Good Grooming

Good Grooming

Some horses hate grooming. They can’t stand still, try to nip, bite, kick, flinch, swish their tails and toss their heads. Others tolerate it, just tuning out and resigning themselves to the process. Then there are the horses that absolutely love it. Having your horse look forward to grooming time is often a true testament to the quality of your relationship, and it’s a great place to build it.

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Elementary School



Julie Goodnight talks about the three ‘wings’ in her barn and explains the regime for her youngest horsesIn the small town where I live, we have a large school complex with three different buildings - the elementary, the middle school and the high school, each with a specific program designed to meet the particular needs of each age group. In my barn, we have the same type of divisions to help us better meet the needs of the horses we have in three different stages of life.

The elementary wing of our barn is for the youngest horses. These are our up-and-coming horses that we think have great potential but have not yet earned the same status as their upper classmates. We want the best for these horses but they also need to learn to toughen up and play by the rules. So just like in elementary school, structure, discipline, work ethic and manners are most important.

The most prominent section in my barn is for my prime-time horses - the mature, fully trained working horses. They get the highest level of care and the most luxurious accommodations because they work for a living. These are my working horses - partners in my business - and they get the very best we have to offer.

In a quiet corner of the facility is our geriatric wing, currently occupied with two stately old mares who will soon be starting their fourth decades of life. We do what we can for these elders, to make their final stage of life as comfortable as possible. They’ve given so much, to so many riders over the years and I am happy to give them a noble and comfortable, albeit expensive, retirement.

In this three-part series, I'd like to share with you the horses that occupy each section of my barn, the behaviours we expect from that age group, how we focus our training, how we keep them fit and the specific health and nutritional needs of each age group. We'll start at the beginning with the youngsters.



The YoungstersWe don't breed any horses, so the youngest horses in my barn tend to be three to six years old. Currently I have two adolescents - Eddie, who is four, and Doc, who is six. I bought Eddie as a three year old; he is a well-bred Quarter Horse by a World Champion versatility ranch horse stallion and I have big plans for him in the years to come. Doc is a great little ranch horse and he's fun to have around for our friends to ride and for when we need a spare horse.

I tend to buy more horses in this age group than I keep. I like having nice horses coming along but often I find a good match for them and then take great delight in selling them and buying another. But every now and then a young horse comes along that is really special and has the potential to grow into a prime-time horse for me. My youngsters are still in the primary training stages and my hope is that one day Eddie will be a replacement for my number one horse, Dually.

Behave Your Age Horses in this age group are a lot like adolescent humans - they can be cocky, challenge authority and test their boundaries. At one moment they seem all grown up but the next they are acting like a baby. Younger horses often have more bravery and curiosity than they should, which is a good thing, and I like to encourage these behaviours so that they learn to be confident in new situations.

The youngsters are much more playful and energetic than their older barn mates, so they need lots of turnout time with horses that like to play and rough-house. To me, it's important that the youngsters also hang out some with the more mature horses when they are working, so they learn how to act appropriately in different situations.

Training Focus At this stage, we spend a lot of time working on the basics: good ground manners, tying patiently, trailering and basic manoeuvres under saddle. We do a lot of ground work with these horses to refine their manners, teach them to be focused on their handler and wait patiently for directives. I call this kindergarten for horses. You don't go to kindergarten to learn algebra; you go to kindergarten to learn how to sit at your desk, raise your hand when you want to talk and walk in a single-file line. We want our young horses to learn to stand still when asked, focus on the task at hand, ground tie, respect boundaries and not act impulsively.

Our youngsters will spend a lot of time standing tied at the hitching rail or trailer, alone or in company - learning patience. We like to ride them out in the open and expose them to novel stimuli as much as possible. We feed them in the trailer often so they learn to like it. We spend a lot of time getting them used to ropes, opening gates from horseback, dragging logs, walking over tarps, etc.

It's really important that young horses develop a strong work ethic. At this stage of training our young horses will get some long hard rides and have many wet saddle blankets. They'll learn to work by themselves, well away from any other horses; and they'll learn to work in a crowd of strange horses, maintaining good manners.

While we are working steadily to increase the horse's skill level under saddle at this stage, it is also very important to give them as many different experiences as we can and to make sure those early experiences are very positive. I'll take them to clinics and expos when I can, just to get them on the road, let them learn to sleep in a strange barn and work in strange environments. The more travelling and unique experiences they have at this age the more settled they will be later in life.

Fitness Although horses grow the fastest in their first two years of life, they continue to mature, both physically and mentally until they are seven or eight years old. In their adolescence, we want to make sure our horses grow strong and get fit, but without excessive damage to their joints. After the age of four, you can do just about anything with a horse, but younger than that we avoid lots of circling and hard manoeuvres like jumping. We never take a horse younger than four to the mountains.

These horses need lots of work, not only to grow strong and fit but also to develop a work ethic. They may get worked four to six times a week depending on the length and exertion of the ride. Part of the goals of their workouts will be to advance their skills by learning new cues and more difficult manoeuvres. Part of their workout will be repetition of the basics to develop muscle memory and coordination.



Health and NutritionOur young horses get a high quality diet of alfalfa/grass mixed hay, as well as whole oats. While they are still growing and filling out, we pump a fair amount of food in to them to keep them in good flesh. In addition to growing, they are also worked pretty hard so their calorie demand is high. The young horses pretty much get all the hay they can eat, plus oats and supplements twice a day.

I start our young horses on joint supplements as soon as they are working under saddle. Although we think of these for helping older horses that already have cartilage breakdown, the ingredients are scientifically formulated to support and maintain the health of your horse’s joints. In my mind, the sooner they are started on a joint supplement the healthier their joints will be in mid-life. Our young horses also get a vitamin and mineral supplement that supports healthy hoof growth. This is really important with the additional stress of carrying a rider and working hard.

The youngsters in my barn are most important for the potential they represent. We want to nurture and develop them in order to turn them into the best horses they can be so that one day they might fill the shoes of our prime-time horses.

Paddock Paradise



Creating turnout that encourages horses to move facilitates physical and mental wellbeing, writes Jill Willis.'Paddock Paradise' is both a term and a concept used to describe a natural and humane way to keep healthy, happy horses based upon the lives of the wild, free roaming horses in the US Great Basin. Introduced by veteran hoof care professional and natural horse care advocate Jamie Jackson in his 2006 book ‘Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding,’ the premise of a natural boarding model is to provide safe, humane, living conditions which use the horse's natural instincts to stimulate and facilitate movement and other behaviours that are essential to a mentally and physically sound horse.

 Paddock Paradise

Paddock Paradise

Based upon a four year study of the natural behaviour of wild horses, the theory originally proposed that horses - like any other species - will thrive physically, mentally and emotionally if kept in an environment that takes into consideration the most basic elements of a horse’s natural habitat. According to Jackson, who founded the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices (AANHCP) in 2002, the health of the horse shows up in their hooves. The creation of an environment that simulates a horse’s natural habitat can restore natural integrity and soundness. This includes lots of movement and a reasonably natural diet with free access to a variety of low sugar / low carb grass hays.

Natural horse boarding is unlike a traditional horse keeping situation with stables, small paddocks and/or lush green pastures. It is designed to meet the basic needs of the species...

In the wild, horses are observed moving along familiar tracks as they travel great distances to different places in their various territories. Because horses are animals of prey, they instinctively move in a close, single file formation across these home ranges as they seek out forage, water, rolling spots and other activities essential to their biology and survival. In a natural horse boarding model, tracks are created to stimulate natural movement. Horses quickly reveal their desire to use these tracks by creating narrow, worn down paths just like in wild horse country where travel (or forward movement) is the sole purpose or activity.

Natural horse boarding is unlike a traditional horse keeping situation with stables, small paddocks and / or lush green pastures. It is designed to meet the basic needs of the species as social, nomadic animals of prey whose basic biology require that they have access to the right sorts of forage 24 hours per day. A Paddock Paradise also facilitates other natural behaviours such as herd hierarchy (pecking order), mutual grooming, playing, resting and sleeping behaviours.



Facilitating Health The principal goal of a Paddock Paradise is to facilitate health and soundness - both physical and mental - in the horse. In fact, it is an ideal preventative to many of the illnesses and disorders plaguing domestic equines who are forced to live in stalls or other forms of close confinement or, equally hazardous, in lush, sugar-laden grass pastures. In fact, Jackson believes that a genuine Paddock Paradise can virtually eliminate the risk of laminitis, colic, Navicular Syndrome, Cushings Disease and other debilitating conditions caused by an unnatural lifestyle of confinement, isolation and/or being provide the wrong diet.

A Paddock Paradise will also encourage movement even on small acreages. It allows horses to live more closely to the manner nature intended, moving freely 24/7 and eating in a more natural way by having constant access to the right kinds of food placed strategically throughout their track. When horses are allowed to live in a manner that more closely resembles their natural habitat, not only are they healthier but happier.

Creating a Paddock Paradise Creating a Paddock Paradise can be fairly simple and inexpensive. An electric fence ‘loop’ can be installed inside a perimeter fence and surround a pasture or field to create a series of tracks. Along these tracks you need to place a various stimuli such as strategically placed feeding spots and watering holes to activate curiosity and movement. Many people will begin with plastic electric fence posts. This will allow you to find out what formation or configuration will work best before the time and energy is put into creating a more permanent interior fence.

Electric fencing manufacturers offer a variety of solar chargers that can be used if electricity is not readily available, although this may not be suitable in those areas where the sun disappears for months at a time. You can use the centre field or pasture to grow hay now that the horses are no longer accessing the area. Ideally, horses living on track will not be shod so that the nails do not become a hazard when the shoes are lost. The increased movement, preferably on dry tracks that have added gravel and rock, will help condition and callus the hooves so that shoes are no longer needed.



Hay should be scattered in numerous areas on the track that are specifically enlarged and suited for feeding areas. The hay can be fed from the ground or from a variety of feeding containment systems – from small hole hay nets to plastic tubs with proper drainage – placed strategically in a number of different areas so that the horses are not encouraged to stand in one place for long periods of time to eat. It may take some horses six months or longer before their bodies will become accustomed to ad lib hay, especially if they have been on restricted diets in the past.

Horses secrete hydrochloric acid continuously and if there is nothing in their digestive system for the acid to break down ulcers can occur. Horses living in a genuine Paddock Paradise no longer have these issues but it can sometimes take a bit of time before they seem to trust that they will not be returned to this former way of life.

Shelter from harsh weather should always be provided along the track so that horses have a way to escape severe wet and cold conditions and the sun.

The Official Guide ‘Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding’ was written by Jamie Jackson and first published in 2006. For more visit or search Paddock Paradise on Facebook. The book is available at most online book retailers. The photos featured here are from the headquarters of the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices in Lompoc, CA (

UK based Paddock Paradise consultant Nick Hill is based in the Highlands of Scotland but travels extensively throughout the UK. Visit for more details or call 01808 52175101808 521751.


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Senior Citizens

 Julie and Pepsea

Julie and Pepsea

Providing the best quality of life for older horses with Julie Goodnight.

In a quiet corner of my facility is the geriatric wing. We do what we can for these wise old horses to make their final stage of life as comfortable as possible. They’ve given so much to so many riders over the years and I am happy to give them a noble and comfortable, albeit expensive, retirement.

Two elegant old mares currently occupy this part of my barn: Pepsea, a stately Morgan who was my number one horse for many, many years; and Jewell, a frail little Anglo-Trakehner who carried many young riders to the winner's circle and later taught hundreds of adult riders proper equitation. Both mares, by coincidence, are 28 years old and both have been in my barn for over 20 years. It will be strange when they are gone.

Pepsea and Jewell were definitely keepers for me and by the time I no longer needed their services they were too old to risk losing track of. I didn't dare think of selling them. Once they were ready to kick back and semi-retire, I had them out on free leases to nearby, hand selected riders who would pamper them and work them lightly and where it was easy for me to monitor their care. Now both mares are permanently retired from riding and are living out their twilight years with the two things horses want most in life: security and comfort.

Behaviour My senior horses have worked hard all their lives. From a young age they were trained to carry riders, helping them accomplish their equestrian goals. They've been ridden for thousands of hours and carried riders over all sorts of terrain and helped them pursue their interests. They’ve been trained in many disciplines and adjusted to the quirks and demands of many riders.

At this stage of life, the hard work is over and they deserve to rest on their laurels. They are ready to kick back, relax and enjoy the simple things in life (eating and sleeping). Their bodies are failing them: there's sagging where there didn't used to be, their joints are plum wore out and their minds aren't quite as sharp as they used to be. They've earned their status and both the humans and horses around them recognise that they deserve respect and peace.

The senior horses love bathing in the sun and waiting for the next meal. Exercising is not a high priority since they are dealing with the many aches and pains that come at the end of an active life.

Although the senior horses are ready to kick back and take life easy, they do not want to be disregarded and ‘put out to pasture.’ They remember the 'good ole days' when they were athletes in their prime - important and catered to - and they aren't quite ready to give that up. They like to feel needed and wanted.

Retirement The senior horses certainly are not in any need of training. They know more than most of us could ever hope to know about humans and the sport of riding. They can analyse humans more efficiently than Dr. Phil or Judge Judy!

Becoming a senior citizen sort of sneaks up on you. One day you are the cat's meow, at the pinnacle of your career - working hard, getting all sorts of perks and accolades, and the next thing you know you’re being passed by. Hmm, that’s a lot to think about.

The transition from prime time to senior is subtle. When exactly it happens varies greatly with the horse's breeding, history, conformation, temperament, training and soundness. Generally in the late teens or early twenties horses are slowing down and ready to shift towards retirement, although some horses go much longer.

My mares were 20 and 22 when they were ready for a break. I transitioned them from a full time working career to a semi-retired, easy riding life. I made sure they were with riders who would appreciate their wisdom and not make big demands on them. But at some point I had to make the decision to fully retire them. Since no human knew them better, it was up to me to know when it was time.

Fitness At no stage of life is fitness more important or more difficult to manage. Understandably, later in life, body parts change. Joints are flat worn out and the mind tends to wander. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Keeping a geriatric horse fit and sound of mind and body is quite a challenge.

A low back and weak abdominal muscles are the hallmark of a geriatric horse and, depending on the horse's conformation and use, this may happen sooner or later. That's why we try to keep a horse under saddle as long as they can take it, in order to keep them fit, their back strong and give them a sense of purpose.

Once riding is no longer an option we try to keep our older horses strong with exercise in the form of turnout and hand walking. Forcing exercise on an older horse is not always advisable and traditional methods like longeing are too hard on their bodies. Instead, leisurely walks, munching grass and looking at different surroundings, keep them fit both physically and mentally.

I prefer to keep my older horses together and separated from the younger, friskier horses whose idea of a good time might be chasing subordinate horses around. My senior horses deserve a break and protection from the sometimes stressful life in the herd. They don't necessarily want to be alone, but they don't want to be looking over their shoulders for bullies either.

Health and Nutrition Senior horses have very special needs regarding health and diet. My main goal is to keep them safe, comfortable and happy. A horse's teeth grow constantly all of their life until the age of 27-28. This allows them to grind tough forage but at some point their teeth wear away and they can no longer grind their food as well as they used to. In nature, this would signal the slow end to a horse’s life but with the modern advancements in livestock feeds and medicine we are able to keep horses healthy and alive much longer.

I try to keep horses on a high quality grass hay as long as possible (alfalfa is too hard on them metabolically), with a modest amount of oats to carry the supplements they need to stay healthy and comfortable. Once their teeth give out, we start feeding them soaked grass pellets - a delightful mash that keeps their bellies full without all the hard work of chewing. As horses age, they get skinnier and lose muscle mass and in our climate, with long, cold winters, we always blanket them in the winter to give them extra protection.

The most important extra my geriatric horses get is a joint supplement. Arthritis is a normal part of ageing and the harder a horse has been used, the more their joints wear out. The more we protect joints early in life the longer they will last. We monitor our seniors closely to make sure they can lay down and get back up and that they have a comfortable and soft place to sleep. Many geriatric horses prefer to get off their feet and rest more often than younger horses, so it is important that they can get back up easily.

My older horses are also on a yeast based probiotic plus prebiotic product, which aids digestion, and an Omega 3 fatty acid fish oil supplement to promote cardiovascular health. As horses age, their circulation is sometimes compromised - legs stocking up and fluid builds up on their under-line. The fish oil supplement helps with circulation and the added fat helps keep them in good flesh with a healthy coat. It also supports the respiratory system, joint health, and immune function of all horses. This is especially important in geriatric horses who need extra support of their overall wellness.

Horses give so much to us throughout their long lives. When I think back over the more than 20 years I've spent with these two mares - the adventures we've lived through, the memories we've shared and the blood, sweat and tears; I know how fortunate I've been to have them in my life (and many others that have come through my barn). I want nothing more than to keep them safe, comfortable and happy, and honour their lives. I am fortunate to have the resources to care for them at the level they deserve and it is an obligation I take seriously. One day it will be time to let them go and I'll know when that time comes I'll do my best to reduce their suffering and make the end of their lives honourable and painless.

Caring for horses has its own challenges in each stage of life. We all start out as precocious youngsters and hopefully we live a long, productive and comfortable life. It is important to me to offer the best that I can to my horses, in whatever stage of life they are in. After all, it is the least I can do considering all that they have given me.

Since writing this article we lost Jewell at the ripe old age of 28. She was truly a golden girl and a wise old lady. She will be greatly missed.

No Shoes

Keeping horses 'natural' can be challenging  but in the case of barefoot trimming, there can be advantages.  Linzi Hill explains. Although it is thought that the horse shoe could have been introduced as early as the 4th Century, barefoot working horses have been in existence for as many years in countries such as Mongolia and the South Americas. Indeed, even where shoeing is a feasible option, many owners value the improvement in horn, hoof shape and gait that the barefoot method offers their equine companion.

 Barefoot Horse

Barefoot Horse

As the natural approach to equine husbandry has caught on, the UK in particular has embraced the barefoot concept and a handful of qualified equine podiatrists exist, maintaining the feet of leisure and competition horses alike.

So why is barefoot preferable to the protection of a shod hoof? In essence, careful trimming of the barefoot method allows wear of the growing hoof whereas metal shoes do not. Bad shoeing can degrade the shape of the hoof and in some cases hinder movement. There are also reports that lameness is reduced or even eradicated when barefoot.

In researching this topic I can only find good things said about gait improvements after shoes are removed. Some report soundness when previously a horse was lame. The horse, after all, will be moving as naturally as his physiology will allow. Reports of more fluid movement and improvement of problems such as dishing and overreaching make a good case for the barefoot management of hoof then removing shoes will undoubtedly be easier than if he has poor crumbly or cracking hooves. If this is the case, extra management will be required in the early months.

Most horses need a transition time of around eight months or more to get used to being without shoes, although this is a fairly long time period owners unanimously agree that it’s worth the wait. Removing shoes and continuing full work is entirely plausible. As long as a horse is managed correctly after the initial period he can go on to compete as normal.

When the shoe is first removed increased blood flow starts the process of rebuilding the structure of the hoof. The trick is to give the horse time to get used to the new way of going. If your horse is a little lame it does not necessarily mean that barefoot isn’t for him – it may just mean that he hasn’t been given enough time to adjust. Hoof boots can help here if your horse is competing or in full work. On the other hand, some horses take to it immediately without any transition time at all, especially if he already has healthy horn and a good sole. Your podiatrist or farrier will be able to advise on this.

The introduction of harder surfaces and gravel is important. The hoof needs to be strengthened and this can be done by gradual exposure to different types of surfaces. Some initial work in hand may be needed and feeding hoof supplements may also be advisable.

Podiatrists don’t just trim your horse they also provide support and information about the management of the hoof and any supplements that may prove helpful.

 Hoof boot

Hoof boot


  • Cheaper than shoeing

  • No worries about cast shoes

  • Improvement in horn, gait and hoof shape


  • Some horses need a gradual introduction to work

  • Protective boots can be tricky to fit

  • Possible traction problems with fast work

Form and Function

An introduction to the science of hoof function by equine podiatrist Tom Bowyer DAEP MIAEP. Applied Equine Podiatry was founded by Dr KC La Pierre after work he started in 1997. A practising farrier for over 23 years, he found that no matter how good a farrier you were it was inevitable that the hooves of an older horse would exhibit changes in shape leading to problems with under-run heels, long toes and a lack of inner wall. This makes larger nails, quarter and toe clips a necessity - sound familiar?

 Hoof Structure

Hoof Structure

KC ask the following questions: ‘What structures do I have? How do they function? How do I want them to perform?’ He based his programme around the answers. Each of the seven hoof structures treated by equine podiatry has its own function. After many years of evidence based research, and many hundreds of dissections, we now have what is believed to be an accurate model of the horse’s foot  in terms of what correct structures should look like, where they belong and what each of their functions are.

In applied equine podiatry we base foot care on KC’s High Performance Trim (HPT) method, which he pioneered in 1997, and his paper entitled ‘The Suspension Theory of Hoof Dynamics,’ which was published in 2000.  KC has since been a consultant to many influential trainers including Pat and Linda Parelli, John Lyons, Gawani Pony Boy, and Dan Summeral.

Principles of equine podiatry

  • Structure + Function = Performance

  • The horse has the innate ability to heal itself (providing that the environment is conducive to the healing)

  • Correct pressure is the stimulus for correct growth

  • Utilize time as a dimension in the positive treatment of the equine foot

  • Do no harm

More than a trim A very fine balance exists within the foot with each individual structure being dependant on the health and correct function of all of its adjoining structures. If, through domestication, we inhibit the correct function of any of these structures performance is affected and you may risk the long term health of your horse. However, the science of applied equine podiatry is much more than simply trimming off hoof. The trim must be bio mechanically accurate, putting the hoof capsule in balance with the footprint of the horse. This can be easily taught and, most importantly, is non-invasive.



A Degreed Applied Equine Podiatrist (DAEP) will rate each of the seven structures of the foot, scoring them between one and 10. These scores are then added up and divided by seven to give an average score for that foot on what we call the ‘Spectrum of Usability’. The scores of all four feet are then added up and divided to give the average. Other factors that are considered when assessing a horse’s position on the spectrum include its intended use, its height, weight, level of fitness, diet, its daily living environment and the rider.

It really is whole horse hoof care. I like to use the analogy that a person wouldn’t immediately enter a marathon if they were ridiculously unfit. You would need to train to a suitable level of fitness first, and the foot is no different. You need to take the time to get a healthy foot under your horse and the benefits will speak for themselves. For further information on Applied Equine Podiatry, and to locate a DAEP in your area, please visit