Monday, May 30, 2011

Lyme disease and why grooming your horse is really important

I am glad I didn't promise to create a post every day. As you might be able to judge by the title, I have Lyme disease. Again. So between the aches and the fatigue I just wasn't inspired to post. But thanks to the wonders of doxycycline (blech awful drug, almost as bad as the disease...but it does work) I am feeling better now.

Now this is the 4th time I have had Lyme's, so I know the signs, and can basically tell when I need to start taking medication. I have a lot of typical symptoms, sore throat, congestion, joint aches, general fatigue, and a couple of others specific to me (most notably an intense craving for salt.) I don't know who is reading this blog, so in case you aren't from the Northeast I will mention a little bit about Lyme. The ever handy Wikipedia gives a description here. Lyme disease is a tick born disease, carried by deer ticks.

Aside from checking yourself for ticks frequently, it is important to know that other animals, including dogs, cats, and horses can suffer from Lyme also. Now this comes to the second part of my title, "Why grooming your horse is really important." And by important I mean crucial. Now the obvious answer to that is not the answering I am looking for. Yes, we need to check our horses and other pets for ticks, and a good time to do that is during grooming. But I have something else in mind.
A horse is covered in fur. So one of the indicators of Lyme disease, the bullseye rash (see above) would be impossible to see/find on a horse. How do you know if your horse has general fatigue and muscle aches? Is there anyway at all that a horse can tell you he has a sore throat? Some things you can tell when riding, if you ride the same horse, and know how they usually behave. In extreme cases they may even become lame. But some things are much easier to observe if you know your horse. And the best way to know your horse is to spend time with them. Not just riding, but interacting on the ground. Learning what they like and don't like. Does your horse have sensitive skin and prefer softer brushes? Or does he have a thick coat and like hard brushes that give a good scratch? Are they comfortable having their faces and ears brushed? Where are the ticklish or the itchy spots?

Now these are important things to know about any horse you are riding. If for example you are going to ride a new horse for the first time, you can learn a lot about the horse from its behavior while being groomed. A horse that is ticklish by the girth might be very sensitive to your leg. Some horses don't like to stand still while being groomed and might be full of energy when being ridden, and some practically fall asleep during the process, so they might be quiet and safe for beginners. Once you've worked with and groomed a horse a few times, you begin to notice patterns and quirks in their personalities. If you take them out to their paddocks, and watch them out there you can learn even more. My current horse is a beach baby. She likes to splash in the water trough and lay out in the sun. Conversely she hates the cold, she is miserable and grouchy all winter long. I ride her in a wool quarter sheet to try to keep her happy. My previous horse was the complete opposite. He loved the snow. Give him a pasture full of fresh white stuff and he was romping and bucking and rolling like a kid on a snow day.

For beginner riders it is especially crucial to spend time with horses on the ground. Key signals can be learned, ear position and what it means, tail swishing, etc. If you don't know how to handle an animal from the safety of the ground, how can you reasonably expect to do so from atop their backs?
Once you have your horses general personality and behavior down, you have to learn to be observant of changes. If you have a horse who is usually nudging you and begging for treats and attention in the stall and suddenly they are facing the wall and standing still a lot, this could be a sign of something wrong. If your horse normally loves being groomed and suddenly they are ticklish and snapping then they could be in pain. (Now some horses just don't like being groomed, so if it is their normal behavior to complain about it, then that is their normal, be observant if they suddenly stop acting that way.)

A better understanding of your horse's personality and behavior will help insure a happier and healthy horse and make you a better rider.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pic.. Lighting makes it look like a painting!

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