What the hooves know

“One white foot, buy him; 

Two white feet, try him;

Three white feet, look well about him;

Four white feet, do without him;

Four white feet and white on his nose, take off his hide and feed him to the crows.”


Ok, psychos.  What are you doing with these horse hides anyway?  Reupholstering your dining chairs?  Why are you feeding them to the crows, are these horses so awful that their meat isn’t good enough for your dog?  

The proverb is based on the belief that light colored feet are weaker than dark colored feet.  I haven’t found that to be true, at least not with modern nutrition and hoof care. I’ve read  some studies that indicate weaker hooves might be genetic in breeds, like paints, that tend to have white legs.  But there is no evidence that supports light colored feet being weaker than dark colored feet when they are on the same horse.  

 All that being said, the color of your horse’s feet can tell you some things.  Like if your light grey horse had white socks when he was younger.

This horse is a grey with a light colored foot, and a dark colored foot.  Since grey horses are born a solid color and lighten with age, this tells us that he had a white sock above the light colored foot, but not above the dark colored foot.

This is the same horse, 16 years prior, and while it’s not the best picture of his feet, if you look hard, you will see the right front is dark.

Sometimes the color of your horse’s feet can tell you about their heritage.  Our sorrel mare, Suki, is out of a quarter horse.  But her mom isn’t telling who the fence jumping baby daddy is.  There is suspicion that he may have been an Appaloosa.  She doesn’t have any spots like an Appaloosa.  Nor does she have traits of solid colored Appaloosas, mottled skin around the mouth and genitals, and white sclera around the eyes.  But there is one final trait of a solid colored Appaloosa! Vertically striped hooves.  I introduced Suki to hosing this week and got a better look at her feet:

Maybe there is some subtle verticle striping on Suki’s feet?  I think we still ought to go with a maybe on the potential Appaloosa sire.  Something else is peculiar about her feet though, she has three white legs and four  dark feet!  It’s like she read the old rhyme and didn’t want to take any chances with white feet!  It’s very subtle, but she has a super narrow ring of red hairs on the coronary band of each foot.  Weird!

And speaking of weird, while I was thinking about writing this piece, I was checking out the feet of all the horses that came into the arena for lessons.  One was particularly interesting to me.

This foot belongs to a roan Tennessee Walker with four white legs and a bald face. But he only has three and a half white feet, so go get your horse hide elsewhere!

So next time you see your horse, knock the dirt off his feet, and see if they tell you anything.  

About the author: Ali Kermeen runs her training business, HC Equestrian, in the hills east of the Silicon Valley. She is a USDF silver medalist and L graduate.  Ali can often be found laughing at her own jokes, or tripping over her own feet.

Elbow to bit

I wanted to write an article about the importance of keeping a straight line from the rider’s elbow, through the forearm, hand, and rein, to the bit.  You know, my usual sanctimonious stuff.  I started taking photos of my students in four  different positions: hands at the correct height, hands too low, hands too high, and hands where the rider naturally puts them without direction. 

 My goal was to illustrate the need to take in to account riders’ conformation when determining the proper height of the hands.  Riders are often taught to keep their hands just above the horse’s withers.  For riders with short arms or long waists, that position might be too low to keep a proper alignment from the elbow to the bit.  Long armed or short waisted riders might have the opposite problem.

However, as I began to study the photos, I started to notice other factors at play in the relationship between the rider’s arms and the bit.  Let’s take a look.

Top left: I’ve added a red line to Diana’s photos so the line from elbow to bit is apparent.  Diana’s hand position is too low.

Top right: Diana’s hands are a little bit too high, but not among the clouds as she thinks they are

Bottom left: hands too low, which is where Diana’s hand ends up incorrectly migrating when she’s working to get Pacifico the Iberian warmblood to come round

Bottom right: I put Diana’s hands where they belong. The challenge for Diana is to keep her hands on this plane while she is using them.  

The upper arm also plays a part in the ability of the rider to follow the horse’s mouth properly.  Check out Elaine and her morgan, Fancy:Top left: this is where Elaine naturally carries her hands she does have a straight line from elbow to bit, but no bend in her elbow, which will limit her ability to follow Fancy’s motion

Top Right: Elaine’s hands too high, disrupting the straight line from elbow to bit

Bottom left: Elaine’s hands are too low,  again disrupting the line from elbow to bit

Bottom right:. This is where I put Elaine’s hands.  Just like her natural hand position, she still has a straight line from elbow to bit, however now she has a bend in her elbow, which will allow her hand to follow Fancy’s motion. This position also allows her to obtain a deeper seat and a more draped leg.

​When arms are in the correct position, and moving in the correct trajectory, the motion is similar using a hand saw.  In the trot and canter the hand moves towards the elbow, and the elbow moves towards the hand.

In addition to limiting the ability to follow, hands that are too low can be quite irksome to the horse.  Let’s see what happens when Rachael brings her hands too low on her connemara, Crispin:Top left: Rachael naturally carries her hands a little higher than the straight line from elbow to bit.

Top right: Rachael raising her hands a little too high. Crispin responds by bringing his head up.

Bottom left: Rachael’s hands are too low, they still appear to have a straight line from elbow to bit because Crispin is trying his best to follow the connection. However….

Bottom right: when riders put their hands too low, almost every horse will tuck in his head, then after a moment jerk the reins violently forward.

Horses don’t like the rider’s hands getting too low is because of their mouth anatomy. When the rider has proper alignment from elbow to bit, the bit will work on the horse’s lips and tongue. When hands are too low, the bit works on the bars of the horse’s mouth. The lips and tongue are squishy, while the bars are rigid and hard. It is uncomfortable for the horse to take pressure on the bars of his mouth, so he will usually try to duck his head to avoid the pressure, then jerk forward to try to release the pressure.

The structures of the mouth that a Mullen mouth or double jointed snaffle bit acts upon are the lips, tongue, and sometimes the bars. The bars are the lower jaw between the incisors, canines, and molars.

Alair’s andalusian, Corie, reacts similarly to Crispin:Top left: Alair’s natural hand position is spot on.  Her andalusian, Corie, shows a lovely stretch to the bit.

Top right: Alair’s hands are too high

Bottom left: hands to low, in an effort to alleviate the discomfort of the bit in the bars, Corie ducks behind the vertical…

Bottom right: and then he jerks his head forward to alleviate the discomfort of hands too low.

I got a little bit stumped looking at Alair’s pictures.  I thought Alair would be the perfect example of hands in the correct alignment that appear too high in relation to the withers.  But that is not the case here, she presents a classic  picture!  Then I realized, I’m used to seeing Alair on her other horse, Kaveat, an Arabian with different confirmation than her current mount.  Kaveat’s back was higher, and Alair was using a different pad which set her up higher still.  As a result, her hands appeared to be hovering high above the withers when she rode her arabian. But here on Corie, her hands are closer to the withers.  I figured out that the difference in appearance is due to Corie’s back being more dipped than Kaveat’s, and his andalusian neck is set higher on his shoulders than the arabian’s.

Alair still has proportionality shortish arms, where I have proportionally long arms.  Here’s what I look like on an a variety of horses, the first of which is somewhat similar in build to Alair’s Andalusian.

Top:  hands just about right.  Your can see how my hands are alongside Brio’s withers when they are in the correct position.  In Alair’s correct photo you can see her hands are a little above the withers.

Middle: Hands are about right.  They are slightly above Corny’s withers.  He is a thoroughbred with a lower set neck and flatter back than Brio.

Bottom: hands about right on Buddy, a Standardbred x Appaloosa 

We’ve checked out there same rider on differently built horses, now let’s check out the same horse with differently built riders:Above: Rae’s hands are correct at Poni’s withers and she has a nice vertical upper arm.

Below: Kristin’s arms are proportionally shorter.  They are placed well above Poni’s withers. Even though Kristin’s hands are at the right height, they’d be even better if her elbows were further back allowing for greater following potential. At 13.3h, Poni is well suited to Kristin’s proportions, but Kristin may have biomechanical challenges riding big moving horses.

Lastly, when considering hand position and its relationship to the horse’s mouths, the hands should not be closer together than the width of the bit.  If hands are too close, the horse may feel the rings of the bit against his cheeks.  If you are using a single joined bit, close together hands or hands that cross the wither will push the center joint of the bit into the roof of the horse’s mouth, or pinch his tongue. Riders’ hands should also not stay wider than their shoulders, though they may travel wide on occasion without injuring the horse’s mouth.

Having a ground person, instructor, or even a mirror is great for perfecting the position of your arms.  An even better way is to develop a feel for what different parts of the horse’s mouth feel like.  Try this while riding to develop your feel: take a contact on the reins, then move your hands slowly up high and down low.  You will feel the horse’s spongy tongue and elastic lips, especially if he is moving them.  When your hands travel too low and place the bit on the bars of the horse’s mouth, you will feel a distinct rigidity.  This is not where you want to be!  As you ride forward, make your goal to keep the bit feeling the same to the horse  in every moment of every stride.  This is the basis of a harmonious connection with your horse.  Enjoy the ride!

About the author:  Ali Kermeen has her training business, HC Equestrian, in the hills east of the Silicon Valley.  She’s a USDF silver medalist and L graduate, as well as a USEA certified instructor and CHA master instructor.  Ali loves working with all types of horses across many disciplines.  She hopes to take two thoroughbreds to Kentucky this Fall to compete in for the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Hey, wanna see something gross?

Yesterday my two and a half year old asked me, out of the blue, if Max has a boo boo.  I answered, “probably,” because that 4 year old Andalusian knows how to find trouble.

This post is a collection of the pictures I’ve recently sent owners and vets via text message, and that have been sent to me for my advice.  Maybe you will learn something by looking at the photo and my comment, or maybe it will be a fun game for you to see if you can spot the problem before reading the caption.
The aforementioned Max came in with a cut and lump.  He was a little bit lame, so he didn’t get worked that day.  Generally I would have dressed the wound and covered it with a standing wrap.  Max is a bit of a special case, so he got antibiotic cream, fly repellant ointment, a kiss on the nose, and back to pasture.

Max again, same injury, one week later.  The wound looks worse because Max likes to chew on his scabs. The swelling was pretty much gone, and he wasn’t lame, carrying heat, or tender to the touch so he got ridden that day.  We did the ointments again and eventually it healed up.

Rooster is looking a bit, erm, thickened.  Turns out he was stocked up in his sheath from recent inactivity.  We didn’t do anything to this, and his sheath returned to normal size with regular exercise.

Farrah had some serious snot coming out of her nose.  A little clear or white mucus is no big deal, but this greenish snot looks indicative of infection.  Taking the horse’s TPR would be a good indication of the urgency of the situation, so be sure you are prepared to do it.  Sniffing the odor coming out of her nose and tapping on her sinuses would also help diagnosis.  However, as advanced as technology is, I can’t take TPR, smell snotty noses, or tap on sinuses through my iPhone.  YET.

Max again.  See that nail in his foot?  That’s not supposed to be there.  However, it is a horse shoe nail going through the spot where a horse shoe nail should be.  I tried to pull it out and couldn’t.  It ended up falling out on its own before the farrier could arrive.  Had this nail been in another part of his foot, it would have been a freak out emergency.

Sookie’s other eye is open.  This eye is closed and she’s crying like her boyfriend broke up with her for a cheerleader.  I don’t mess around with eyes.  My suspicion was of a corneal scratch so she got to see the vet on the same day.  She did indeed have a scratch and got prescribed drugs and darkness.  Eye maladies can be time sensative, and as they say, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.  
Oh, Bucket.  This is an old picture, but one of my favorites.  Bucket’s owner asked me to check if he was unsound.  Guess what, he was unsound.  Upon picking up his foot, I saw this and texted the owner that I think I know why her horse is lame.  Incidentally, it took a second person and some tools to get this rock unstuck.

I’m definitely not a vet, my low calculus and chemistry grades in college put an end to that idea.  But I am a horse trainer, and a horse trainer should know when to call a vet.  A horse trainer should also know how to treat something minor.  A horse owner should at least have friend to send a picture to for advice.

About the author: Ali Kermeen loves horses, and loves educating others about horses.  She once tried an office job in human resource for a few years, but prefers bossing people around about their horses over bossing people around about corporate policies.  Ali loves learning new things, mostly about horses, but also about raptors, history, and general trivia.

Oh, Corny.

Corny has had some recent unsoundness again do to another thrush flare up in his right front.  After a couple weeks off, he was right as rain today, at least for the first part of his workout.

Then he went horribly lame on his left hind.  What the heck, Corny!  I took him back to the cross ties and Nel and I started at his foot for awhile.  Then we saw it…

A sprung shoe!  That’s not so bad, right?  It wouldn’t have been so bad except Corny has clips on his shoes.

The offending shoe after it was removed.

Neither of those clips was depressed, so poor Corny had the clip sticking up into his white line.  Luckily, Jay had some tools to remove the shoe and I didn’t have to bust out the leatherman tool.

We also noticed that the nails appeared to be copper.  This was surprising to us since copper is a soft metal that we wouldn’t expect to hold a shoe on.  So we asked our farrier.  He said, “Copper plated nails are a new thing farriers are trying. Better in regards to bacteria, better for the hoof they don’t corrode or rust inside the hoof holes etc. They’ve been out less then a year. ”

Corny has quite a dent where the clip was sitting.

Corny is getting his shoe replaced tonight.  Fingers crossed that he will go back to being right as rain!

Conformation and Posture

Corny above, Blue below

Kathy Colman Photography came to take some pictures of us for the Thoroughbred Makeover’s website.  (You can check out Blue’s profile and Corny’s profile at these links.)

To me, the brothers look very different.  But reviewing the photos, and really looking hard at them, their conformation is extremely similar.  The slight differences I see are:

  • The underside of Blue’s  neck is a bit shorter than Corny’s
  • Blue’s neck ties in a bit higher than Corny’s
  • Blue’s shoulder is more sloping than Corny’s and his front legs are set a bit more forward
  • Blue’s teeny muzzle is slightly larger than Corny’s weeny muzzle

I really had to look hard to come up with these differences, so why do these horses move very differently from one another?  The answer lies in their posture.  When we were setting Corny up for his photo, we had to work hard to get him to obtain the same stance as Blue.

Corny’s usual stance above, and his contrived stance below
I think these pictures of Corny look more dissimilar than the pictures of Corny and Blue at the beginning of the article (aside from their markings).  Posture makes a big difference!  You can see in the above picture that Corny has a slight ewe neck, you can see the bottom of his neck bulges slightly forward.  This causes his back to drop a little.  When a horse raises their neck and drops their back, that is called hollowing.  It is not the best way for a horse to bare weight, or the most efficient way for the horse to travel.

Ultimately, we don’t want our horses to travel with a hollow outline.  Proper training will teach a horse to bring his back up and stretch his neck longer.  This helps the horse rely more on his large muscles and less on his joints when traveling.  This change can help the horse stay sounder, move better, and be a more comfortable ride.  

Above Corny shows neck constriction, Below he stretches like brother Blue.  My favorite image of neck constriction is E.T.

E.T. and his neck

In the four months that Corny has been with us, we’ve been working in showing him that he doesn’t need to thrust the bottom of his neck forward and constrict it in order to move faster.  He’s starting to get it, and I am excited to see the changes he makes in his posture over the next several months.

About the Author: Ali Kermeen runs her training business in the hills above Silicon Valley.  She loves horses, movies, and raptors. Oh and her family too.  Ali is aiming to take full brothers Olympic Blue and Olympic Maize to the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover held in October in Kentucky.

Red swirls

I’ve got a new mare in training.  Her name is Suki.  Most people pronounce her name SOO-kee.  The first time I heard that name spoken was on HBO’s True Blood, which takes place in rural Louisiana.  Folks on that show pronounce it SUH-kee, which is how I ended up pronouncing this little mare’s name the way I do.

Come to think of it, of course Vampire Bill would call his paramour “Sucky”

So names aside, the other thing I noticed upon meeting Suki is her interesting whorls.

That’s a weird place for a horse to have a giant cowlick.  She has a matching one on the other side…thank goodness.
A few years ago, my friend (and respected trainer) Amber Lydic, posted an article about hair whorls in horses.  Basically, there have been scientific studies correlating certain behaviors with the presence and location of hair whorls.  Just like the author of the article, I constantly search to disprove the theory of “whorlology” because it totally seems like pseudoscience.  However, my experience keeps proving the validity of the theory. Incidentally, the last time I asked Amber, her experience is also in line with Whorlology.

Whorlology has been studied by everyone’s favorite autistic person with a PhD, Temple Grandin.  If you don’t know who she is, HBO put out an amazing biopic about her starring Claire Danes.  Check it out.

I don’t even have HBO, but I’m thinking they should sponsor me after this post.
Suki came to me with a reputation of being dangerous.  Upon seeing her long wheat whorls, I referenced the Whorlology article right away.  I was relieved to see that they are more of a sign that she is an easy keeper, and less that she is crazy.  Nevertheless, she does seem to be very troubled.  As she sheds her winter coat, and gets more relaxed with me grooming her, I will certainly be on the lookout for more whorls.

About the author: Ali Kermeen loves all kinds of horses.  While dressage is her bread and butter, she loves learning things from as many other disciplines as she can.  She also loves to write, and does so on her smartphone in the dead of night during bouts of insomnia.

Corny and Blue get editorial work

The thoroughbreds are now officially models!  The brothers got some work modeling new products for Kathie’s Cinches and More.  Corny worked his angles and nailed his smize.  Blue didn’t care for the immobility part of modeling. Here are photos of the boys modeling beautiful hand woven mohair cinches and girths.

Corny showing off a two layer roping cinch

Corny models a mohair cinch with turquoise accents

Blue makes a statement with this blue mohair dressage girth

Kathie’s Cinches and More doesn’t have a website just yet, but if you are interested in a cinch, let me know and I will hook you up.

Golden Gate Blue

Olympic Blue at 5 years old, being a kick ass racehorse
Last week I was fortunate enough to screen some of Blue’s race footage.  He’s one of the thoroughbreds I’m taking to the thoroughbred makeover in Kentucky. It was really fun to watch him run, and especially to watch him win.  I also enjoyed being with his owners, Ann and Mark while we watched the races and seeing how excited they were to watch their horse.

Blue went on a winning streak starting with his first race after having his blinkers removed.  I’m learning so much about racing, the blinkers are used to help the horses run straight.  It was funny to watch Blue serpentine down the track and win anyway! He won the next 3 or 4 races after that.

I also thought it was really cool how the commentators talked about Blue.  He was a big deal!  They had graphics about his successes, and even sang a little song about him!

Blue’s home track was Golden Gate Fields.  Mark and Ann still have some racehorses there, and it is a great community of horse people. Today I learned that GGF is going to be one of our sponsors on our trip to Kentucky.  I’m grateful for their support and hope we will do them proud.  

Blue has been steadily improving in his dressage training.  Last week he started to understand the concept of inside rein and outside rein.  His brother Corny is unfortunately having another bout of unsoundness from severe thrush so his training is on hold.

Olympic Blue, last week, 7 years old and in his way to being a kick ass dressage horse

The haunch turn to improve lateral balance

When thinking about improving balance, riders typically imagine their horses traveling with an”uphill”balance.  The outline of the horse will appear as if he is traveling uphill when he lowers his haunches and allows his withers to raise higher than his croup.  The result is a horse who bears more weight on his hind legs than his front legs. This desired longitudinal balance is a great thing to strive for, but it is not the only dimension of balance necessary for prime performance.  

A horse must also be balanced laterally.  A horse who is balanced laterally will bear equal weight between his left and right feet.  Many horses are resistant because they lack the secure feeling of being laterally balanced.  Without lateral balance, the horse will feel vulnerable to falling.  As a result, he will try to preserve himself by:

  • going too slow… Imagine you are scared of falling on ice; you will walk slowly to maintain your balance.
  • rushing faster… Imagine you’ve tripped while walking down the sidewalk; you will run a few strides to catch yourself.
  • bracing against the rider’s aids… Imagine you’ve stepped in some mud, to avoid falling you brace yourself by grabbing the person next to you

To solve the most common lateral balance issues, you must first learn to abduct your horse’s inside front leg at will.  I teach this starting with a haunch turn.

A haunch turn is when the front legs revolve around a stationary hind end.  Begin by having your horse step back a step and then immediately cue for the forehand to move around.  To turn left, you would:

  • Weight your left stirrup 
  • Position your right leg slightly back to prevent the haunches from slipping right
  • Open your left rein and add a little pressure to your left rein to get your horse to abduct his left front leg.
  • Remember to sit deeply throughout

Initiating the haunch turn with left flexion, an opening left rein, and weight in the left stirrup.

Showing good abduction of the left front leg, this is the motion I care most about right now.

I was happy with the previous step, so I released the pressure and pasted Blue.  He hasn’t stopped the maneuver yet and is showing good adduction of the right front.

You don’t need to do a 360 degree turn right off the bat.  90 degrees is sufficient for your first attempts, then you can add 90 more degrees at a time.  Don’t do too many of these turns in a row, especially if this is the first time your horse has done these turns.  He may get sore or frustrated.  

Now that we’ve taught the horse the cue to abduct his inside front leg at the halt, we can take this cue into motion to help the horse achieve straightness and better balance in motion.

Blue’s left front leg is striking the ground under the center of his chest.  This is a common effect of being crooked/having too much bend.  The horse is not laterally balanced if he is doing this.  He’s carrying the majority of his weight on the left front leg.   I’m beginning to use an opening inside rein to encourage him to land with his left front leg more to his left.

Blue has responded well to the opening rein.  In this next step placed his left front leg more to the left.  This has both straightened him, and given him better lateral balance, his weight is much more equal over his front legs.

As horses gain lateral balance, they become more confident and less resistant.  The result is a horse who is happier, more fun to ride, and in a better position to advance in his training.
Ali Kermeen loves horses.  She loves all kinds of horses, and doing all sorts of different stuff with them.  Dressage, eventing, gymkhana, hunters, trail, cowboy dressage, jumpers, reining, and working equitation are all really fun!  Ali is currently training two retired race horses to compete in the Thoroughbred  Makeover  in Kentucky.

Joystick Control

Hopefully you know what a joystick is.  But sometimes I have to explain it to the younger crowd, so behold a joystick!

A joystick is a way to control your video game character or maybe your drone

Just like a video game character, or my drone, I want to be able to move my horse in any direction I want.  Once my horse understands the concepts of leg yield and rein yield, it’s time to get joystick control on him.

At the halt, imagine that you and your horse are standing in the center of a compass diagram.  Your  horse’s head will always point north, no matter what direction his feet are going.

Can you move your horse straight forward towards north?  Dear lord, I hope so.  Can you move your horse straight back towards south?  Can you move your horse sideways towards west and east?  

Once you can move in these directions smoothly, try going forward and sideways towards northeast and northwest.  Then try backwards and sideways towards southeast and southwest.

Chances are you’ve found a direction that it is difficult.  As part of your horse’s basic training, you need to work on it and improve his response.  If you are getting stuck, get off and work the response on the ground.  Once the response has improved, get back on and try again.  Your horse might benefit from someone cueing  him like you did on the ground while you are cueing him from the saddle to bridge the gap between rider cues and groundwork cues.

Above all, listen to your horse.  Since he doesn’t know the objective of this exercise, he might get frustrated quickly. To avoid this frustration:

  1. Release the pressure after a weight shift in the right direction.  Then release the pressure after a single step.
  2. Once your horse has done the right thing, praise him and take a few moments break before asking him to move again.
  3. If your horse was accepting the directional cues, but then started to brace, fuss with his mouth, swish his tail, or show stress in some other way, it’s time to take a break from the exercise.  That break might be moving around the arena, or it might be time to call it quits for the day.  
  4. Remember to take your time, you might be able to achieve all directions smoothly in one day, or it might take you a month.  
  5. Quality over quantity.  Remember that you want to train your horse to be a calm and willing partner. You aren’t done with this exercise until your horse moves quietly in the direction of your choosing without any head or tail theatrics.

Why is all of this important?  You want your horse to be as connected to you  as your own legs are.  He should be able to easily move in all the directions that your legs can.  This will help you with trail obstacles, like opening gates.  It will also help you with your dressage.  Your horse will be better equipped to understand bend.  He will be better equipped to make an effective half halt.  He will generally have a better understanding about your rein and leg aids.  A horse who is willing is a horse who understands what is being asked of him.

While rain has prevented me from getting good photos of real horses performing joystick control, check out this video for inspiration.