Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Benefits of Flaxseed Oil

My husband's horse, Ziggy, was a rescue. Not an official rescue from an organization. But we definitely rescued him. He was severely underweight and neither his feet nor his teeth had been taken care of in a very long time. He was kept alone in a barren pasture covered with softball sized rocks, no grass and a round bale that I wouldn't feed my goats. He was also covered in rain rot -- a skin condition that causes hair to fall out and skin to be dry and itchy. Once we took charge of him, he was put in much nicer surroundings with other horses, and had his feet and teeth taken care of. He was put on Neighlox for his stomach ulcers, fed a healthy diet with nice fresh hay and, over about nine months, regained a healthy weight. However, no matter what we did, we could not completely get rid of the rain rot.

We gave him Betadine baths every other day for several weeks and that helped. But as soon as we stopped bathing him, the rain rot would return. We tried special medicated shampoos, sprays and ointments. We even tried spraying him with diluted bleach to try and kill the virus/bacteria/fungus that causes rain rot (there are contradictory opinions). His skin and coat would sometimes improve briefly, but would soon be dry and patchy again. So, about half a year ago, I started looking into what kind of supplements we could give him that might improve his skin and coat. After sifting through a metric ton of information of varying degrees of helpfulness and reliability. I decided that flaxseed oil seemed like a good thing to try.

Flaxseed oil has most of the benefits of whole flaxseed without all of its drawbacks. Flaxseed is high in a number of essential fatty acids mainly Omega-3. It also has lots of lignans which are a good source of antioxidants. It is high in fiber and has other vitamins and minerals and such, but the Omega-3 fatty acids and the lignans are the two main benefits. The problem with whole flaxseed is that it is believed that most of the seeds will pass through the body without actually being digested. Whole flaxseeds can also cause digestive issues for some horses. And they can be difficult to eat for horses that have less than ideal teeth. Since Ziggy has both digestive issues and is missing several teeth, I decided that flaxseed oil, rather than whole flaxseed was the way to go.

I found flaxseed oil in the dietary supplements section of my local grocery store (HEB). It costs $24.99 for a 32 oz bottle, and it needs to be kept refrigerated. Foxfire and I started adding apx 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil to Ziggy's evening grain every day. After a couple of weeks, the rain rot started disappearing. After a month, the rain rot was gone and Ziggy's coat was healthier and much shinier. Also, in the past couple of months, since the weather has gotten colder, he has actually grown a thicker winter coat which he has not done in previous years.

In addition to the obvious improvements to his skin and coat, Ziggy's hooves have also started looking better. They had been somewhat dry, with a tendency to develop small cracks. Now, they look healthier and don't have a single crack.

Another odd thing that happened was that mud didn't stick to Ziggy's coat as much. It used to be that when he got dirty, the dirt stayed on until Foxfire or I cleaned it off. Unlike Shadowfax, whom Foxfire referred to as the Teflon horse because of the way that dirt, once dried, would just fall off of him (I love my horse). After receiving flaxseed oil daily for over a month, Ziggy started shedding dirt as soon as it dried, just like Shadowfax. I had never read anything that suggested that flaxseed oil makes your horse easier to keep clean, but in my experience it does. Since the only thing that we changed in Ziggy's care was the addition of the flaxseed oil, it must be responsible for all of these changes.

Since we were giving the flaxseed oil to Ziggy, I'd gone ahead and given apx 1 tablespoon to Shadowfax each evening as well. Shadowfax is a very easy keeper and only gets a handful of grain for his evening meal, so 1 tablespoon of oil was all that we could add without making oil soup. As mentioned before, Shadowfax already had a very nice coat, but even his coat became shinier, softer and even more dirt resistant when we started giving him flaxseed oil.

So, if you are looking for a way to improve your horses skin, coat and hooves. Or simply a way to make them look shinier and stay cleaner, you might consider giving flaxseed oil a try. It is a bit of hassle to use because of needing to be kept refrigerated. And if you don't give your horse much grain, it might be difficult to add an effective amount of flaxseed oil to their dinner without making it an oily mess. But it was worth the extra effort to finally get rid of Ziggy's rain rot and give him a healthy, shiny coat and stronger hooves.


Just recently, I discovered a product that consists mainly of stabilized ground flaxseed, Omega Horseshine. (Currently available at TSC for $39.99) I decided to give it a try, as a way to avoid the mess and time consumption of using refrigerated flaxseed oil. Also, because it seems like it will be slightly cheaper to use. Hopefully, Ziggy will do just as well on this as he has done with flaxseed oil. I'm also giving Horseshine to Shadowfax and my three donkeys. One of my donkeys, Tesla, has not properly shed out the past two springs (no, he does not have Cushings), and another one, Marie, gets rain rot on her legs each spring. Hopefully, giving them Horseshine over the winter will prevent these problems. We'll see how it goes.

If any of you have used Omega Horseshine (or any similar product), I would love to hear what your results were.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Memory of a Special Day

As I was laying in bed listening to my husband play his new video game, a memory came to me. I don't know why.

It was the beginning of my first year of grad school and some of the younger grad students had decided to throw a “let's get to know each other party”. It happened to coincide with my birthday, and even though none of them really knew me yet, they were kind enough to buy a Boston cream pie and stick candles in it for me to blow out. At some point later in the party, one of the others came in from outside and urged the rest of us to come look at the sky. We all wandered outside to see what was going on.

It was chain lightning behaving in a most unusual manner. It wasn't raining and the lightening was far enough away not to be any threat, so we all sat on or leaned against cars and watched the light show.

I sat on someone's bumper drinking a glass of sweet, sort of vanilla tasting sherry, surrounded by potential friends, and watched the lightning dance from cloud to cloud, chasing itself through the sky. You would think that lightning would be loud and frightening, but for some reason there was no thunder, and I remember it being one of the most fascinating things I'd ever seen. It was very peaceful in a way. Reassuring sort of. Like watching children playing. With all of the chaos, there was still a sense of joy.

All that massive, potentially deadly energy performing a heavenly ballet just for me. For my birthday. It made me feel very special.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Lesson In Lunging

They say that you want your horse to be his best when you are practicing alone and do his worst when you are working with a trainer. That way the trainer can see where your problems are and you can learn more. Well... I learned a hell of a lot this past weekend. (Actually several weekends ago. I was very upset and unable to finish writing this post for a while. As you know, I am not the most emotionally resilient person.)

The Oracle was in town the weekend following my “breakthrough” with lunging Shadowfax. I was all excited thinking that I could show her and everyone else what I had discovered. HA! Shadowfax was very excited that day, and though he was very good about letting me halter him and lead him over to the lunging area, once we started lunging, he went into a flat out gallop and didn't pay any attention to me. I could stop him by shortening the lunge line until it was hard for him to run, but other than that, I had no control over him. Needless to say, neither The Oracle nor anyone else was impressed. In fact, I think they were scared I was going to get hurt. (This was only the second time that The Oracle had seen Shadowfax since I bought him. and he behaved just as badly the first time, in a lesson under saddle with Foxfire riding him. She must think I bought the worst horse ever.)

The Oracle stopped the lesson and sent me off with FuzzyPony to borrow a surcingle and side reins to see if that would allow me to control my horse better. By the time we got the surcingle and side reins on, another person had shown up for their lesson, so FuzzyPony worked with me and Shadowfax in another area of the arena. Shadowfax did fairly well with the side reins and surcingle. Though at this point, he was obviously too tired to run around like a mad horse anymore. Anyway, FuzzyPony watched me work with him for a while, then she stepped in and worked with him for while, then had me lunge him a bit more. By the end of the lesson, Shadowfax was covered in sweat and obviously exhausted, but he was listening to me... a little better than he usually does at home.

So... anyway... I learned a number of useful things:

1. Try, try, try not to be self-conscious and nervous in front of the trainer and your friends who are watching. Shadowfax was antsy and excitable to begin with, and even though I tried very hard to act calm, inside my nerves were jumping all over the place. Shadowfax probably picked up on that, and although it wasn't what made him act up (since he was excited before I even haltered him) it certainly didn't help to calm him down.

2. Don't let Shadowfax's excitement make me nervous.

3. Remember to just breathe. Deep relaxing breaths.

4. How to hold the whip when I'm not using it . Yay!!! (fold the string back along the stock and tuck the handle and end of the string under your armpit, letting the length of the whip hang down behind you and out of the way.)

5. Why holding the horse between your hands is the best position to lunge in, not the way that I “discovered” the other day.
a. you have more control over the horse
b. in a way it's closer to actually riding the horse – your lunge line hand is like holding the reins and your whip hand is like your seat and legs
c. it's easier to get the horse to collect when holding him in that position
d. when you learn more, you can make them side-pass and do other things while lunging

6. Point the whip at his middle ribs, not his shoulder to push him out, basically where your leg would hang if you were riding him.

7. The proper way to make him stop. (Which doesn't really work with him, because when he sees me stepping to the side to try and get the whip ahead of him, he speeds up. Getting that right is going to take a lot of work. Though he usually does stop when I simply say, “Ho”.)

8. Why you need a surcingle and side reins. (They give you more control over the horse. I love Shadowfax dearly, but he is a very large horse who can behave unpredictably.)

9. How to use a surcingle and side reins. (Though I definitely need more help with this. FuzzyPony very kindly gave me her old surcingle to use and I bought myself some side reins. Unfortunately, the side reins seem to be too short and so I haven't been able to use them. I need someone to come over and help me figure out how to make them the proper length.)

10. Shadowfax and I are both weaker going clockwise.

11. Sometimes a horse has just got to run.

12. Not to be embarrassed when your horse acts badly. Trust that your trainer and your friends know that you are not as incompetent as you seem. (Though I am still embarrassed.)

13. How much I have yet to learn, even with something as “simple” as lunging.

BTW, I have lunged Shadowfax several times since then, and he has NEVER behaved that badly again. He is a rather moody horse, and some days, he wants to run and I have to hold him back, but more frequently, he does NOT want to run, and I have to work to get him to go. But though I may occasionally have to repeat my commands to him several times, he has never completely blown me off the way he did in front of The Oracle and my friends.

And that wasn't the first time he's misbehaved in front of others. As I mentioned before, when Foxfire rode him in a lesson with The Oracle, he kept disobeying Foxfire's cues and even bucked a little bit. And another time, during a jousting workshop, I offered to let a very experienced jouster to ride him. Shadowfax bucked so badly, that the jouster decided he wasn't safe. I knew Shadowfax wasn't perfect when I bought him. But is it too much to ask that he, at least once, allow The Oracle and my friends to see how wonderful he can be when he behaves? Which he does, most of the time, honestly. Sigh...

To end on a more positive note: After my most recent lunging session, I continued to work with Shadowfax on bowing, and it seems like he's finally figured out what I want him to do. I no longer have to use the carrot to lead his head down, then between his legs. I can just say, “bow down” and he extends his left front leg, tucks his right front leg under him and lowers his head between his legs. It's not the most graceful bow, and we still need to work on standing still until I give the command and standing still after he gets his reward, but it is definite progress.