corner and the steady stream of vet bills I’ve received over the last year, I was not about to shell out full price. Take note: if you give daily supplements, keep an eye on grocery store mailers for a good deal. I joined “Just for U,” a savings club at Safeway, and downloaded the app to my iPhone. Lo and behold, the “XSmall” size Ziploc brand containers had a store discount and had a manufacturers coupon attached that Safeway doubled! I bought 30, and paid less than half price.

Discount +  Manufacturer's Coupon = Savvy Supplements

Discount + Manufacturer’s Coupon = Savvy Supplements

Next, the dosing: Cur-OST recommends a loading dose for a 1000-lb. horse of 1 ounce (1 scoop) twice daily for 10-14 days. The bag claims to have 28 ounces. Some of the powder spilled out as I scooped. As a result, I wound up with 27 doses.

The powder is a rich yellow and smells fruity-sweet. Like turmeric, it leaves a bright stain (on fingers and clothes too!) At this point, it isn’t clear what is causing my mare to be lame, but the Nouvelle studies suggest that Cur-OST may be effective at addressing both soft tissue injury and arthritis. With three run-ins with the product, there’s no time like the present to give it a try. Wish us luck!

One ounce of Cur-OST EQ Plus

One ounce of Cur-OST EQ Plus

Soft Tissue Rehab Exercise: Supple Without a Saddle

With my mare in recovery from two ligament injuries, I’ve gotten creative: dreaming up things we can do in the stall, on the lead, and under saddle in straight lines mostly at the walk. I had a world of trouble finding guidance on the internet. Most exercises were tailored for horses with bony injuries. Soft tissue brings its own complications. This rehab requires daily sessions on firm footing with as few turns as possible. This means nothing on the longe-line, no cavaletti, no trail-work, and no circles.

As she’s been returning work, her back is tender. I’m not surprised. The mare lost every ounce of muscle she ever had, leaving the stall for only 10 minutes twice a day for 7 months. She is now ridden under saddle every single day.

This is a great exercise to do a few days in a row to give the horse’s back a break.

Required equipment:

  • Horse. I prefer to ride my (very calm) mare without medicating her, but per my vet’s recommendation, I rode her for the first several weeks with 2-3 cc’s of oral Acepromazine on board. Talk to your vet and your trainer and figure out what’s best for you.
  • Bridle.
  • Helmet.
  • Watch. The vet has provided strict guidelines on how long my mare can be worked during each phase of her rehabilitation. I have an inexpensive digital waterproof Timex from Target that is barn-tested and Capital Cowgirl approved.
  • Arena with firm even footing.
  • Mounting block.
  • Another human (for safety).

NOTE: The list above does not include a saddle. I firmly believe a few bareback rides are good for both of us.

The Warm-Up

Handwalk twice around the arena in each direction. Match your steps to the horse. This is meant to warm up the joints and prepare the back.

Go to the mounting block and get on. Grab mane and land lightly. Remember the point of the whole exercise is to loosen the back.

Walk once around the arena each direction with your legs relaxed at your horse’s side and breathe deeply. Listen to the footfalls and notice the tempo. Is it even? Rushed? Relax your back and let your hips be pushed by the horse’s steps.


Mentally divide the arena into 4 distinct segments. I use the Dressage letters A, B, C, and E as my guides, but any 4 points will do. About two strides before each “point,” flex your abdominal muscles to stop the rocking of your hips and sit deep. The horse should slow its steps, and may even flick an ear back towards you. At the “point” ask for the halt. As soon as all 4 feet stop, allow the horse to walk on. Continue this at each point twice around in each direction.

Now your horse is listening. He may even begin to anticipate the halt. This is ok. You are about to modify the exercise.


Keep the contact as you walk around the arena. This means if your horse’s head comes up, your hand keeps a soft feel of his mouth. If his head goes down, your hand should follow.

Once my mare is obedient to my seat and hand, I begin to ask the horse to raise her back. This strengthens her core muscles and allows her ribcage to spread and flex—like yoga! It also provides room for her hips to swing and her hind legs to come up underneath and support her. This is the foundation of collection, and yes, you can practice this even at the walk!

Make sure to hold your reins close to the horse’s neck, with the distance between each hand and the horse’s midline equal. As the horse walks, feel his barrel swing from side to side. This tells you which hind leg is stepping up under the horse: as the barrel shifts left, his right hind is coming beneath him, and vice versa. Once you have the tempo in your mind, nudge the side the barrel has shifted to. As you alternate legs, you are telling the horse, “Yes, keep moving. Step bigger.”

Once my mare is moving forward at a decent walk, she begins to stretch her head and neck long and low. She also starts to chew. As long as she isn’t grabbing the bit and falling on the forehand, this is a good thing. I give little releases with the rein to tell her so.

Cool Down

The Supple exercise is so relaxing that my mare is often sighing and stretching by cool down. Take the last few minutes and stop asking for big swingy steps. Breathe deeply, relax your back, and again focus on the horse’s steps. You may find his tempo is more relaxed and more even.

Hop off. Pat your horse. Untack and give him a treat.

This ride won’t be the most exciting, but it will be rewarding. Even a walk will help your stall-bound horse build muscle. By working the horse correctly in a way that he engages his hind end and relaxes his back, you will be strides ahead when it’s time to trot again.

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