Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fit or too thin to ride?

I've met more than a few people confused about the difference between a very fit horse and a horse that is underweight, has no muscle and is just too thin to ride until it gets some rehab. And since someone sent me pics of some moron riding one of the latter, now was a perfect time to address the subject!

Racing fit horses look awfully thin to the eyes of most pleasure horse riders and indeed, it's not a weight you'd want to maintain a horse at for life. They look like greyhounds. Like Demi Moore getting ready to play G.I. Jane, they have a very low body fat percentage and everything that is on them is muscle. All the ribs do show in many cases, and if you're looking at adopting them for a second career, you have to be able to visualize how they'll look at "show weight."

The good news is that their skeletal structure is easy to see at this kind of fitness level, so if you know what you are looking for, it's pretty easy to find it. This filly is a three year old, I'm told she is
really seventeen hands, and she is at Emerald Downs looking for a second career now, so e-mail me with BONNIE in the subject line if you may be interested. Not a freebie but certainly fairly priced especially to a great home.

Now, how do you tell the difference between the ribby horse shown above and a ribby horse who is too thin to be ridden at all? I received the following photos and was genuinely appalled. This mare is WAY too thin to carry ANY rider at this point.

I want you to compare the topline (you can click the pictures to see larger versions). See how this mare's spine is sticking up? Note how there is no flesh on the sides of the withers. While the first filly's leanness does show in the caved in appearance on the sides of her butt, she doesn't have the painfully sharp looking hip bones this mare possesses. The first filly is thin - this mare is too thin to ride. Period.

I have a whole series of pictures here - I won't pain you with viewing all of them - of this girl trotting and cantering this mare, who is plenty thin enough to be seized by animal control in my neck of the woods.

This sweet old mare gamely soldiers on, despite her condition. My guess is she will simply drop one day, hopefully smooshing the ignorant sack of you-know-what in the saddle as she does so.

Really. I have met 7 year olds who could look at this mare and see she is too thin to ride. Not to mention do a better job of fitting tack to her. Look at that saddle - it is sitting RIGHT on her thin, thin withers. I can only imagine the pain she experiences when being ridden.

There is plenty of information online about how to feed an old horse so that they do NOT look like this and you CAN keep riding them. Here's the article I wrote on the subject. The information is very accessible. If you can get online to post pictures like these and get yourself featured on FHOTD, you can access information on how to get your senior horse back to proper weight. Unless, of course, you are too busy jumping your two year old over sawhorses, which I hear is what this chick does when she's not tearing around on her emaciated mare. Hey, you can lead a fool to the internet, but you can't make 'em learn...

Now what about when you are rehabbing a horse from starvation? When is it okay to begin riding and training? Do you have to wait until the horse is at his or her perfect weight?

Opinions vary and it also depends on what other conditions, if any, the horse is recovering from, and what you are going to ask him to do. When in doubt, ask your vet. As with any unfit horse, starting very slow is key. Starting out with a 20 minute ride of which only 5 is trotting is the smart way to go. If you don't have a lightweight rider, start with ponying or longeing on a large circle (not a 40 foot round pen) to build strength first. Imagine you are rehabbing from a severe injury. You would need to take it slowly and build muscle. Horses are no different.

I've started riding horses who still needed 50-100 pounds - generally when they had filled in around their spine and showed signs of feeling good - running around on turnout with other horses, bright and interested in life - but still ribby. Again, this is riding lightly - not breaking a sweat at all - and with a lightweight rider. A horse who has been starved has lost muscle everywhere, his back included. Even if he normally would be able to carry a larger rider, it is better to rehab with a smaller one if possible. Properly fitting tack, including bounce pads or built-up pads if you ride western and/or gel pads can do a lot to keep him comfortable.

People like to put their little kids on recovering rescues, thinking that the weight will be easier to carry, but 50 pounds of bouncing at a trot is actually a lot harder on a weak horse's back than 150 pounds of quiet rider who can post. If you have a kid who's a good little rider, great, but if not, the adult may be a better choice. Just use your best judgment and you will have that former rescue back to 100% in no time!

Well, I was literally just about to post about the palomino paint mare that was stolen from a rescuer on the East Coast when I got the good news. SHE IS SAFE!

Here's the Netposse page:


Kudos to Netposse on another successful recovery. I am still waiting to hear the whole story but it is believed this mare was stolen and auctioned and it is only thanks to Netposse and the Internet that she was recognized and is going home!

Scary, scary story - with a happy ending this time!

Apologies to all for the inconsistent posts and the fact that I never catch up on my e-mail. I have just run out of time lately and my computer is crawling thanks to a Siamese Cat and Diet Dr. Pepper incident. One nice thing about the horses - they stay off my desk!