January has blown in with gale force winds and rain, but at least we don’t have the flooding that is devastating people and animals further north. It certainly wasn’t a white Christmas or a warm one! The terrier and the cat want to stay huddled under a duvet most of the day, and I don’t blame them.
The latest article is on the use of calmer’s, as their use seems to be increasing at a dramatic rate. Having grown up at a time when naughty horses were blamed on the rider and doping was only done by villains to racehorses, I can readily see the disadvantages of relying on them for long term solutions or quick-fixes. So before using them, consider why your horse needs them!
Well done to all those hardy souls that are continuing to compete and train through the bad weather. Carol is teaching a gridwork clinic at Plumpton, and dressage clinics at Plumpton and Petley Wood this winter, and she is also judging at various places – fortunately the clinics themselves are indoors so she won’t freeze! There are also numerous jumping and driving shows at local venues, so not everyone is hibernating. However, if you are having trouble getting motivated during winter, then entering a competition or booking a lesson can stimulate the interest again.Mind you, as I am typing this the clouds are starting to throw down sleety snow…. So I think it will be a day off for the horses today anyway. Brrrr. I do remember the time when I used to do fitness work (for the horse) regardless of the weather (when three-day eventing); one time we were up the hills and nearly got blown out of the saddle as we came round a corner! The horses didn’t mind though.
An interesting study done in Norway has shown that if a horse is given the option of shelter, then it will still spend around half its time outdoors, and that the majority of horses just needed access to a shelter and plenty of food to maintain health. As these were unrugged horses in sub-arctic conditions it is not surprising that scientists worry about the effect of over-rugging on the health of our horses. Of course, some horses definitely need rugs to keep them warm, especially on a day like today with wind-blown sleet, but see our article on rugging (click) if you need more information on how a horse generates heat differently to humans.
Hopefully it will be an early (and dry) spring, but in the meantime keep an eye out for those gaps between the clouds, and enjoy what riding you can.
It’s hard to believe it is nearly xmas again, and another year gone.
Fortunately the weather is still fairly warm, and the showers are patchy enough most days not to interfere with riding but we are lucky here in the South compared to the floods, snow, cold up north (although Carol did ride in the snowy sleet one day a couple of weeks ago!).
Lexi has had to lose some of her lovely bear-fur to a blanket clip; she gets a lovely fluffy winter coat but unfortunately a bit too hot for working in. Carol has been polishing up Lexi’s ‘bag of tricks’, which includes all the fun things like half-pass, shoulder-in, walk to canter and so forth. They are hoping to be out competing properly again this spring, but will take advantage of the winter dressage events to get into the swing of things.
Carol has also been busy with a lot of dressage judging, with venues now booking her well into next year, along with courses and individual lessons. It is great to see people (and their horses) improve over time, and have fun while they are doing it.
On the down side, it is disappointing to see some very unsteady hands at some of the local competitions, which means that horses are getting a lot of confusing (and painful?) clonks in the mouth. It is very easy to tense up (particularly when you are nervous) and wearing white gloves in dressage makes this more obvious. Watching some riders the other day, this seems to be most common with the outside rein. There is no shame in hooking a few fingers under a neckstrap to keep your outside hand still, and your horse will appreciate it too!
On a more theoretical note, I have had published the third article in a series for the publication Veterinary Practice Today, which is written for veterinary clinic staff. The article is called Pain hurts – but why is it difficult to identify in horses? It highlights the fact that horse’s are a prey species, that have evolved to hide pain, and that pain can be remembered for a long time (even for life). There is also a lot more tech’y stuff on neurological pathways and things, but most people won’t be interested in that.
However, if you are looking for a ‘stockingfiller’ for xmas, particularly for friends far away, what about an Amazon gift card for Equine Behaviour Explained, at £9.31, or From the Other Side of the Saddle , at £1.99, both available from Amazon. Or our booklet on improving your dressage marks, only £3 (+P&P) available through this website (see ebook page for more details).
Hope everyone has a great xmas though, whatever your presents, and that all horses get lots of carrots etc.
Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year
Well, there is a lot of mud and rain around but at least it is still warm. However, Carol has still been busy with lessons so has been drowned on a regular basis! Typing this, I can see wind-driven rain outside the window, so if your horses are out then double-check rugs to ensure they are water-proof and remember that a field shelter is a good option too. Watch out also for mud-rash, abscesses, and pulled shoes; all common winter problems.
Fortunately we had good weather for the Dressage day, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It is great to see the horses (and riders) progress between the shows and some combinations are making tremendous improvement. Particular congratulations to Irish, Miss Money Penny, and Keri, who have all made great strides over the past year.
If you haven’t seen them already, there are a couple of articles on site about de-worming programmes and ways to reduce resistance to the drugs. Try to have a targeted programme in place, rather than just treating at regular intervals or just randomly.
On a more ‘worldly’ news-front, the first death of the season from sycamore seeds has been reported, so watch out for these in paddocks and don’t forget they can be blown or washed from neighbouring properties too. Google if you don’t know what the seeds and trees look like, and if possible remove them from your property. Most/worst cases occur when horses don’t have any extra feed provided, so providing extra hay might help if you are in an at-risk area.
To those friends in New Zealand who are grazing on sandy conditions – we are green with envy – sigh.
Hope everyone is enjoying riding still despite the weather!
Here we are galloping towards winter, with lovely furry coats and stunning autumn colours. Carol has been very busy giving lessons, and I have been up to Suffolk to do some educational consultancy so we haven’t been riding as much as usual ourselves. However, we ran a very successful dressage day at Church Farm with many lovely comments from the riders. It seems you enjoyed it very much and so we are running another one: Dressage at Church Farm: Saturday October 31st. Watch out for schedules in the local livery yards and saddlery stores. There may be a mini-jumping show too coming up, but it depends on demand so let us know if you are interested.
Note also that if you prefer to go on a course instead of doing private lessons then Carol will be doing some courses at places like Petley Wood and Crockstead Equestrian Centres over the winter.
Monthly grumble: it seems to be the common fashion to blame the horse when the partnership isn’t going well. Professor Pony would like to point out that in ‘his day’ it was always the riders fault; the exception being poor health. Of course, having a frisky horse is also often blamed on a deficiency and the poor things get all sorts of mixtures put into their feeds to ‘calm them down’. Yes; some products do work to slow a horses reactions, but do you really want to keep drugging a horse just because it is too much for you? Note that unless there is an actual diagnosed deficiency, then some minerals and vitamins will block absorption of other nutrients and can actually create a deficiency! So, please don’t assume that your horse needs doping just because it is showing a bit of life for a change.
Another thing that is becoming increasingly common is to blame the saddle /bit/noseband /back problems/ulcers/etc. etc. Of course, there may will be a problem due to these, but please do consider whether your riding also needs improving instead (e.g. riding badly can cause back problems/ resistance to the bit/ bad behaviour of any kind). If you really are over-horsed then consider whether both you and the horse would be happier with different partners, rather than doping the horse to make it suitable for you to ride. Sorry about the grumble, but if it is not the horse’s fault then don’t blame the horse!
On another note: this is the time of year when it is important to review worm programmes (i.e. at the end of the grazing season) and decide on treatment for encysted cyathostomes and tapeworms, so check with your vet for a proper de-worming programme. Neither tapeworm or encysted cyathostomes (small redworms) are reliably detected by Worm Egg Counts, but there is a saliva test and a blood test available for tapeworms. See our free articles (coming soon to the article page) on Worm Egg Counts and Anthelmintic Resistance.
Happy riding, and remember that horse’s don’t feel the cold in the same way as we do (see Rugging article in the Free Articles section) so take care not to over-rug when the days are still mild.
Sorry this blog is a little late this month, but extensive email correspondence with a certain energy supply company (regarding the accuracy of their bills) has meant a lot of wasted time! What a shame I can’t charge them for it.
Also a shame that horses don’t eat plums! We have had masses ripen very quickly (within days) instead of the usual spread and they have been rotting on the trees. However, the horses are appreciating that it is apple season again. Remember though, don’t let your horse pig-out on apples as it can cause colic.
For all those who have been clamouring for another dressage day at Church Farm in Ripe, there will be one on SATURDAY 19TH of this month. Short notice I know, but Jill (farm owner) had to have surgery and things have been on hold. Programmes at the local tack shops and some of the livery yards, or use the Contact Us page on this website.
A big CONGRATULATIONS to Mairi and Irish for getting above 60% in their very first Novice dressage test. A big achievement anyway, but especially as time has been limited while Mairi finished her University degree. It’s great to see them out and about having fun. And, for those of you who want a bit of nostalgia, Mairi hacked to and from the show – remember those days when this was ‘the norm’?
In more global news, there have been a few breakthroughs in cancer treatment lately – only in mice so far (except for one hideously expensive skin cancer treatment being used on humans), but enough to look exciting for treatment of both humans and horses sometime in the future. In regards to horses, it would be really good to have something effective against sarcoids and melanomas. Sarcoids can visibly increase and spread at any time; therefore keep an eye on any lesions and remember that flies can spread it, so good fly control can help. Please ask your vet about sarcoid treatment options rather than slapping on some of the lotions and potions mentioned in chat sites, as some of these can make the sarcoids a lot worse.
The weather is beginning to cool off again now, but remember that just because you, a human, feel cold suddenly it does not mean your horse does. See the article on rugging for more information on how horses use hay/grass fermentation to keep warm, which we can’t do!
Just a reminder that if you do have an accident and hit your head, there are two main things to watch out for; firstly, if you have any sign of a headache, dizziness, or other unusual symptoms then you may have concussion (signs may not show up straight away, so be careful!). And secondly, replace your helmet – damage does not need to be visible on the outside for a helmet to be unsafe; a bang can squash the internal foam/padding and leave a weak spot, so better to be safe than sorry.
Happy riding to all horses and riders.
I am delighted and proud to announce that I have had an article published in Veterinary Practice Today on horse behaviour (Understanding Veterinary Behaviour – why is it important in veterinary practice?). This magazine is used for continuing professional development by both vets and vet nurses, so hopefully the article will be useful for some.
Owners can help here too by describing exactly any changes in behaviour to vets when their horse has something wrong – writing it down lets the vet refer to it if needed and ensures it is remembered accurately e.g. points could be important that you don’t think relevant at the time: e.g. horse standing in an unusual fashion the day before, or gradually becoming harder to ride or mount.
It is not just in veterinary clinics that the focus should be more on the behaviour of the horse. It is so easy to give animals ‘human’ emotions and feelings (=anthropomorphism), and in some cases this helps us to understand them, but a horse is definitely not a human and doesn’t think the same way. A horse is not by nature ‘spiteful’ or ‘a pig’ or doing something just to get back at its owner/rider. Instead, they live in the here-and-now and their actions are based on their genetics, past experiences and their current environment. So, that ‘spitefulness’ may instead be due to a bad memory from the past, or something the horse can sense that we cannot, or even because that is what horses ‘do’.
Of course, many people understand horses very well but there are still those out there who readily blame the horse.
Our dressage booklet is proving popular, and has already been sold as far away as Truro! Thanks to those that liked and shared it on Facebook. Both “Equine Behaviour Explained” and Professor Pony’s book are also still selling steadily, and we get some nice comments via the contact page, so it is good to know that people enjoy them or find them useful.
Not much happening with the horses on the yard in the last few weeks, except for a big tidy up. I have become a massive fan of the power-washer and strimmer; but wonder why we can send people to the moon but not invent a window cleaning spray that actually does give a streak-free finish plus doesn’t cause your lungs to seize up while using it! Am 100% sure all these sprays must be bad for Carol’s asthma too!
The weeds had got a bit out of hand this spring, so many thanks to Roger who gave up his Sunday to help get the place tidy, and also to Serena for doing extra to help tidy up and maintain it. Thanks also to Sue for keeping the yappy terrier quiet during the open day. Now the place is all spruced up it is just a waiting game; not sure why the lawn grows so much faster than the paddocks though…
Lexi has just reminded me that she had her photo featured in the article mentioned above. Though she would also like to point out it wasn’t her best view! I needed a photo of a horse being aggressive, and so had to pose the terrier near her when she was eating – she isn’t going to let any dog near her feed! Note that Patch was safely out of reach and out of photo shot.
Hope all those entered for competitions this month do well, but even if not then enjoy your riding and the nice fine weather.
I’m writing this in what is meant to be the hottest day for a decade, so sitting in the shade to do so. The horses don’t seem to mind the hot weather, and the terrier loves it, but the Collie can be found lying stretched out in various places where there is the slightest airflow. Please, whatever you do in hot weather, do not leave your dogs in a car, even with the windows down! Cars heat up to 50oC or more (a dog’s normal body temperature is around 38oC) and they can die an agonising death in a short space of time!!
Another thing to watch for is not leaving riding helmets in the sun in the car. The heat can be enough to damage the lining and make them less protective. There is often a warning in the labelling or instructions, but who reads those at the time?
The big news for the yard this month is that we are moving back to Wales; yes, less traffic, cleaner air, cheaper rates etc. etc. Carol has been both elated and saddened by all the comments from clients and friends, it is a big wrench but a necessary and exciting change. Patch the terrier is of course Welsh anyway, so she will be delighted to return to her home country! (Not that I think she can read the road signs in Welsh any better than she can read them in English!). The dogs are hoping for somewhere with nice doggy walks, while the horses just want grass and don’t care where it is.
We have been frantically busy preparing the yard and house for photos this last week, and many thanks to Roger from Equestrian Repairs: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Equestrian-Repairs/147427855282836?sk=timeline
Despite being really busy, he gave up his Sunday to help out and the place is looking great. Now we just need to have the open day before those pesky weeds grow again!
More excitement for this month, as Carol and I have just finished a booklet giving many helpful tips on ring-craft for Introductory dressage tests. A ‘must-have’ to get those extra few marks that make all the difference to the overall score. Carol is a dressage judge and knows just what the judges want, so for just the price of a cup of coffee you too can have the edge! We are just waiting for it to come back from the printers, so watch out for details soon. Read an excerpt from the booklet on our articles page – here.
Have fun in the sun, and don’t forget the water and sunscreen.
It is hard to believe that we are already nearly half way through the year! A lot has been happening everywhere, but in our little corner of the world:
Diva has been to her first two dressage tests. She was a little tense the first time out (tried to canter up the centre line – I think she was looking for showjumps!) but scored 70% in her second test. Only intro, but a promising start to her dressage career. Lexi has been out of work with a strained bum muscle (too much kicking up the heels in the paddock), but is back on walking exercise now, along with a diet. The grass is coming through in vast quantities so it pays to watch their waist lines at this time of year to avoid metabolic problems later.
Congratulations too to Mairi and Irish. For those of you who remember, Irish started his ‘schoolwork’ with Carol and was sold to Mairi last year. Although various things have held up their riding, they qualified for the Unaffiliated Champs at Hickstead when they did their first ever Prelim. dressage test (for both of them). Due to the holdups during the year, their second ever Prelim dressage test was in the Championships themselves where they gained a very creditable 60+%.
Carol has just come back from the Home International for Para dressage, where she was chef d’equipe for the two Southern Teams. A very busy weekend, not helped by half the team and Carol being stuck on the M1 for hours due to accidents. Fortunately the venue rearranged the vet check, which is compulsory as it was under FEI rules. There were some strange comments from one of the judges for some of the tests, but overall everyone enjoyed themselves and many people gained ribbons.
For those of you waiting for the next dressage day at Church Farm in Ripe, we are hoping to squeeze another one in at the end of the month. Watch out for notices at the venue and other local livery yards for more details.
During Diva’s outings, it has been very interesting to listen to comments from other riders about things that they think will influence their horse’s test. Although we all know that the rider affects the horse, I think people sometimes underestimate the magnitude of this and can actually ‘make’ their horse misbehave without realising it. Remember that the horse is a herd animal and if another herd member says their is danger then it can ‘power up’ and start looking for where the danger is! So, you have to get it into your head to ignore the chickens, rain on the roof, other horses, flower pots, people moving, dogs barking, children shouting, cars driving past, shadows, puddles, etc. etc.
–Some spookiness is due to lack of habituation to things (i.e. the horse ‘checks out’ something novel that might be dangerous), which can be improved.
–Some is due to the rider ‘warning’ the horse that all these things are dangerous, which again can be improved. Many horses spook with a rider that they never spook at when they have no rider (e.g. in field/stable, being led). There are a number of research studies around that link human and horse effects e.g. one where people leading a horse was told that an umbrella would open suddenly and theirs and the horse’s heart rate both went up, even though the horse had no idea there was an umbrella there (this occurred even though the umbrella was not opened, but didn’t occur if the person was not told about the umbrella.)
–Some is due to the horse being a flight species and reacting before processing something (again a survival- adrenaline response), which can be overcome to a large extent by training.
–Some is due to eyesight problems, although in reality i think this is blamed sometimes when it is not the eyesight at fault.
Have a read of our free article ‘How to make your horse shy and spook’ on the Articles page if you think that you may be one of the causes of your horse being unpredicatable in a dressage test.
In the meantime, happy riding and remember that your horse doesn’t care what marks you get in a dressage test or event, so long as it still gets its treats and care and attention!
I was watching a dog programme the other day and it emphasised how different individual animals could be when being trained. Two dogs that present as almost identical problems needed quite different retraining methods, and the trainer adjusted the methods moment by moment based on how each dog reacted.
Unfortunately, the same thing happens with horses. It is easy to use a ‘method’ or to follow a set of instructions, but this may not always be best for that horse at that moment. Therefore, it is very important to learn to ‘read’ the horse and understand why it is reacting as it is. For example, one minute it might be tensing because of stiffness, while a minute later it might be tensing because of something it has seen or heard; the end signs are virtually the same, but the solution can be very different. In the end, it is not what an instructor tells you that is the best training, but what the horse tells you i.e. if you react wrongly to the horse’s tenseness then the tenseness will increase, so the horse has told you to try something else! Of course, many people will happily walk, trot, and canter around without noticing any feedback from their horse, or worrying what to do about it beyond the basics, but I personally believe they are missing out on an important part of the partnership between horse and rider.
Also regarding individual differences in horse’s personalities; we currently have four bay mares on the yard, each of whom react differently when interacting with another horse and asking it to ‘back off’. One kicks with a hindleg, another strikes with a foreleg, the third one squeals, and the fourth turns its hindquarters and double-barrels with both hind feet. Fortunately, none of them perform these behaviours towards humans. They each have their different preferences and personalities, even though they look somewhat similar. That is what makes horses so interesting!
On a more serious note, Professor Pony would like to remind everyone of the horrors that all equines face in war, with the most recent Remembrance Day being for those horses that bravely travelled from Australia and New Zealand (ANZACs) and lost their lives at Gallipoli. This link will take you to a report about how 100 horses got together with their riders to commemorate the more than 2000 horses that lost their lives. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/fonterra/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503785&objectid=11433097
His thoughts also go out to those working horses in Nepal that have been affected by the recent earthquake (and the people of course). Donations to the Brooke please if you want to help the horses, donkeys, and mules involved: https://www.thebrooke.org
That’s all for now – Happy riding in the sunshine!
I hope everyone is enjoying the sunny weather (remember this when the April showers come) – hopefully it is not the only bit of summer we get. The paddocks have dried out and the horses are enjoying long days out without getting too muddy in the process.
A successful day was had by all at the dressage day at Church Farm in March (well, they all said they enjoyed it and wanted us to run another one). Yes, there will be more coming but we might have to skip a month.
Carol is off to Bermuda for 2 weeks. Having spent 30 years going back and forth instructing (including riders for the Olympics) she is now going there on HOLIDAY for the first time! I am sure this will be a major shock to the system, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone wanted to squeeze in a lesson while she was there. So, it will be light work for the GGs while she is gone.
Check out the article on training by numbers this week. After listening to some people at horse shows, I think people don’t always realise how limited a horse’s thinking is – they don’t really do things wrong deliberately; there is always some reason for it. A couple of the horses here are now starting work on their canter transitions – both have had their heads tied down in the past, but they developed different ways to cope with it; however they both get worried about the canter transition itself because of their past (I’d love to see some humans try to do gymastics with their heads tied down) – okay, I know that this was last month’s grumble too but if you could feel how anxious some horses get about it all then you too would campaign for better training.
Lots of people have been having lessons in preparation for the coming season, and it is good to see so many horses going nicely. We have also had very positive feedback on the photo gallery, so will add more photos soon.
Hope you all enjoyed Easter and happy riding in the sunshine.