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Performance Horse Hacks - RodeoGround, from the ground up

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

This 4 part series is created for those in equine performance that are looking for an edge on the competition. Each article will be grounded in ONE skill, tweak or technique that will help your arena results. Make sure to subscribe to and download your free ebook before you begin! Sometimes the little things are actually the things that make a BIG difference. Paying attention to hooves, health, and horsemanship will be what buys you skills to change.

Part 1  “Rodeo Ground - From the Ground Up”

Can you win the round on rodeo ground? Or does your horse get tore up from the floor up?

I’d be a liar if I said I was carefree about the condition of the ground at some races I’ve been to. Being a progressive problem solver - you know I’d do my best to prepare for a problem and try to fix it if there was one!

Typically this arena has great ground - but for some reason this day horses where slipping quite a bit on the second. Not a problem for this barefoot pony!

Does this scenario sound familiar... from any popular barrel racing updates Facebook page?

“Hey y’all! Just wanted to post the picture of the ground here in _(fill in rodeo here)_. Looks like a mess and it was real slick in the perf last night. Hopefully will get it drug by slack this morning!”

Or this?

“Thanks to the rodeo committee here in _(fill in rodeo here)_ for really working hard to make the ground great for every competitor every round!” (with inflection in the text that nothing is ACTUALLY being done to fix the ground…)

Here’s the thing… We can’t always rely on other people for our desired outcome to come to fruition. The weather may make ground slick, the rodeo committee may or may not care about a literal even playing field, and our farrier may have rescheduled your appointment till after your race. But we can provide ourselves and our horses will one more shred of hope to the harsh ground realities out in the arena abyss.

Performance Horse Hack # 1: Hooves

Give your horse the best foot possible so he can be sound on any ground.

The first part of this “hack” is something I deeply believe will help the horse and change his wellness over the long term. The second part of this “hack” might help those looking to make more of a transition or solution in a more extreme time of need.

We know from this ebookthat horses need movement. The need movement frequently and over varied terrain. This is not just for horses on their off-season, pasture ornaments, retired horses, or young horses in training. This is for ALL horses.  Keep them healthy. Keep them dry. and if you can - Keep them barefoot. They need movement (or at least the simulation of movement) to sustain sustain biology’s balance. Sound like something you don’t wanna mess with - too bad! You already own a horse ;)  Ya gots too!

One way we can simulate movement, and stimulate circulation is the way we feed and stall our horses. Turning our horses out to (not too rich) pasture is obviously the first choice, but sometimes convenience and difference facilities don’t offer that option. So we look to other solutions.

Bed your horse’s hooves on what you want to excel competitively on. The usual scenario is this: bed horse in shavings in a stall - race them on proverbial rocks and mud - deal with hoof/health problems..... But bedding your horse or offering areas of terrain that allow for developed hoof function will bring huge improvements to their health.

Using about 6-inches of smooth pea gravel (landscape rock or select road base) under the horses shelter is the example I’m using that has worked for us.

Pea gravel can offer several benefits to barefoot horses, horses transitioning barefoot or horses recovering from diet related issues like founder.  Barefoot horses will gain a tougher sole callous when bed on the smooth pea gravel. Thrush will be eliminated. Sole concavity (hooves turn into scoopers) will be transformed into a ‘versitile rodeo hoof’; gripping the ground at every turn. And you can go longer between trimming sessions because the hoof will naturally exfoliate and ‘self-maintain’ on the rocks.

Don’t worry if stalling your horse on gravel sounds crazy or intimidating. I have pictures to help. But first:

Who this is probably NOT for…

Shod horses.

(fear not, relevant post coming your way soon!) Shod horses will easily absorb a rock due to the moist nature of the sole in shoes, or likewise a pebble will get wedged under a shoe creating an access or bruise.

Abcessing horses.

Abcessing horses that have never bed in rocks before will probably hate your guts because of the current sensitivity they are experiencing.

Horses with soft tissue injury

Horses that have recently sustained a soft tissue injury. Horses that have recently strained/sprained/tore something in the lower distal limb that don’ want to move indeed WONT move on the pea gravel - resulting in an access to compliment your already lovely soft tissue injury.

Horses with dirty stalls. 

Horses that never get their living area’s cleaned of manure will have sensitive hooves as well as wet areas they are standing in the mix of rocks which will probably result in an abcesss.

If you let the horse be a horse; and hoof be a hoof - your winning time will be living proof!

We had one semi load of pea gravel delivered. Used a bucket/shovel and rake to spread it through 720 cubic feet. It took about a day.

We spread the gravel under the lean-to and through the entire stall. 3 stalls worth.

The idea here is to always make the horses work for what they need to provide in the arena - which is soundness and mobility. It’s a use it or loose it type game.

Don’t misconstrue this philosophy into “bed horses on sharp glass, hot coals, old tires and tractor parts so a moderately rocky arena feels like fluffy sand”. That’s not the point! One of my favorite books, Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding gives great insight to how we can create a 'horse habitat' that's more conducive to their sounds.

A horse that sits in a stall most the day, get turned out periodically, who doesn’t have access to frequent grazing or movement will not have the strength, hoof integrity or stamina to a horse that has movement and grazing simulated constantly. In, Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care the author gives some great tips on how to build on what the horse offers us.Ideally, a horse would be bed on pea gravel or have access to stand/move on gravel in high traffic or frequently visited areas, then turned out on a track type system (link). If the feet move, the teeth move, then the gut moves. This is key !

This is an articlethat is GOLD in terms of offering some perspective to what a horse’s hoof needs because of what it IS. Yvonne Welz notes, “Bowker has also taken his study of movement out into the field. Using a pedometer devices, he measured the movement patterns of groups of horses living on 2-3 acre plots, and discovered that most healthy horses averaged about 4,000-6,000 steps per 24-hour period (3-5 miles). In contrast, horses living 24/7 in a stall took about 800 steps per day.”

Simply put - the more movement = more circulations = more blood accessing and bringing nutrients and healing properties to the hard working structures of the hoof. Move it or LOSE IT!

Performance Horse Hacks. Hoof Edition - Part One.

1. Consider setting up rest/traffic areas with smooth pea gravel.

At the very least this can be the surrounding area by your horses water trough! Dig about 8 inches down, frame it out with 2by4s and buy some landscape rock from a place like home depot. If you are looking to fill a bigger area see step 2.

2. Measure your area to estimate the load needed (link).

Pretty simple to run a tape measure in a rectangular fashion and add the depth your want to fill. Call several local companies (landscape company or rock company) to get volume and delivery estimates.

3. Prep area by clearing debris and leveling area as best you can.

Just try not to put new pea gravel on wet urine and manure holes. If you can level the area with a rake, hand tool, or tractor blade it will hold up well.

4. Spread your material.

We did this in one day with a tractor bucket, shovel and rake!

5. Maintain your area by cleaning manure daily (this is actually extremely easy)

You will never go back to shavings after cleaning this way - the pebbles fall right through!

Your horses hooves will thank you - and thank you immediately.

Stimulation to the frog will enable the hoof to be a better shock absorber, needed in any performance sport to sustain integrity of the lower limb. Callous and strength will be added to the sole, needed because it is what comes in contact with rough ground. Hoof wall will be adapted to the sinking fashion of the rocks, making it easier to grip the ground in a turn.

Lastly, more blood flow to the extremities will accelerate the healing process and promote circulation!

Can you win the round on rodeo ground? Sometimes the little things are actually the things that make a BIG difference. Paying attention to hooves, health, and horsemanship will be what buys you skills to change.

*Subscriber Challenge*

Send me a picture or video of how YOU are going to apply this hack: "Give your horse the best foot possible so he can be sound on any ground." to your individual horse or situation. How can you add stimulation/circulation to your environment or routine to prepare your horse for rough ground?

Additional Resources I recommend for general education on equine soundness:

Great supplement for soundess:

Silver Lining Herbs- INTEGRATEDEQUINE (for discount)

Awesome books for soundness:

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