The Equine Balancing Act
By Eleanor Blazer
Balance – we all strive for it.
It’s a word used frequently by horse owners, trainers, farriers, veterinarians, nutritionists and holistic practitioners.
There are several definitions for “balance”: equal distribution of weight, mental/emotional stability, the ability to maintain equilibrium (not fall over) and to equalize (as in credits and debits).
A closer look shows how important balance is to the horse.
When you think about balance and the horse, the first thing that comes to mind is probably related to conformation. A well balanced horse should not appear heavier in the forehand than in the hindquarters (or vise versa). He should also have a similar distance in the girth as from the underline to the ground. In the online course, “Conformation and Selection for Performance” (www.horsecoursesonline.com), instructor Don Blazer explains a balanced horse is not only pleasing to the eye, but also enables him to perform efficiently and decreases chances of injury.
We’ve all heard the old adage “No foot, no horse”.
“A balanced hoof has both the shape and strength to support the horse while providing the basis for optimum (efficiency of) movement. Faulty foot balance precludes optimum movement and directly contributes to bone-chip fractures, a navicular condition, shortened strides, bad backs and sore muscles.” (Taken from the online course “Bits, Saddle Fitting and Hoof Balance”)
A balanced horse standing on balanced hooves is a beautiful picture.
Now that we have our balanced horse, we’re going to put weight on his back and throw the whole thing off.
I weigh 105 pounds on a good day; my saddle weighs 35 pounds everyday. So that’s 140 pounds sitting on the back of this moving and very reactive creature.
If my saddle is not well made (balanced) it could create a sore back. A proper fitting saddle is a must – don’t try to fix it by buying expensive pads; get a saddle that fits the horse.
In the online course “Equine Massage”, instructor Betty Lindquist explains the difference between static balance and dynamic balance. Static is when the horse is standing still and dynamic is when he is moving. The center of balance changes depending on the gait (movement) and collection. Collection is when the horse frames himself to balance the weight he is carrying—a race horse is collected (balanced) with the jockey forward, while a cutting horse is collected with the rider back.
A rider who has difficulty with her own balance makes it very difficult for the horse to maintain balance. Many horses are blamed for poor movement or an inability to perform correctly when it is actually the unbalanced rider sending conflicting cues through improper body position that is the problem. The horse doesn’t stand a chance.
To maintain our balanced horse we need to have a balanced nutritional program.
The equine digestive system is very fragile. It is designed to eat forage. But the forage may not be supporting nutritional requirements. This inadequacy may be due to poor quality or not enough being fed.
The safest way to make up for nutritional deficiencies is to feed better quality forage in the amount the horse needs. But this is not always possible.
This is where supplements and “grain” can be beneficial.
A supplement should be designed for the horse based on forage quality and quantity, age, activity level and health. You would not feed a product designed for a mature pasture pet to a high-performing young futurity contender.
To provide a balanced diet read the product labels, follow the feeding instructions, weigh the feed (don’t feed by the “scoop”) and consult a nutritional expert if there are questions.
The balanced equine diet should always be based on forage. Never feed more grain than forage; feed small, frequent meals, make all feed changes gradually, provide free choice white salt and always have fresh clean water available.
The next balancing act is one of mental and physiological (related to normal and healthy functioning) requirements. This is important for both the horse and you.
Horses are herd animals and like company. Achieving balance between allowing the horse to be “a horse” and still reaching your goal in the show pen, on the trail, the track or in the arena requires effort. Turn-out time and a day off can work wonders for the equine mind.
You may also need to achieve balance between horse and non-horse activities. Put down the sweeper, say “no” to the offered overtime, send the kids to grandma’s and go spend time with your horse.
It’s the best “balancing act.”