This past year we did S.T.E.M. week as one of our Hooked on Horsessm themes for summer camp. For Science day, we focused on genetics. Why genetics if we are not a breeding facility?

As a horse owner, and especially since we only use one breed at our facility, I felt it is important that our riders understand that the horse they may choose when they are ready to purchase their first horse, needs to be vetted beyond the typical vet check. They need to look at their horse’s genetics and what may possibly be lurking.

As the ability to isolate genes and track diseases improves so is the possibility of being able to determine the future health of a horse. Since we only have Haflinger horses on our facility, I will discuss their potential diseases. Bear in mind that these and others are present in many other horse breeds.

Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM, PSSM, EPSSM)

EPSM is a metabolic disorder. Horses are unable to keep their muscles working properly on what we consider “normal” horse diets. The symptoms include tying up, or weakness in the hind limbs. Some owners feel their horse is lazy because part way through the ride or lesson the horse slows down and has a hard time moving. This is because the horse cannot store, and therefore get muscle energy from carbohydrates.

This disorder is across all breeds of horses. Research shows that about two-thirds of draft type horses and one-third of light horse breeds are susceptible to EPSM. Often the best built, best temperament, best performing horses are diagnosed with it. This is a hereditary disorder that we may be inadvertently breeding into our stock.

It is treatable with proper diet. The horse is fed fat in the form of oil instead of the carbohydrates froun in grain. Any pelleted food is high in fat and does not contain carbohydrates. If not treated, this disorder may result in death.

In 2007 we were stunned when a horse that we felt was healthy succumbed to this disease within 48 hours. Once it was identified as her cause of death, we had the rest of our herd of 10 horses tested for the disorder. At that time the only way to test was by performing a muscle biopsy. The results showed that four of our horses also had this disease. There is now a DNA test that can be done using the hair root from the horse’s tail to determine if the horse has this disorder.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This form of eye cancer is the second most common type of tumor in horses and the most frequent eye tumor. The tumor typically develops in non-pigmented areas of the skin and the eye. It is frequently found in Appaloosas and color-dilute breeds such as Belgians and Haflingers.

Early symptoms are a reddening, roughening or ulcerating area. Treatment involves surgically removing the tumor through one of many means. Chemotherapy may also be an option. If left untreated the tumor can spread behind the eye, into the sinuses, and ultimately the brain.

Once treated, the horse needs to wear an ultra-protective fly mask during the peak sunlight hours since exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet rays can trigger this disease.

In 2014 a tumor appeared in one of our horse’s eye. We had it removed and, because we did not use the horse for our program, we sold him with full disclosure. This spring we discovered a smaller tumor in the eye of two of our horses. We had the tumor removed and treated both horses with chemo for one month. We keep fly masks on both horses during the day. To date, both are doing well.

The interesting aspect was that these horses were all full brother/sisters. All three of them developed squamous cell carcinoma in the right eye. Coincidence or hereditary?

The University of California, Davis has recently developed a DNA test to determine if a horse is susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma. We will definitely be taking advantage of this test and, should any other horses show susceptibility, they will also be sporting fly masks all year round.

Seeing that both of these diseases, along with many others, are hereditary, we can’t help but urge breeders to have their horses tested, then, decide whether breeding the horse is the right thing to do.

EPSM only requires ONE of the parents to have the disorder to pass it on to an offspring. With squamous cell carcinoma, breeding horses even if one is heterozygote (R/N), risks producing horses that can be affected with this disease.

For us, we already test any horse that we acquire for EPSM. The test for squamous cell carcinoma will now be added to the vet check list.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

Several times a year, before we worm our horses, we weigh them. The vet comes twice a year – and weighs them. Even if we weigh our horses the day before, there is usually a discrepancy between our weight and the vet’s weight. Sometimes a few pounds, sometimes quite a few pounds.

Buttercup's weight using the weight tape

Buttercup’s weight using the weight tape

I have never been comfortable with the “weight tape” because even if you think you are putting it around the heart girth, it can slip. It can be at a different angle every time it is used. It can be tighter or looser than the last time. And what about the thickness of the horse’s coat?

Problem solved. We purchased a livestock scale! Okay, we got it to weigh our cattle to make sure they were market ready, but, horses can stand on it too. And so they did.

In my scientific study of the horse’s weight, I used the weight tape on the horse to get the tape weight.

Buttercup taped out at 1001 pounds. A respectable weight for this mare.

Buttercup getting weighed.

Buttercup getting weighed.

We walked her onto the scale, and, oh my! She gained 113 pounds between the time we taped her and she walked onto the scale!

Buttercup's weight using the livestock scale

Buttercup’s weight using the livestock scale

This held true for EVERY horse. Some of the horses varied by only 50 pounds, which is the acceptable range for the tape, but most weight in with a 100 pound or greater difference between the tape and the scale.

So, which do I believe? The horses claim the scale if off, but we checked it with our weight and it was only a few pounds more – but considering we had our boots and winter coats on, it was within two or three pounds of our scale in the house.

Looks like it will be exercise time in the arena for both the horses and me this spring!


Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

I never thought I’d be the proud owner of a horse that goes to college, but earlier this month Angel (Angelita’s Image) stepped into the trailer that took her to Meredith Manor is West Virginia!

One of our Program Aids, Christa, had been working with her for over a year. Late last year she was accepted to Meredith Manor. During a session she expressed her disappointment that she would not be the person to “finish” Angel since she would be leaving soon for college. At that moment I had an idea. I knew some other colleges that would allow the students to bring a horse; I even heard of a few colleges that would allow horses to attend even if their owner wasn’t attending that school. So, why not ask if Angel could go too? After all, she still needed some training and Christa had really bonded with her.

So we began getting all her supplies together and having the vet come out to give her the required vaccinations for her new adventure.

When the big day came, Angel loaded in the trailer like she was an old hand at travelling. Truth be known, she has not travelled much at all, but she wasn’t going to let the transport compnay know.

Angel new home_tFrom all reports, she was a big hit when she arrived. Unloaded, refused to walkAngel at Window_t through the mud, and made herself comfortable in her new stall. When Christa visited her the next day, she was very happy to see a familiar face.

The back of her stall open to the paddocks so she doesn’t feel confined when she spends time in her stall.

Angel has been assigned to an advance student who is making sure her ground training is on target. They will teach her all she needs to know to be a great program horse. And best of all, she will continue to be with Christa!

We’ve even given her a Facebook page that will be updated with her progress. You can find her at Angel (Angelita’s Image).

It will be two years before she returns in her cap and gown.


It’s the first riding sessions of the new year. The riders were excited to be back in spite of the cold temperatures. This year I decided to start the year asking about goals.

“Goals?” asked one six-year old.

“Yes, what would you like to do this year.”

“Go to Cedar Point. We couldn’t last year because my brother broke his leg.”

Jenna trots ButtercupOops! I need to be more specific. So I rephrased it to focus on horseback riding. The answer came back very clear. “Keep riding all year!”

Got it.

Next class the riders were older, but just to be safe I rephrased the question to focus on horseback riding.

“Canter!” shouted the first rider.

“Good for you, but we need to make the goal something we can do by the show. How about post the trot around the arena.”

“Ride with a bit,” said the second.

Now we are getting it.

After the classes I started to think about how many times we set goals for ourselves that are too aggressive. We end up falling short and feeling like we failed.

In our riding classes our curriculum follows a pedagogy that builds on previous success as we challenge our riders to achieve. We like to think of it as No Rider Left Behind. Every rider should be able to say, “Yes! I can!” when presented with a new skill because they know it is achievable.

Now that the riders know where they are heading, I need to think of my goals as an instructor. Better examples, more exercises, and, of course, lots of fun in every riding session.

How about you? Do you have riding goals for 2013?

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Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 940 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

One of the reasons the teacher at Patterson Elementary School in Holly likes to bring her students here for therapeutic riding is because we work together to incorporate her classroom lesson plans into the riding lesson.

Finding YellowThis week we were working on colors. Not to confuse shapes and colors, or to remember that the square is blue and the triangle is green, all the barrels had a picture of a color circle.

Since we are also working on learning how to stop a horse, it was just a matter of combining two tasks – recognizing a color and stopping the horse – to devise the Color Game!

Each rider was given a different color. When they found their assigned color they would stop their horse. Once they got good at finding their color and stopping their horse we added another dimension. Name something that is that color. It was interesting to see how many riders would look around the arena to match an item to that color and how many would “think” of something – usually food.

Everyone was a winner, reinforcing concepts they were learning in the classroom.

August is proving to be a busy month for us. We decided to promote our facility with an Introduction to Horseback Riding Lesson and received a great response. We also had our fourth Test Ride a Pony Day.

Leading a Pony
Leading a pony

No matter what we call it, the results are the same. Tons of happy riders, most of whom are on a horse for the very first time! And smiles circle the arena as the riders learn how to steer their horses as well as how to stop and make their horses walk.

Each session starts with learning how to groom a horse. Once the horses are groomed and saddled, the riders learn how to lead their horses. Once mounted, riders over seven are allowed to ride off lead line, but those under seven are led. But even being led doesn’t mean that the leader does all the work.

Steering the horse

Steering the horse

Sometimes it’s the four- and five-year olds who outshine the older riders.The very shy ones whisper “walk on” and are amazed at the movement they feel as the horse begins to walk; the exuberant ones shake the reins and yell “yee haw” to get their mount moving. It doesn’t take long before everyone knows the difference between right and left. Soon they are easily weaving the cones or making their horse stop at a cone. Too often, we see the look of disappointment when we have them stop the horse because the lesson is over.

The highlight of every ride for both the riders and the horses are giving the horse a treat. All treats are given with in a bowl – never by hand – proving a built-in safety lesson for the young riders.

Learning to ride

Learning to Ride

As the smiling riders leave the barn, we wonder if we shouldn’t provide this opportunity more often.