To keep a horse safer on a trail you have to offer it reassurance, DeLand horse trainer Ronnie Ford says to a group of riders during a recent health and safety clinic hosted by Horse Creek Rescue.
“You can’t make him go through something,” he said. “Then he just learns to withstand it.”
Ford helped 20 horse and rider teams, and in one case a mule and rider team, navigate contrived hazards in the safety of a confined setting during last Saturday’s clinic in Barberville. The purpose is to make them better equipped to handle a real-life hazard, such as when a wild turkey suddenly flies up from the underbrush in the woods.
“When he takes a step towards it (the obstacle) you have to pet him and let him know he’s doing right,” Ford said.
Bruce Kane of Palm Coast worked his horse over a teeter-totter, which made his job to convince her to step over a fallen tree on trail Sunday a little easier.
“This has been a great experience for us,” he said afterward. “I’ll be able to work on some of these things at home.”
Hal Coates, an equine dentistry specialist from St. Augustine, also explained the importance of proper dental care for horses.
Horses’ teeth grow for the first five and half years of life and “hydraulics” continue to push the teeth upward until there is nothing left for them to wear down as they masticate grain, grass and hay, he said. Unlike human teeth, the enamel ribbons through the teeth and grows continuously.
“They chew in a circular motion and not up and down like we do,” Coates said. “They get ridges and these ridges keep getting deeper. We have to re-establish a flat table.”
Julie Hartman, who owns and operates the nonprofit horse rescue facility Horse Creek with her husband, Keith Kunkowski, wants owners to understand the problems improper care can cause.
“When a horse cannot properly break down their food because of points on their teeth, they are unable to get the full benefit nutritionally,” she said. “This, in many rescue cases, is the cause of their weight loss.”
Dave Cram, 70, of Seville, brought his 3-year-old mule, Banjo, who he’s owned for about six months.
“He’s great right now,” Cram said, “but he’s going to get even better and I know this (preparation) will help.”
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