Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Archive for February, 2011

Horse bedding options

Compiled by Larissa Cox

Owning a horse is costly and with the always increasing costs, horse owners are always trying to reduce expenses.  One major expense in a barn is horse bedding.   Finding the right product for you is very important.  With the ever increasing choices of bedding, it is sometimes difficult to decide which product best suits your needs.  Here are some options for horse bedding.

Shavings: With its light colored, fluffy appearance, shavings are still a firm favorite as horse bedding with many types available from wood flakes to sawdust all of which are absorbent.  Prices vary considerably and supply is becoming inconsistent.  Shavings can be bought by the bag or by the truckload; it is easily handled and has a pleasant odor and appearance.  However, the sawdust may contain fine particles that irritate the respiratory tract of some horses and dry storage is necessary.  The source must be reliable to exclude metal shreds and other debris and shavings must not contain black walnut products which can cause laminitis.  Wet sawdust really clings to coats and shavings are hard to brush out of tails!

Straw: One of the oldest and most traditional bedding materials this is another good bedding choice.  While straw makes for an inviting, comfortable bed for horses, it is not particularly absorbent and often quality is widely varying.  Because straw also contains dust, horses with sensitivity to this can find this bedding unsuitable.  Straw is not good for rapid mucking out, with long strand straw taking a considerably longer time to clear.  Straw is often used in foaling stalls because it won’t stick to horses or clog a foal’s nostrils.  Used straw can sometimes be sold to mushroom farmers for easier disposal.  The disadvantage of straw is that it is sold in large, heavy bales so storage and handling can be difficult.  It is not very absorbent and can be expensive or in short supply during some time of the year.  It can be dusty or moldy and some horses love eating straw bedding which can cause impaction.

Unused Old Hay: Often left over from previous years, this is a common bedding practice.  This material has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as straw.  It is likely to be dusty, horses will probably eat some if it, it may be contaminated with animal urine or droppings, it can be a possible source of diseases such as EPM.  On the other hand, it has already been paid for and delivered and probably needs to be used before new hay can be stored!

Chopped Straw: Is a modern straw option.  It is soft, warm and contains small fibres which do not knot together.  It is also dust free and usually provided in smaller bags for more convenient transportation and storage.  However, the supply of chopped straw is very inconsistent.

Corn Cob Pellets: Best Cob Horse Bedding, manufactured in Independence Iowa, has brought horse owners a revolutionary new horse bedding solution for the 21st century!  Corn cob pellets are made from the lightweight, most absorbent parts of the cobs.

Hemp: This product is super absorbent and dust free, but an expensive option.  Made from the fibrous part of the hemp plant, it is produced in uniformly sized shreds.  Used in Canada where its cultivation is legal, it must be imported for use in the United States, which is an expensive complication.

Paper and Cardboard: Paper has been used for years as horse bedding and the popularity of finely shredded cardboard is increasing.  Soft and very supportive, these products are very absorbent and are usually products from recycled materials.  It is fairly easy to clean stalls, it is free from mold and dust and good for horses with respiratory problems.  It is not likely to be eaten and this product can be composted.  However, some horses may be sensitive to ink and light colours horses may have coat staining from newsprint.  Shredded paper can easily be blown around by wind when dry but can be very heavy and clumpy when wet.  It must be purchased from a reliable source to ensure the exclusion of metal debris.

Rubber Matting: Rubber matting makes an excellent time investment.  The initial set up costs are higher as it requires measuring and fitting before installation.  The key factor is a level stable floor.  If it is irregular, then wet patches can form requiring more cleaning.

Peanut Hulls and Rice Hulls: Attractive choices if locally available.  Peanut hulls may contain aflatoxin which is toxic if ingested.  As with most bedding materials, dry storage are is a must.

Kenaf: Is a natural tan colored natural plant fiber which is very porous and spongy.  It has a low lignin and high cellulose content.  It is not available in all areas and yes, horses may eat this bedding.

Peat Moss: It is virtually dust free, absorbent and easy to compost.  It is available by the bag or truckload.  Dry storage is needed for bulk shipments.  Not all horse owners like this product as it is very dark in colour and very unattractive.

Wood Pellets:
This is rising in popularity in use for horse bedding.  Wood pellets have been commonly used for cat litter and while they do not look particularly inviting in a horse stall, they make an excellent bedding.  As wood pellets get damp, they expand which requires far less of an amount to complete the stable bedding resulting in a highly economical product.  It decomposes rapidly making it a good addition for farmland and gardens as well as creating a smaller muck heap than other horse bedding products.


Dressage demystified

Many riders I speak to have either given up on dressage or based on what they do know about it appear to have no interest in it. They seem to feel that dressage riders are a group of obsessed types who ride around in circles all day or kick their horses sideways for no apparent reason.This is such a shame. If only they knew the sport was an incredible gateway into the mind and movement of their horses.  A way to become connected as partners in a very special and intimate way.

I do understand their confusion and frustration. The language of dressage lends itself to a lot of misconceptions. It will be beyond the scope of this post to explain all of these, my intention rather ,is to note many of the dichotomies I have come across in trying to coach dressage and understand it as a rider.

First, I will briefly describe dressage in simple terms that hopefully will help people to understand it’s goals and purposes.

Very simply the word dressage means the training of the horse. The purpose of this training is to create a very balanced athlete who can carry a rider safely and elegantly while displaying their best athletic ability through a series of movements designed to improve that movement,strengthen the musculature and joints of the horse allowing it to respond ever more lightly and easily to the rider’s slightest request.In short, without discomfort or resistance of any kind. I believe that is a horse any type of rider would enjoy being on and so it follows I also believe dressage basics can improve the performance of a horse in any discipline.

Now, back to the labyrinth of terms and phrases that leave newcomers feeling lost and even experienced riders struggling to grasp what are actually quite straight forward concepts, once thoroughly  understood. In future posts I would like to address these concepts one by one.

Impulsion refers to the horse’s ability to go forward from behind.

In order to bend ie. on a twenty meter circle a horse must be straight.

In order to perform extensions the horse must first be able to collect.

In order to be on the bit the horse must allow the rider to feel the haunches through the reins.

The key to controlling the movement of the haunches is in unlocking the horse’s jaw.

The ride should feel the entire horse is between their hand and leg.

Horses need to move uphill into a downward transition.

In order to send the horse forward more freely we need to half halt the energy back to the hindquarters

These are only a few of the most fundamental basic concepts of dressage. It is no wonder that the average beginner, pleasure or trail rider, on hearing these terms for the first time decides dressage is definitely not for them! If only they knew how much closer they could become to their equine companions by investing some time in pondering and understanding these ideas.

Many coaches, top level riders and clinicians are not helpful in demystifying dressage. They throw around terms like connection, throughness, rounder etc.,etc. without taking the time and encouraging students to ask questions, the confidence to admit they are lost and to be able to ask for clarity and thorough explanations of what it is the coach is asking the horse and rider to do. Certainly much of dressage is very hard to explain and coach. I, myself use a lot of imagery.ie. when you do this picture such and such. There are many exercises which can position the horse and rider to feel the point before they really understand it and then learn from the feeling. Learning to ride dressage is a game of constant epiphanies but realizing why you would bother to learn it is less confusing.

What would I consider to be the perfect horse? A horse who given their physical and mental ability would to their very best comply instantly and fully to my slightest request. To enjoy doing so.To wait patiently for my next command and respond completely to it when it comes. In the simplicity of the results of good and correct dressage training we see the value of pursuing an understanding of it.

Libby Keenan,

with a very special  thankyou to Larissa Cox who has warmly welcomed back my contributions to Tack and Talk Bog after a lengthy absence due to a series of personal losses .

My 5-Minute Coach

By Larissa Cox

With the advent of internet technology, it only stands to reason that the birth of coaching via the internet arrived.  The idea is simple.  Take a video of yourself, upload it to a site, choose a coach and be coached.


Taking a video using iPhone technology is simple!

That is exactly the process that Cara Murphy founder of My 5-Minute Coach launced. On the website, My 5-Minute Coach, you will find an exciting new coaching forum available to you 24 hours a day.

One of the best mediums for students to gain access to top coaches across the country without having to leave the comfort of your sofa at all hours of the day is internet coaching.  One might think that coaching and being coached via video might be a little strange, but it is a wonderful opportunity in which to gain insight and direction in your equestrian discipline.  You may be struggling with a problem, not have the availability of a coach in your field, perhaps you are not able to afford the fee for an entire riding lesson or perhaps you would just like to get a second opinion and this forum provides just that.

Why 5 minutes? According to Cara Murphy of My 5-Minute Coach, coaches have a lot to say after watching a 5 minute video of you.  In fact, you get well over 5 minutes worth of input back from them.  My 5-Minute Coach wanted to provide students with a forum to get valuable, in-depth feedback and the focused 5-minute video seemed the right avenue.

Students wanting a coach can read the coaches profiles and then make the selection of the coach they want.  They then take a 5-minute video of themselves where they would like feedback and upload that video to the site.  Then, the selected coach will then dub comments over the video uploading their feedback to the site where everyone can watch and learn. It’s an exciting process.

Coaches are hand selected by either a personal invitation or by an application process with credentials carefully reviewed prior to introducing the coach on the forum. Each coach has a bio that includes information about their credentials. Coaches will also list their specialty coaching areas in their bios. If you need help with something specific (and remember, focusing on ONE specific area will lead to a more in-depth coaching session), find a coach who specializes in your “problem” area. Coaches are allowed to charge whatever they feel is fair for 5 minutes of their time (and in reality, they typically spend more like 30 minutes reviewing your video, thinking about feedback, and reviewing it again).

Visit My 5-Minute Coach


By: Larissa Cox

An incredibly rare breed of horse, the Unmol, comes from the northwest Punjab in India. Their name translates to “priceless” which makes it clear how important these animals were to the local people.

Unmol Horse

This breed is extremely rare and verging on extinction, if not already extinct. In spite of efforts made some years ago by the Army Remount Department to save the Unmol, it is doubtful that any purebreds are left. Some breeders in the Punjab states have horses referred to an Unmol, but it is believed that today all of them have Arabian blood. There are 4 different families of the Unmol breed, the Harna, The Hazziz, the Morna and the Sheehan.

The average height of the Unmol is 15.1 hands. They are predominately grey or bay in color. The Unmol is described as a very strong, elegant and shapely horse, possessing a long mane and tail with a compact body. Legend has it that Unmol horses were brought to the Punjab by Alexander the Great which means the Unmol probably has Turkoman roots.

The Alphabet Soup of Equine Diseases!

Provided by: Larissa Cox

How many of you go into a daze when horse diseases are referred to by letters? CEM, OCD, PSSM, SCID…an alphabet soup of diseases, conditions or problems which are far too frequently referred to by their initials. So, let’s make things a bit easier to understand. Below, you’ll find the abbreviation, the full name of the disease, a brief explanation of the condition and, if applicable, a management tip. Hope this helps make your life a littler easier. Post this at your barn for easy reference.

CEM Contagious equine metritis. Inflammation of the female reproductive tract. Highly contagious. Mare shows discharge after breeding, fails to conceive. No signs in stallions.
COPD Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Heaves). An allergic reaction to dust and mold spores in hay and bedding. Affected horses are exercise-intolerant. Control by wetting hay before feeding and removing horse from barn as much as possible.
DOD Developmental orthopaedic disease. Any one of several conditions characterized by abnormal maturation of cartilage or bone. Some DOD can be prevented by proper nutrition of broodmares and encouraging steady moderate growth rates in young horses.
EEE Eastern equine encephalomyelitis. Viral disease that causes neurological symptoms in horses and humans. May be fatal. Spread by mosquitoes, not by contact with an infected animal.
EGUS Equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Common in stall kept horses such as those in training. Horses go off feed, may not want to work. Antacid preparations specifically designed for horses can alleviate signs. Turning horses out on pasture is the most natural cure.
EHV Equine herpesvirus. Different types cause a range of signs including respiratory disease, neurologic deficits, and fetal loss.
EIA Equine infectious anemia (swamp fever). Spread by horseflies, mosquioes, and other biting insects. Affected horses may show fever, weight loss, swelling of tissue on the midline of the belly, anemia, and sometimes death. Diagnosed by a Coggins test that detects antibodies in the horse’s blood. No cure.
EIPH Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. In affected horses, strenuous exercise causes breakage of small blood vessels in the lungs. Some “bleeders” show a trickle of fresh blood from one or both nostrils after exercise. Precise cause has not been determined. Treatment with Salix/Lasix is often helpful.
EMND Equine motor neuron disease. Symmetrical paralysis, muscle atrophy and weight loss are early signs of this fatal disease that is linked to high copper and low vitamin E concentrations in the spinal cord. Similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans.
EPM Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. Signs are stumbling, un-coordination, asymmetrical muscle wasting. Caused by Sarcocystis neurona protozoa in spinal fluid.
EPSM Equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. A form of tying-up seen in draft horses and some other breeds. Primary signs are severe stiffness and muscle cramping.
EVA Equine viral arteritis. Contagious disease that causes fever, swelling of the face and legs, and abortion.
HYPP Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis. Genetic disease of stock-type horses. Affected horse may show loss of coordination, muscle spasms, collapse, or death. Limiting intake of potassium has shown to help some horses lead more normal lives.
LWS Lethal white syndrome. Genetic disease of overo-patterned Paint horses. A foal inheriting the defect from both parents will die within a few hours of birth. A DNA test can indicate whether breeding horses carry the mutation.
MRLS Mare reproductive loss syndrome. A term for a condition that causes abortions and neonatal foal deaths in Kentucky and Ohio in 2001 and 2002. Cause is still unknown but seems to have some association with eastern tent caterpillars.
OCD Osteochondritis dissecans. A type of developmental orthopaedic disease in which cartilage does not mature properly causing various degrees of lameness in young horses.
PHF Potomac horse fever. A bacterial disease causing fever, diarrhea, colic, founder, abortion and sometimes death.
PSSM Polysaccharide storage myopathy. A form of tying-up. Primary signs are severe stiffness, muscle cramping and reluctance to move.
RER Recurrent equine rhabdomyolysis. A form of tying-up. Primary signs are severe stiffness, muscle cramping and reluctance to move.
SCID Severe combined immunodeficiency disease. Genetic disease of Arabian horses. A foal receiving the defective gene from both parents dies within a few months of birth from massive respiratory infection.
SDF Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (thumps). Condition is sometimes seen in endurance horses that are severely dehydrated. Electrolyte imbalance makes the diaphragm contract each time the heart beats. Treated by administration of electrolytes and fluids.
VEE Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis. Viral disease that causes neurological symptoms in horses and humans. May be fatal. Spread by mosquitoes, not by contact with an infected animal.
WEE Western equine encephalomyelitis. Viral disease that causes neurological symptoms in horses and humans. May be fatal. Spread by mosquitoes, not by contact with an infected animal.
WLD White line disease. Fungal and/or bacterial infection of the inner layers of the hoof wall. Damage to hoof layers and tissues can lead to lameness.
WNV West Nile virus. Introduced to the U.S. in the last decade, this virus causes weakness, stumbling, and other neurologic signs in horses, humans, and other animals. Infection is through bite of infected mosquitoes.

Manure a problem?

By Larissa Cox

There are many challenges facing the horse industry today, but one that seems to be discussed often is manure disposal.

Manure disposal, including both the solid and liquid portions of waste, is comprised of approximately 60% solids and 40% urine. A typical 1000 pound horse produces about 31 pounds of feces per day and approximately 2.4 gallons of urine daily, totally approximately 51 pounds of daily raw waste disposal.  In addition, stall cleaning may account for another 8 – 15 pounds of added waste resulting in a yearly figure that is quite staggering.  To look at it in a visual perspective, a 1000 pound horse can produce enough waste annually to fill a 12 x 12 foot stall to a depth of 6.5 feet!!  Now, that’s a lot of manure!!

There are several methods that horse owners use to dispose of their manure. First, composting is a very acceptable practice.  However, high land costs limit the available sites to perform composting without adversely impacting neighbours.

Spreading manure on land is an option that seems to hold merit.  This practice seems acceptable for blueberry fields and some other crops, but has not yet achieved widespread acceptance and use.  Agriculture B.C. is currently examining the long-term ramifications of this practice carefully, and they are considering controlling this practice as their major concern is the dilution of soils with the addition of sawdust.

Many smaller farms stock pile their manure waste.  This method can cause concern because of its adverse affect on aquifers and properties and because of odor concerns.

Landfill dumping has been used when no other option is available and is in use in the larger metropolitan areas.  Transportation and landfill tipping costs are increasing significantly with many landfills not accepting manure as it interferes with the anaerobic decomposition of the site.

So, what other options are there for the horse owner?

GreenScene AgriTek Inc., a British Columbia owned company has developed a new, simple and cost effective technology for shredding and drying horse manure.


GreenScene's plant in Ladner, British Columbia

GreenScene takes soiled horse manure and bedding from the local horse community and by using a proprietary method, dries , shreds and blends the bedding removing all pathogens and environmentally harmful components.  The dried residue produced is used as is, or can be converted into bedding pellets and then safely reused.


GreenScene reclaims the food from waste horse bedding and produces a reusable wood pellet

The heat generated in the drying cycle kills all pathogens in the manure and provides a safe, clean and environmentally friendly product ready to be pelletized.  Processing the manure removes all the manure order and it is transformed into a safe, reusable material to be used as bedding in horse stalls, or even as pellet-burner fuel.  With the bedding market in North American in excess of $4 billion per year, GreenScene believes that it can bring sustainability into the equine industry by providing a new revenue stream.  You can follow GreenScene on Facebook at GreenScene Agriteck Inc. or Twitter at @GSAgritek.

BREED SPOTLIGHT: The Maremmano Horse

By Larissa Cox

The Maremmano, also known as Tuscan Horses,  are the traditional mounts of the Maremma cattle men, known as Butteros.   Also used for light draft work, the Maremmano have been best known for their use as cavalry mounts and today they are being used as mounts for the Italian Mounted Police.

The Maremmano’s  have been remembered for their last successful classical cavalry charge in history in August  of 1942 on the  Don River by a cavalry unit of the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia on the Eastern Front.  The 2nd squadron of the 3rd Draggons Savoia Cavalleria Regiment, armed with only sabres and hand grenades, outflanked an estimated 2,000 Soviet infantry while the remainder of the regiment took Isbushensky in a dismounted attack.  The Maremmano horse proved to be tough enough to brave the Russian steppe, a feat which few foreign horses could accomplish.

This breed generally stands between 15 and 15.3 hands high and they are usually bay, brown, dark chestnut of black. They have a long, slightly heavy head, a muscular neck that is broad at the base, high, well muscled withers , a full chest and sloping shoulders.  Their back is short, the croup sloping and the legs solid and sturdy with good joints and strong hooves.  This breed is known for their solidity and their ability to adapt to bad weather and rough terrain.  Their disposition is one of a calm nature and very trainable even temperament.

Not much is known about the Maremmano breed, but it is thought that they were developed from North African stock that was combined with Spanish, Bar, Neapolitan and Arabian blood.  During the 19th century, Thoroughbred, Norfolk Roadster and other blood was added and by the end of the 19th century, the breed’s characteristics had become fixed with a studbook being created in 1980.

The Maremmano horse numbers have increased over the last several years.  In 2005, there were about 4,000 horses owned by approximately 1,200 people.