October 2017 - Everyday Therapies

Top dressage rider shares tips and tricks easily fit into daily care routines.

FEI dressage rider and trainer Tiffany Silverman has a big horse care advantage in her husband, Dr. Mark Silverman, DVM MS, one of the sport’s most progressive veterinarians. It would seem almost an unfair advantage if she wasn’t so willing to share her “secrets” for everyday well-being – at least some of them!

Tiffany and Sebastian at the USEF Festival of Champions at Gladstone this summer. They finished 9th overall in the I-1 National Championship. Tiffany is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at 760-220-4755. Photo: Susan J. Stickle

She and her horses take full advantage of Mark’s knowledge and equipment at his Sporthorse Veterinary Services San Diego’s Rancho Santa Fe, but Tiffany also uses low-tech horsemanship savvy that all owners and riders can incorporate into everyday well-being routines.

Ample time to move around is “probably the most critical part of our program,” says Tiffany of the priority for high performance horses in her Unbridled, Ltd training program. They work five days a week, get two days off and every day’s schedule includes maximum time for free movement. “Their bodies weren’t designed to live in a 12’ x 12’ box,” she notes. “Horses are turned out, or if they can’t be turned out, they go on the Eurociser.”

Don’t despair if you don’t have paddocks or a Eurociser. Handwalking is a great option for horse and rider. It’s time consuming, but has the added benefit of loosening up the rider’s legs and hips, too. Plus, the quiet time together is a nice bond builder.

Days off are also critical. “Get out of the rectangle” at least once a week, Tiffany advises. All of their horses go on the Rancho Santa Fe trails that weave through the area. “It’s great for their minds.” Back in her eventing days, Tiffany used hills for conditioning work-outs at all gaits. Walk is the more suitable gait for her dressage horses, although a long, gradual incline sometimes finds her horses working at a relaxed trot.

Pre-ride stretches for the horse are easily included in everyday grooming. Vigorous under-belly scratches with the fingernails trigger the horse to lift its belly. That engages their abdominal muscles, which stretches and strengthens the long muscles along their back. “Penny scratches” help loosen the horse’s lumbar spine, equivalent to a rider bending over for toe-touch stretches. Standing behind your horse – out of his kicking zone if he’s that type -- vigorously scratch, with pennies or fingernails, at the sides of his tailhead until you find that sweet spot that causes him to suck his tail in between his cheeks and drop his hindquarters down.

Belly lifts and penny scratches are nice because you don’t have to undo cross-ties. Carrot stretches, in which the horse is encouraged to stretch his neck in both directions by holding a piece of carrot at his ribs, are also great, but they do require unclipping your horse.

Warming Up

Tiffany adheres to a regular stretching routine herself.  Like many upper level riders, she recognizes that yoga and Pilates are fantastic when time allows. Usually, though, between riding several horses and working around the barn, she’s limited to anything quick that opens up her hips and elongates her leg. “You’ll often find me teaching a lesson while in some crazy pose on the mounting block. It probably looks ridiculous!  But, if you can get just on the floor every morning before you get on your horse, that’s great. ”

A morning hot tub session used to be a favorite warm-up when she and Mark had one at their previous home in Valley Center. “I’d roll out of bed and into the hot tub. You’d be amazed how much quicker your body starts to move in the saddle when you’ve been warmed up that way.”

As a pre-schooling warm-up, Tiffany loves to use cavaletti set at a walk distance: hers are set at approximately 40” apart. It’s a practice she learned from German dressage master Conrad Schumacher as a great way to loosen the joints. Her horses are so familiar with it that they automatically stroll to the corner of her large arena where the poles are set each day.

The Ice Age

Icing is a post-ride go-to for every horse in Tiffany’s program. After cooling down from their work-out, horses stand in the cross-ties with ice boots, typically for 20 minutes. Cooling down the tendons between the knee and fetlock is standard operating procedure for every horse and some also wear ice-filled hock boots. Tiffany has a freezer stocked with various size ice boots for easy, ever-ready applications.

She is a big fan of ComfortStall’s mattress system. “The cushioning flooring requires the horse to make tiny shifts of balance throughout their stall time and that constant, subtle motion results in a dramatic decrease in lower leg inflammation,” Tiffany explains. Even so, she goes an extra step and puts supportive leg bandages on most horses in heavy work. Her “almost Grand Prix” mount, Sebastian, is bandaged every night. “He’s my big guy and I handle him with kid gloves.”

For long-term joint health, all horses are on regular Adequan®, typically starting as soon as they reach riding age. “It’s the cheapest insurance policy and joint health is something you have to get ahead of. We recommend it for any horse that’s doing any significant level of work.” Before competitions, horses get a Legend dose for “a little extra lubrication.”

Using an emollient cream on the corners of the horse’s mouth is another daily preventative care tip. Vaseline, Corona and various balms are commonly used there to prevent the bit from rubbing or pinching, but Tiffany likes Dr. Eckstein Biokosmetik’s Azulen Milcheiweiss because it’s not petroleum based. Also, the Eckstein family and their cosmetic company are big dressage supporters.

Sugar cubes are another bit-related secret. Tiffany always includes them when putting on the bridle. “It encourages the horse to accept the bit when you are bridling him and activates immediate salivation, which eases acceptance of the contact when you’re riding him.”