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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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What Is The Future of Boarding?

By John Strassburger, October 13, 2014


Better days: When good winter rains turned our fields green and lush.


Everyone who works in the horse business is always trying to predict the future. Breeders try to predict buyer demand. Barn owners try to predict boarding demand. Trainers try to predict the kind of help and programs clients will be looking for.

We’re all also trying to predict costs of those products and services, so that we and our clients can budget affordably.

In the last two years, the price of hay and grain has skyrocketed. There are myriad reasons for this—increased fuel costs for harvest and delivery; less land on which to grow hay, either because of development or because the land is being used to grow more lucrative crops, such as corn for ethanol; and out here in the West we are even finding ourselves in competition for hay from the Chinese. (Here in Northern California, there is an outfit whose entire business is gathering enormous quantities of hay for shipment to China. It’s the largest hay distributor in the area, and none of the hay is available to us in California.)

Plus, we’re in a drought, the worst here in 20 years. So we can’t even rely on the grass in our fields to cut our hay costs. Our fields are almost bare, and I’m desperately waiting for the rains, which barely came last winter, to come this winter and induce our grass to grow again.

Our Phoenix Farm is sort of medium sized—larger than a private farm, but not a massive 60-horse boarding operation. We can keep 20-ish horses here, but at least in California, that’s becoming an unsustainable number from a commercial aspect.

We don’t have the space or equipment to buy our hay in bulk—we don’t have a massive hay barn to store hundreds of bales, and we don’t have a hay squeeze to move those bales. So we’re relegated to buying hay at retail prices, which averages $5 to $8 per bale more than if we could bring it in on a tractor-trailer in a bulk shipment. (Our East-Of-The-Rockies readers will not doubt be thinking, “Just move the bales by hand, you wimps,” but our Western bales are a very different animal than East Coast bales—ours weigh 100 to 125 pounds [sometimes more], not 40 to 50 pounds. You need hay hooks to lift them, and I can only carry them 20 or 25 feet at a time and stack them two bales high.)

With some of the horses we board, we break even on what we charge for board. On others, we lose money, because they eat so much.  We don’t make really make a profit on the boarding part of our operation, because the market won’t bear what it we have to pay to get hay, grain and bedding delivered.

For this, and other reasons, we decided two months ago to move most of our business to a larger boarding facility just down the road. Because they do have the capacity to buy in bulk, they can actually charge less for board and still make a profit. We are then able to make money on our training, and our clients get some amenities we can’t offer (like a lighted covered arena) for less money.

Although we’re very happy at our new facility, I can’t help but worry about the big-picture implications. Most people start their horse career at small or medium-sized barns, and I fear that model isn’t sustainable. An ancient, unreliable hay squeeze can run high four to low five figures, and the construction of a structure to keep your hay protected is certainly a five-figure proposition.

So it looks to me like the future may be at large boarding facilities. They have their wonderful points, but I fear they can be a bit intimidating to newbies.

There’s no easy solution here, and boarding has always been a razor’s-edge proposition. I’m grateful there are places that can do it well and are available for owners and trainers. But the change I see ahead is going to be a difficult one to navigate, and we must all learn to be flexible in finding the best ways to keep and care for our horses.

Margaret Freeman Stepping Out of the Judge's Box
by Margaret Freeman
Margaret Freeman is a USEF “Senior” dressage judge living in Tryon NC.She was recently elected Secretary of the U.S. Dressage Federation. She earned her USDF Silver Medal on a horse she bred and trained herself, and she continues to compete at FEI-level dressage. She has covered the equestrian events at seven Olympics for the Associated Press. She’s an experienced show organizer, is on the committee of the Youth Dressage Festival (NY), and was on the founding committees of CDCTA (VA) and Dressage at Devon (PA). View more blogs

Even a Great Equestrian Facility Needs Local Amenities

By Margaret Freeman, October 11, 2014

I am looking forward to dressage shows being next year at the brand new Tryon International Equestrian Center, barely a hack from my home in North Carolina.  But, the big question for me is what a facility of this magnitude (10 rings, 1,000 stalls), with a full slate of projected competitions, will mean to the rest of the country.

The gradual advent of the winter season over the past three decades in Wellington FL – not to mention the rest of Florida and other areas in Southern California and South Carolina – has somewhat reversed the pattern of showing the rest of the year in northern areas.  A couple decades ago, the usual pattern was to show during the summer and train during the winter, at least for dressage riders.

Now with good weather, rich purses, and outstanding training opportunities available in Florida from New Year’s through the end of March, a lot of people concentrate their showing in the winter and train in the summer.  This means that some shows in the Northeast have taken a big hit in entries or have shut down altogether.

The Tryon facility could operate several ways, as a showing opportunity during the migration south in the fall and the return north in spring, a three-season showing venue or a way to get out of the heat with their horses  for those who reside in Florida.  Real estate sales for horse farms around Tryon have definitely picked up.  With housing sites, an RV park and hotels available at Tryon Equestrian, people could just settle in there when it’s too hot to be in Florida.

An enormous covered arena  -- the supports are up and it’s just waiting for the roof -- will provide enough shade for training and showing if it gets really hot.  However, with the venue set into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, “hot” is relative here compared to the rest of the South.  The footing and stabling are beautiful.  There are miles of bridle trails in the design.  It’s pretty much heaven for horses.  What it still needs is more infrastructure for the humans in the way of motels and restaurants.

Right now there’s no telling what this will mean to shows and traditional show series held further north.  If the past is prologue, however, there could be another seismic shift in showing patterns.  Tryon is well west of the I-95 corridor.  But that detour will be meaningless if people settle in for months rather than a couple days or weeks. It could be right on the way from those traveling between Florida and Kentucky and the northern Midwest.  

The official opening of the facility was Oct. 5 with a $100,000 jumping grand prix.  There were three weeks of shows last summer, and the hunter/jumper series this fall has $800,000 in prize money.  The show schedules for 2015, either hunter/jumper or dressage, have not yet been announced.  However, there has been talk here of a nine-month “season,” with a concentration of shows in the middle six months. 

Grant Miller, DVM Vet Check
by Grant Miller, DVM
Grant Miller is a Veterinary Editor for the Horse Journal and currently practices in Northern California. His areas of interest include acupuncture, chiropractics, performance horse medicine, geriatric horse care, and forensics. He grew up riding in the Pony Club and studied dressage until he attended veterinary school at UC Davis. In 2007 he founded The Sonoma County CHANGE Program to assist his local animal control department with equine humane cases. View more blogs

Coffin Bone Fracture

By Grant Miller, DVM, October 10, 2014


Radiograph of a coffin bone fracture.

Most of us equate fractures in the horse’s leg  to a grave prognosis, but surprisingly, this isn’t necessarily the case.  One such example is with fractures of the third phalanx bone (PIII.)  This bone is better known as the coffin bone because it is encased completely inside the hoof capsule just as a body is in a coffin.  It serves a vital role in the horse’s physiology.  The lamina that adhere the hoof capsule to the skeleton attach on the dorsal surface of the coffin bone, and the digital extensor and flexor tendons that facilitate limb movement anchor to it.  Without a functional coffin bone, one may conclude that the horse has no chance for survival. However, in the case of coffin bone fracture, horses can have a shot at recovery.   

Coffin bone fractures are classified by type.  Each of the 7 types has a distinct fracture pattern and prognosis.


Type 1

A common fracture involving the “wing” of the coffin bone. There are two wings which are located in the palmar (heel) region of the bone on the inside (medial) aspect, and the outside (lateral) aspect. These fractures are often called “chip” fractures and involve a relatively small piece of the bone. They do not extend up to the coffin joint space. Prognosis for return to soundness and usability is good provided that the horse receives proper treatment.

Type 2

Also a common fracture which involves a larger portion of the coffin bone. The fracture will extend longitudinally up the bone from the distal to the proximal aspect. These fractures extend into the coffin joint space. Because they destabilize the joint space, secondary osteoarthritis as a long term sequelae is common. Approximately 50 to 60% of horses with this type of fracture return to soundness and athletic performance, provided that proper treatment is instituted.

Type 3

A less common fracture which extends longitudinally up the midline of the bone (splitting it right down the middle.) Like Type 2 fractures, this also extends into the coffin joint space. These fractures are more difficult to heal than Type 1s and 2s and less than half of the horses that recover from them are completely sound. Many of these horses are suitable for pasture and light riding, but not always capable of competition due to the secondary osteoarthritis that occurs in the coffin joint space as a result of joint damage from the fracture.

Type 4

This is a fracture of the extensor process- a bony protuberance which sticks up off of the top of the bone on the dorsal midline. It serves as a point of attachment for the long digital extensor tendon and therefore serves an important role in movement of the limb. It also involves the coffin joint, and so like Type 2 and 3 fractures, secondary arthritis can occur after it heals.

Type 5

This is a comminuted fracture which means that the bone has several cracks in it. It can extend all the way up the bone into the coffin joint but doesn’t always. This type of fracture carries a poorer prognosis than the others.

Type 6

Also known as a “solar margin chip fracture” this type involves a horizontal piece of bone chipping off somewhere along the edge of the bone closest to the ground. It does not involve the coffin joint space and so prognosis is generally good and return to athletic work is hopeful.

Type 7

A specific type of solar margin chip fracture that occurs near the wing tip in foals.


Fracture management techniques vary tremendously depending on the type of fracture, owner capabilities (including finances, time commitment, and facilities,) and other factors such as the age of the horse and additional physical problems.  In most cases, the veterinarian will institute the following basic fracture management strategies:


1.    Characterize the fracture by having your veterinarian take radiographs and make an accurate diagnosis as to the type and severity of the fracture.  Your vet can then outline a treatment program and also talk with your farrier about trimming and shoeing the horse to reduce forces on the fractured bone (see #2).


2.    Stabilize the fracture by working with a farrier to apply a bar shoe to the hoof.  This protects the rim of the hoof, can alleviate pain, and will prevent instability by creating a solid support structure which limits expansion of the hoof capsule.


3.    Limit mobility of the horse by confining the horse to a stall.


4.    Provide deep bedding not only to pad the hoof but also to promote laying down by providing a comfortable environment.


5.    Give non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications such as bute or Previcox to limit inflammation and subsequently reduce pain.  *Remember- using pain as a way to limit your horses movement is not a good strategy for humane reasons.  In addition, pain itself has been shown to involve chemical mediators which will prohibit healing.  Don’t make your horse stand on a broken bone for months in excruciating pain- curb it with medication!


6.    Tincture of time is a cornerstone in coffin fracture management.  Expect resolution to take at least 6 months- assuming that other aspects of fracture management listed above are being effectively implemented.


Although not among the more common therapies, the following are also possible options to treat a fractured coffin bone:


·        Surgery involving the placement of a permanent screw in the bone can be useful for types 2, 3, 4 and sometimes 5 fractures.  Types 1,6 and 7 fractures can be treated by surgical removal of the chip.  The healing time for any surgery is extensive as the entire hoof capsule needs to regrow after the procedure.  This can take upwards of one year.  Complications such as infection are also possible with surgery.


·        The use of bisphosphonate medications such as OsPhos and Tildren for the treatment of coffin bone fractures may be beneficial since these medications enhance calcium resorption in bone.  Bisphosphonates should not be used during the first month of the fracture since they inhibit cells that are actually instrumental in cleaning up the area before new bone can be formed.  Their efficacy to assist in fracture repair in horses has not been proven, so the addition of bisphosphonates to fracture treatment would be purely empirical.


Waiting for 6 months can drive horse owners (and the horses for that matter) crazy!  It is a long and difficult haul- but there can be a light at the end of the tunnel!  Don’t give up too soon on coffin bone fractures- they are not necessarily terminal.


To learn more about coffin bone fractures, we recommend an excellent guide published by the American Farrier’s Journal called Anatomy and Fractures of the Coffin Bone.


Grant Miller, DVM Vet Check
by Grant Miller, DVM
Grant Miller is a Veterinary Editor for the Horse Journal and currently practices in Northern California. His areas of interest include acupuncture, chiropractics, performance horse medicine, geriatric horse care, and forensics. He grew up riding in the Pony Club and studied dressage until he attended veterinary school at UC Davis. In 2007 he founded The Sonoma County CHANGE Program to assist his local animal control department with equine humane cases. View more blogs

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy

By Grant Miller, DVM, October 06, 2014


 Dr. Michael Reuben D.C. applies a PEMF therapy session.


As I made my rounds to my barns this past weekend, I was reminded of another interesting therapy modality called Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy, also known as PEMF. 


PEMF is a dynamic FDA-approved therapy for humans that has more recently begun transitioning into the animal realm.  It is dynamic because the magnetic field that is created by a PEMF machine is a result of a live electrical current that runs through a coiled wire.  Any time you run electricity in a loop, you create a magnetic field in the area inside the loop.  The electrical current can be turned on and off at rates ranging from once per second to thousands of times per second- thus changing the frequency of the magnetic field. 


What is the magnetic field doing?  Primarily, it increases circulation by causing vasodilation.  It also increases cellular metabolism by helping cells to utilize oxygen.


PEMF therapy in horses has been named Equipulse.  It can be performed on just about any areas of the horse’s body, and horses generally do not need to be sedated in order to receive a treatment.  Treatments to the upper neck and head are unlikely to be tolerated well without sedation since the treatment causes muscle contraction from the induction of nerve firing.  The soft hose coils that generate the magnetic field do not even need to touch the body in order to work, and the average treatment lasts about 10 minutes.  After about 10 to 12 minutes, no further beneficial effect will be gained by PEMF. So in this case, more is not better.


 PEMF can be applied to virtually any area of the horse's body without sedation.

PEMF has gained widespread fame because of its ability to stimulate bone repair and healing of non-union (non-healing) fractures.  But it has also been reported to be beneficial in treating arthritis, muscle injury/ pain, edema/ inflammation, and other musculoskeletal issues such as soft-tissue inuries or range-of-motion limitations.  For more information on what it treats and how, click here.


I decided to give it a try myself and I sat for a 6 minute session to receive treatment for a pesky ache coming from beneath my left shoulder blade.  The machine does not make any noise, but when it is on, it feels as if someone is patting you on the back.  The sensation is quite odd - your body rhythmically contracts as if you have the hiccups, and you can feel the pulse of the machine going all the way through your body.  Quite a memorable sensation! 


Immediately after I stood up from the treatment, my skin and subcutaneous tissue tingled in the location where the coil was held.  The pain was mildly reduced, but not by much.  However this morning, the pain is nearly gone.  I have lived with this recurrent ailment for many years and have gotten to know it quite well.  Normally, it would not give up so easily at this stage of the flare up, so I feel confident in reporting that the PEMF session did have a beneficial impact on it. 


You may be seeing folks begin to offer PEMF therapy in your area.  Always check with your veterinarian and make sure that any therapy session is performed under his or her supervision in order to keep your horse safe and comply with the law. I would encourage you to give this therapy a try for your horse- it is quick, non-invasive, horses seem to tolerate it well, and it may help.


See also: Magnetic Therapy and PEMF,

Margaret Freeman Stepping Out of the Judge's Box
by Margaret Freeman
Margaret Freeman is a USEF “Senior” dressage judge living in Tryon NC.She was recently elected Secretary of the U.S. Dressage Federation. She earned her USDF Silver Medal on a horse she bred and trained herself, and she continues to compete at FEI-level dressage. She has covered the equestrian events at seven Olympics for the Associated Press. She’s an experienced show organizer, is on the committee of the Youth Dressage Festival (NY), and was on the founding committees of CDCTA (VA) and Dressage at Devon (PA). View more blogs

Straightness is Always a Goal

By Margaret Freeman, October 04, 2014

This horse is cantering and straight. Look at his hooves.

Straightness is an important goal in any performance horse, but there are degrees of straightness and a lot of confusion about how it is defined.  Basically, it means that the hind end should be in line with the front end, not just on straight lines but also curved on the same arc on a curved line.

Obviously, this shouldn’t be the rigid "straightness" of a 2-by-4 piece of lumber. The rib cage area should always be accessible to the rider's inside leg in order to lift the rib cage and keep the horse’s topline supple. In order to do this, it’s useful to think of the head/neck and body assemblies as separate units.  You should be able to softly bend the neck to either direction without the body slipping sideways.


Of course, that is usually easier said than done, as anyone sitting horse that is shying knows full well.  When your horse is horrified by something to his right, his head goes right while the rest of him goes left.  That’s if you don’t have control of the outside shoulder, of course, which could prevent the shy in the first place.  The basic tenet is that the body of a horse tends to slide away from the the direction of the head/neck.  However, a rider doesn't want that to happen when he's trying to perform a line of jumps or flying changes, which is where training for straightness comes in very handy.


I have been concentrating on straightness a lot more lately, since I am trying to get better with one-tempi changes, my personal bugaboo.  (One-tempis are flying changes every stride, from 7 to 15 in FEI dressage tests.)  I can keep a line of twos straight without any problem, but the ones are a bear for me.


I also see issues with straightness demonstrated very dramatically when I judge a dressage test that calls for a shoulder-in on the center line.  Without the aid of the rail, where a shoulder-in is usually performed, the horse often wobbles all over the place.  It should be an "aha" moment for a dressage rider if they can't get a good score for that movement.


Here’s an interesting test for straightness that my coach Ashley gave me recently:  While riding in a straight line (anywhere, on the ring rail, inside the rail or even in an open field), gently direct the horse's nose to one side.  Don’t pull or stiffen against the bit, just widen the hand, directing the head not only to the side but also lower if you can. Now, take notice of whether the shoulders or even the entire body slide the other way, which could be subtle or overt. The question you have to ask yourself as the rider is whether you can control the direction of the horse’s body with your legs and seat when the head is directed elsewhere.  If you can’t, then you have more of an issue with straightness that you realized, because the test has indicated that your only real control aids are the reins.


Not only is this a test but also a good suppling exercise.  You should be able to soften the neck gently to one side while riding the body straight at all three gaits and on both curved and straight lines. It’s easiest at the trot, because the feet can become planted at the walk and your horse may need extra strength and balance to counter-bend at the canter.  It’s a good exercise for warm-ups/cool-downs and as a break in mid-work, in addition to being a test for the correctness of your work.


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