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John Strassburger The Equine Things That Matter Most
by John Strassburger

John Strassburger, Horse Journal’s Performance Editor, is a graduate A Pony Clubber. He currently competes in eventing at the Intermediate level. As editor of The Chronicle of the Horse for 20 years, he covered six Olympics and thousands of competitions. With his wife, he operates Phoenix Farm (, a breeding/training facility in California.

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Six Reasons Why Horses Resist Your Aids

By John Strassburger, December 22, 2014

Amani jumps confidently around cross-country courses because she knows I’m in command—and because I’ve taught her how to answer the questions she’ll face.
My nearly 45 years of experience with horses has taught me that, generally speaking, horses don’t do what you want them to do for one or more of these six reasons. So the way to solve that resistance or disobedience is to address the problems that result from these six issues as part of your training.

I see these resistances happen most dramatically when jumping, especially when a horse refuses a jump, either occasionally or regularly. But these resistances can all certainly apply to everyday life—things like bringing the horse in from the field, loading in a trailer or even standing for the farrier to do his job.

The six major causes of disobedience in equines are: 

1. You’re not in charge. You’re not actually giving the horse a command or direction; you’re asking him if he’d like to do something—and, predictably, the answer the horse usually gives is “No.” Your attitude must be, “Now we’re going to jump/walk past the barn/load in the trailer,” but instead you’re meekly asking, “Could we jump/walk past the barn/load in the trailer?” It is imperative when dealing with horses (or any animal) to remember this: You are the boss, the drill sergeant, the coach or the teacher. Be any of these—but be in charge! When you properly give a command, your horse should snap to attention, salute and respond, “Yes, sir/ma’am! As you wish.”

2. Your aids aren’t correct, clear or understandable. For instance, you think you’re telling the horse to canter or to jump, but you’re really preventing him from doing either. Perhaps you’re using your leg aids correctly, but you’re pulling back on the reins when he starts to canter or jump. Some horses are willing to ignore the rider’s aids to do the job they know they’re supposed to do (like canter or jump, despite the rider), but others are either more sensitive, more demanding of correct aids or just lazy, so they won’t do whatever it is you want unless you tell them correctly.

3. The horse doesn’t understand what you want him to do. This mostly applies to jumping or negotiating some kind of obstacle on the trail, and it’s very much a training issue. Often it’s the result of what someone did, or did not do, before the horse came to you, and now you have to deduce or guess what that something was, kind of like a CSI investigator. You need to ask yourself if you’ve prepared the horse to answer the question, both in previous training sessions and in today’s session. Ask yourself, “What does he not understand?” and break down the question into smaller pieces, if possible, to help him solve it.

4. The horse is genuinely frightened. He doesn’t like jumps in certain shapes or colors. He doesn’t like to go into dark or narrow places (such as forested paths or indoor arenas). The noise and motion of streams unnerves him. I’ve written two recent blogs about the eyesight issue we’ve discovered one of my competition horses has, and I believe more and more strongly that “spooky,” easily frightened horses, and horses who aren’t brave behave that way because they don’t see certain things in their environment well. To overcome their anxiety, you need to develop their confidence in you. You need to convince them that if you say they can jump that jump or go past that object that they’ll be OK. They need to believe that you’re correct when your aids tell them that whatever they can’t see perfectly won’t hurt them.

5. The horse doesn’t have confidence in you. Horses behave and perform for us because they trust us, because we make them feel safe and confident by commanding them and by teaching them how to solve questions like jumping. They develop confidence in us through our own confident attitude and by our repetitive success in helping them answer questions that life or we present to them. Problems 1 through 4 are all reasons for horses to lose or gain confidence in their riders. If you’ve repeatedly demonstrated to your horse that you’re not a leader, that you’re even weaker or more timid than he is, he’s going to resist going most places with you. Why? Because he doesn’t feel safe with you and he doesn’t want to be separated from the friends or environment where he does feel safe. Horses want you to be their strong leader, not their mild companion. Don’t believe me? Watch a group of three or four horses in a field.

6. The horse has a physical problem. He could be lame or sore, for any of hundreds of reasons. He could have a shoeing problem (as simple as needing to be on a regular six-week shoeing schedule, or needing a properly balanced trim, which probably means you need to change farriers). Perhaps he has ulcers or other gastro-intestinal issues. Perhaps the saddle doesn’t fit, slightly or at all. Perhaps he has an eyesight issue (see #4). I’ve just barely scratched the surface of possible physical issues that could cause resistance. 

The bottom line, as we like to say at the Horse Journal, is that, if your horse is resisting your aids, your commands, you have to figure out why. Then you have to change it; you have to fix the problem, and you may have to change you. And, often, that change or fix will require serious effort and serious money.

Ticks Are Rearing Their Ugly Heads Again

By Grant Miller, DVM, December 15, 2014

Ticks can number in the hundreds on an infested horse.

Despite the cold of winter, ticks are busy at work hitching a ride on our horses and helping themselves to a warm blood meal in order to continue their life cycles and propagate for Spring. 

Ticks are slow moving arthropods that insidiously creep in numbers onto our horses when they lay down, walk through grass, or put their heads down to graze.  Ticks burrow their heads deep into the skin and inject saliva into the bite site.  The saliva causes an inflammatory reaction in the horse which in turn increases blood circulation to the area.  Unfortunately, ticks can carry a number of diseases in their saliva.  These diseases can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated early.


Anaplasmosis (previously called Erlichiosis) is an intracellular bacterial infection that causes high fever, anemia, limb swelling and diarrhea. It can rapidly progress to death in some instances. In others, horses can overcome the infection and gain immunity naturally. The vast majority of cases involve veterinary intervention using antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and IV fluid therapy support. 

This disease is transmitted by deer ticks and usually appears about a month after the horse is bitten. Veterinarians can diagnose anaplasmosis with blood testing but generally must make an on-the-spot executive decision to treat it based on physical signs, since horses are usually so sick that they cannot wait for days while test results come back.  Luckily, the infection subsides with 7 to 10 days of daily antibiotic therapy- sometimes given intravenously or sometimes given orally. 

Horses can fully recover from an anaplasmosis infection within a couple of weeks. Anemia caused by the disease can be corrected thanks to the large reserve or red blood cells that the horse stores in its spleen. Unfortunately, being clinically infected with anaplasmosis does not guarantee that the horse will have long standing immunity to the disease. Some horses are reported to contract the disease twice in the same year!

Lyme disease

Lyme disease occurs in varying degrees depending on geographic location. It is virtually unheard of on the West Coast, but far more common on the East Coast. Most horses that are bitten by the Ixodes tick that carries the bacteria that cause Lyme disease never become sick - they simply develop immunity to the bacteria without incident. 

For the small subset of horses that do become sick, fever, stiffness, muscle pain and swollen joints are most commonly reported.  It is possible that longstanding infection with Lyme disease can cause permanent arthritic changes in multiple joints. While some testing methods for this disease have been developed, results can be difficult to interpret. Many veterinarians empirically treat for the disease if they see clinical signs that are consistent with it. Treatment is similar to that for anaplasmosis and most often, horses recover without incident.


With the increased importation of horses from countries in which this tick-borne disease is endemic, we are hearing more and more reports about horses that carry it.  Piroplasmosis is caused by parasites called Babesia or Theileria.  The parasites gain entry into the horse by inoculation from the mouthpiece of a biting Dermacentor or Boophilus tick.  Horses can take 1 to 3 weeks to show signs of infection post-bite.

Mild forms of the disease present as weakness and inappetence, while more acute cases show fever, anemia, jaundiced (yellow) gums and eyelids, a swollen abdomen, and labored breathing. Other signs of EP include central nervous system disturbances, roughened-hair coats, constipation, colic, red urine. In some cases, death may occur. 

Horses that survive the acute phase of infection continue to carry the parasites for long periods of time. These horses are potential sources of infection to other horses through tick-borne transmission or mechanical transfer by biting ticks, needles, or surgical instruments. Horses infected with Piroplasmosis can be treated with varying degrees of success. Treatments can take many months and have to be repeated several times. They are also costly. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has a disease surveillance branch that works to identify and contain any sources of Piroplasmosis in the country. They do not permit import of any horses that test positive for the disease. Despite the federal effort to stop the disease from occurring here, there are still horses in almost every state that are considered carriers. Most of these horses tested negative for the disease during import but then reverted back to a positive carrier state later on. The mechanism by which this reversion occurs is unknown.

For all of the diseases listed above, no vaccination is available.  Therefore, prevention and/or early detection and intervention to treat infection are key.  Here are some tips for each:


Clear brush and plant debris out of your horse’s living area since ticks tend to be concentrated in high numbers there.

Groom and carefully inspect your horse daily to look for invaders. You can pick ticks off with your fingers- but make sure to put them into a container with rubbing alcohol or some other caustic agent to kill them.  Simply throwing them on the ground will result in them being back. Ticks seem to love the throat latch area, under the elbows and between the front legs, along the crest of the mane, and around the tail. With tht said, they can latch on just about anywhere so no bump should go unexamined.

Fly sprays and spot on insecticides have varying degrees of efficacy when it comes to repelling ticks. Use of products like EquiSpot has been reported to be beneficial, especially when it is applied every two to three weeks.

Early Detection and Intervention

If you happen to find a tick on your horse, identifying it may help to narrow the list of potential horse-specific diseases it can be carrying. Check out this useful mobile App to help you identify ticks on-the-spot!Because most of the diseases that ticks transmit have an incubation period of weeks, it can be difficult to remember to watch for signs of the diseases over time.  

One practice that can be easily added to the daily management regimen is to take your horse’s rectal temperature with a digital thermometer. Fever is one of the first signs of all of the tick-transmitted diseases, and it can take just seconds to detect a fever if you use a thermometer daily. If you are able to catch a disease in the early stages, treatment can be shorter, less invasive and less expensive than if you have to address the problem at its worst.

Closing Thoughts

Stay tick-vigilant this holiday season!  They can hide in our horses’ long hair and evade detection for long periods of time.  Take your horse’s temperature daily as a matter of routine- temperatures greater than 101 F should be considered to be suspicious- especially if your horse shows any other signs consistent with a tick-borne disease. Early veterinary intervention and mean the difference between life and death in the some cases of tick-borne illness, so don’t delay in calling if you suspect one of these diseases.

John Strassburger The Equine Things That Matter Most
by John Strassburger

John Strassburger, Horse Journal’s Performance Editor, is a graduate A Pony Clubber. He currently competes in eventing at the Intermediate level. As editor of The Chronicle of the Horse for 20 years, he covered six Olympics and thousands of competitions. With his wife, he operates Phoenix Farm (, a breeding/training facility in California.

Email John

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If Only Horses Could Wear Glasses

By John Strassburger, December 13, 2014

With training and experience, Merlin overcame his eyesight problem. How many other horses cannot?


A few weeks ago I wrote in this space about one of my horses, Boogie, complaining of poor eyesight when we “talked” with him through an animal communicator. You’ll recall that I included a photo of Boogie wearing a giant pair of joke glasses. 

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about equine eyesight. 

Boogie “said” that his jumping problem was his depth perception, so since writing that previous blog, I’ve purchased for him a racing shadow roll, to see if it would encourage him to look down at the bottom of jumps to help him judge his physical relationship to them. I’m very glad to report that, yes, it does seem to be working. He’s most definitely jumping straighter than he was—I’m suspecting he’s not fading left on take-off or making awkward leaps from much-to-deep distances because he’s seeing the jumps differently (and better). 

Boogie has also not been dramatically over-jumping everything in his customary style, and as a result of both of these changes he’s also jumping in a rounder frame and softer attitude, giving him a much better shape in the air. He feels great—he finally feels like a 6-year-old horse whom I’ve been training to jump for three years should feel. 

My experience with Boogie these last few weeks has made me ponder how many horses have eyesight issues? How many horses who regularly refuse jumps or spook at unfamiliar sights or objects are doing that because they can’t see well enough to feel comfortable? How many horses who are dismissed as “useless” or “crazy” are really that way because they can’t see well? 

In other words, how many horses could really use a pair of glasses or contact lenses? For millennia, riders have assumed that all horses see well, that natural selection has given them eyesight that fits into a much narrower range of “normal” than we humans do. But why couldn’t some of them have poorer eyesight than others? After all, they’re mammals, just like we are. 

The only other horse with whom I’ve “spoken” through an animal communicator was my wonderful partner Merlin, and we’d suspected that he had an eyesight problem long before the communicator confirmed it. 

Merlin’s weak eye was his left eye, and it was why he didn’t like going from light to dark. It was also why he spooked at things that were on his left side, why when he spooked he always spun to the left (so he could see whatever was scaring him with his right eye), and why he was far spookier at home than away from home. (At home he knew what objects were and where they belonged and got upset when they were moved, but at way from home he didn’t know where things were supposed to be, so it didn’t bother him as much.) 

When Merlin was a young green horse, at ages 3 and 4, he often ran out at jumps—always at jumps or questions he hadn’t seen before and always, always, to the left. But, with training and experience, his innate tremendous work ethic allowed him to figure out how to overcome his eyesight and he developed confidence in his ability to do just that, with help from his immense physical gifts. 

Racehorses’ running form often improves dramatically when the trainer puts blinkers on them. I wonder if that’s because those horses’ eyesight is so good that they get easily distracted by things around them, which racing people generally accept is the reason blinkers work? Or do blinkers work because those horses have poor eyesight and are worried about things around them that their poor eyesight prevents them form understanding, so the blinkers focus their vision in a productive way? Or is it both? Do some horses not like to run in blinkers because it makes their limited eyesight worse? 

I’m wondering if eyesight is one of the factors that make some horses more likely to knock down rails or refuse jumps than others. Boogie “said” he was hitting jumps because he needed to touch them to tell where the rails were, and it’s always been very challenging to get him to the jumps on the correct stride. On the other hand, it’s really hard to get my 5-year-old mare Bella to the jumps wrong. She’s always shown an uncanny sense of where she is in relation to the jump. I’m wondering if that’s because she has exceptional eyesight. 

Heather an I also recalled that, five years ago, we had a horse in training we were sure had an eyesight problem, because he was spooky and would always turn his head to one side to look with what we suspected was his good eye. And he wasn’t a brave jumper at all. I got him to jump clean at beginner novice (where he won an event) and at novice levels with his junior rider, but he never got around at training level with two other trainers (one of whom has the reputation that if the horse won’t jump for him, he won’t jump for anyone). 

Is there any way to solve the problem of horses’ eyesight, any way to correct the vision of horses with jumping or spooking problems? My glib answer is that it’s really hard to get horses to read the eye chart, especially because we first have to teach them the alphabet and how to talk. 

Seriously, what could we do? Could we put corrective goggles or blinkers on them? Giant contact lenses? It’s hard to imagine the FEI, USEF or racing commissions allowing horses to wear corrective lenses, because it would certainly seem to be a competitive advantage. 

At least it would be a good question for equine medical research, if only there were the money. You may recall that last February I wrote an article for the Horse Journal describing the U.S. Eventing Association decision to assess a $1 starter fee for every entry to help fund equine medical research. Well, I think that this would be another reason why every equine sports organization—USEF, USHJA, USDF, AQHA and more—should follow the USEA’s far-sighted lead.  

Cynthia Foley Horses Keep Us Grounded
by Cynthia Foley

Cynthia Foley is the Editor-in-Chief of Horse Journal, which focuses on real-life horse-product field trials with buying advice and recommendations. An experienced horsewoman, writer and editor, she competed successfully in the hunter/jumper divisions for many years and, after completing college, moved to Kentucky where she learned the Thoroughbred racing industry, including several years as assistant manager at a major rehabilitation and training clinic outside of Lexington. When she and her husband moved to Virginia’s Hunt Country, she secured a position at The Chronicle of the Horse, where she worked as assistant editor. She is an avid dressage rider.

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Adorable Christmas Video

By Cynthia Foley, December 10, 2014

I stumbled on this video. It's an ad for cards, but the two little Shetlands are so adorable, I couldn't help but share it.  They are spitting images of two ponies we had as kids - Cheyenne and Flicka. I hope it brings beautiful memories back to you, too.


Odd and Ends: Pentosan Availability and Horse Transport Law Pending

By Grant Miller, DVM, December 08, 2014

FDA-Approved Pentosan Now Available 

Between 2009 and 2012, we had the luxury of accessing an injectable joint supplement from Matrix Animal Health called PentAussie.  It combined Pentosan and glucosamine in a 12 cc intramuscular injection which provided systemic anti-inflammatory joint therapy similar to that of Adequan and Legend.  But in 2013, the supply of PentAussie became scarce, and currently there is no official date that it will become available again. 

Recently, the international pharmaceutical company CEVA introduced an FDA-approved pentosan injectable called Pentosan EQ.  It comes in 6 cc vials (1 vial= 1 dose) and is available through your veterinarian. 

HJ has compared Legend, Adequan and Pentosan and determined that all three can be useful- but their efficacy varies on a case-by-case basis most likely due to inherent factors that create the inflammatory profile of each horse.  All three joint supplements require a veterinary prescription. Legend is administered by intravenous route while Adequan and Pentosan can be injected in the muscle. While several dosing schedules have been described, the majority of horse owners find that a loading series followed by monthly injections works well to ward off aches and pains in most horses. 

Horse Transport

The Horse Transportation Safety Act, H.R. 4440/S. 1459 is currently making its way through the United States Congress and could use your support.  The bill places a federal ban on the use of double-decker trailers for the transport of horses.  Double-decker trailers do not provide horses with the adequate headroom they need. In addition, horses often must negotiate a steep ramp in and out of the second level of the trailer, which results in frequent stumbling, falling and pile-ups.  For these reasons, the use of double-decker livestock trailers to haul horses places them at a high risk for injury or death.

 Research has shown that a horse needs a minimum of seven to eight feet in height in order to fully raise its head while traveling. However, no trailer with two or more levels can meet those minimum humane transport requirements while staying within the maximum height limits that are necessary to travel under bridges in urban or rural environments.

 While some states already have laws that prohibit the use of double-decker livestock trailers to transport horses, without a national law, there cannot be consistency to allow law enforcement to stop transporters in every state. 

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) already published a rule in 2011 that bans the use of double-decker trailers for transporting horses bound for slaughter, however the rule has little use now since horse slaughter is not currently occurring in the United States.  Furthermore, all horses should be afforded the protection of the law, not just those bound for slaughter.  For this reason, it is important to contact your congress representative and senator now and voice your support for the bill.


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