We’ve been very busy over the last month and not because of the approach of Christmas. With the property on the market we have been tidying, sorting, painting, and Carol has been busy doing viewings (one potential buyer said she was MUCH better than an agent and that it was the best viewing of a property they have ever had). This was however all worth it, as there was an offer within the first week followed by several others with the property now officially under offer.
With all the work on the property, the horses have had to take a back seat competition wise. However, Lexi is going very well at the moment having decided that resuming her career as a full-on dressage horse might be more exciting than being retired. She is (finally) losing her maternity bump, and performing her ‘tricks’ with enthusiasm. Although the flying changes and half-pass (and even passage on occasion) are not always asked for, it’s hard to tell her off when she is obviously enjoying herself! She is however becoming much more opinionated with age!!! (Entering her second ‘filly-hood’?).
Duke is going to resume his showing career, going to a great home where he is going to learn side-saddle too. Can’t wait to see the photos of them both dressed up for a class! Diva is continuing her hacking experiences with her next-door friend Ziggy and (thanks to his help) is now confident to go out on her own; she is a bold girl and hopefully we can get her out eventing in the future if circumstances permit.
The overall plan is to move back to Wales, which is an area both Carol and I love. We spent a couple of “interesting” days looking at ‘suitable’ properties. This involved swamp crawling, bush-whacking, mountain climbing, and other skills we weren’t expecting! I have come to the conclusion that real estate agents know absolutely zilch about what would be suitable for horses, and that some owners of ‘equestrian’ properties also struggle with this! For example, the poor old horse turned out on the swamp; the agent’s description of ‘gently sloping’ for the paddock with the rope alongside the fence (so that you can pull yourself back up to the house), and the paddocks that were ‘well-fenced’ (well, as long as you had lots of electric tape, and didn’t mind your wellies being pulled off in the mud while setting it up). Fortunately, the last couple of properties were a big improvement, and the best of these is delightful. More news on that when it is available, but suffice to say that all the animals and people involved would enjoy it.
For those of you worried about lessons etc., then don’t. Carol has already been asked by a number of people if she will come back on a regular basis to run clinics, so we will let you know more about that next year.
With another Christmas rapidly approaching the joys of having lovely food round a roaring fire beckon. This contrasts with the X-mas I grew up with; summer weather, salads, and rides on the beach! However, whether or not you are roasting in the sun or by the fire this X-mas, spare a thought for animals who are unfortunate enough to be trapped in poor working and living conditions in the cold or heat, without a snug stable or regular food and water.
Personally I think X-mas has become massively over commercialised, with the spirit of giving having become the spirit of buying affection and/or impressing people. It would be really great this X-mas if everyone reading this could cut back a little on buying presents and instead donate the value of a gift to a charity of their choice. Because of the story of X-mas, helping a donkey would be appropriate and I think organisations like Brooke (which help working donkeys and horses) are invaluable, as they help through education and training as well as a band-aid effect on the needy animals. https://www.thebrooke.org/
Hope everyone has a Merry Xmas, and a great New Year.
Roll on 2017
You know that winter is coming when you start the morning riding in a t-shirt, and finish the afternoon in five layers of clothing in the pouring rain. Some horses are a bit fresher when the weather turns cooler, especially if they are clipped, but the best way to overcome this is to just keep working them. Don’t respond by cutting their feed levels, particularly if they are in work, as they need the nutrition to help fight off the winter ailments and to maintain condition.
However, if you have something overweight then now is the time to let the winter take a bit of condition off. This doesn’t mean starving the horse or throwing it out in the icy rain without a rug, but use a bit of common sense and don’t over-feed and over-rug just because you are feeling cold yourself. Remember that the horse has evolved to keep itself warm (its digestive system is quite different to ours and generates a lot more heat – see the rugging article) and it has also evolved to lose weight over winter and put it on during the spring flush of grass growth.
Overweight horses risk getting metabolic problems (such as ‘equine diabetes’), as well as increased strain on the legs and heart, so preventing those kilos stacking up is very important. Ideally, body condition score your horse (there are charts on the web you can use) and keep it in the middle (i.e. 3 if using a 1-5 scale, and 5 if using a 1-9 scale). You should be able to easily feel the horse’s ribs but not see them. A recent study has found that just walking a lot will help a horse or pony to lose weight i.e. they don’t masses of hard work, just a sensible diet and regular exercise.
News from the yard – a MASSIVE congratulations to Serena, who successfully completed her BHS Stage 2 in all sections and has started working as a part-time groom. Also to Sue and Ziggy who have been getting over 60% in Intro and have started doing Prelim tests. The yard horses haven’t been doing much lately, and Lexi found her first outing for months very exciting (!!!!), but has settled down again now. Diva has started hacking out with her TOTAL gentleman of a neighbour Ziggy, who I am sure frowns at her enthusiasm, but she is proving to be very brave and sensible over all. Thanks to Sue for putting up with some boring rides to start with.
Winter is a great time to work on things like transitions and lateral work, and having no arena is not an excuse. A very good dressage trainer I knew said that he often taught horses’ leg-yield and shoulder-in while hacking along the road verges, as the horses’ seemed to understand it better than when taught round an arena.
So, happy winter riding, and don’t use the weather as an excuse!
I love autumn, although I know it is not everyone’s favourite season. The weather is great for riding, not too hot and not too cold, and the horses really appreciate the decrease in the number of flies. For those into competitions, everything is in full swing still and many championship events are in progress.
It is interesting to see that there an are increasing number of research projects showing that many horses in work and at competitions are lame. There was also some controversy when the judges at a well known dressage competition stopped a rider competing because the horse wasn’t sound. This decision was made in conjunction with a vet, so I am not sure why some people thought that the rider should have been allowed to proceed. Judges allow horses to proceed when there is any doubt (e.g. slight stiffness, possible bridle lameness etc.) so do the people challenging this really think that these people made the decision lightly?
Trained people can readily pick up unevenness in a horse’s movement. Unfortunately some riders don’t seem to be able to feel slight lamenesses (or maybe they are used to the horse going that way) and sometimes they will even overlook it deliberately to finish the competition, thinking that the horse will be alright. Of course, in many cases the horse may be alright – it may just be bit stiff, or have a slight knock from tripping in warm-up, or have just stepped on a stone. Or, it might have long-term arthritis that has been missed or ignored. Unfortunately, many horses will hide pain and the problem might be more serious than the lameness looks. So, if someone says your horse looks uneven then it is a really good idea to find out why, and to do something about it. It is also a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act.
The horses are happily growing their winter coats – they look thick this year, so maybe it will be a cold one. On the yard we have been doing a pre-winter tidy up of the property, being busy painting gates and staining fences, as well as continuing the war on weeds. It is amazing how quickly lichen can eat paint and weeds can take over good pasture!
There has also been a bit of a challenge to stop one of the horses eating the new paddock gate, but three coats of fence stain plus netting over the main bar plus anti-chew paste seems to be doing the trick at last! I strongly recommend anyone doing gates and fences to use stain rather than paint, as it is so easy to re-do bits without having to sand between coats and having flakey bits appear. My best friends at this time of year are the water-blaster and the weed-strimmer.
Enjoy riding in the great autumn weather, and remember to look at the beauty of the autumn leaves.
Just a short note this month. Here we are galloping through August already, and now that the countdown to the Olympics has finished people are starting to do countdowns to Christmas.
The shows have been put on a back-burner lately, as other things have been taking over (combined with some vehicle changes), but Diva and Carol had a good jumping session the other day so Diva is hoping to convince her that jumping is more fun than doing just dressage. Perhaps eventing is also on the cards again?
It is fun watching the Olympics, though quite tiring too – I think some of the horses in the cross country had several hundred thousand people riding them over the jumps! It is always interesting to listen to the non-horsey commentators when they mention the horse sports. The eventing went from being a possible fairy tale medal for William Fox-Pitt, coming back from his injury, to a very brief mention that the cross country was disappointing, then nothing. Not to be mentioned again (even though everyone did there best on the day).
It will be interesting to see if the dressage and showjumping fare better, but I think that now that there are so many channels for people to choose from there will be less and less knowledge about equestrian sport trickling down to the general public. I may be one of the few horsey people who think that there are some very valid arguments for dropping equestrian sports from the Olympics.
Some of Carol’s clients have achieved their own goals in the last month, which (to them) is just as nerve-wracking as competing at the Olympics. So, happy riding, and even if you don’t own an Olympic prospect I am sure you will still be having lots of fun and achievements at your own level.
That’s all for this month, as horses and the Olympics call.
Professor Pony has started his own Facebook page. I am concerned that he won’t be prepared for trolls, but he doesn’t seem too worried about it. He sometimes has a great understanding of humans but at other times he is quite naïve. But then horses are so much more straightforward than us –perhaps if we lived more ‘in the moment’ then there would be less hatred in the world. Anyway, as he has something to say about everything I don’t think he will get too bored with social media. Check him out on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessorPony/
On the yard: Diva surprised us when asked to jump the second time (first time in two years was at the end of last month) – a very mature attitude, popping sensibly over a grid and single fence: only 80 cm but with scope to die for. It’s very exciting to ride a horse with so much potential: however, I need to be careful not to canter her directly towards the arena fences – she is getting better, but I still feel her gather herself ready to jump sometimes!
Lexi and Carol continue to make progress as a partnership, though Lexi still wants to do sequence changes in her tests when not asked for. Personally we think that dressage should be the same as gymnastics, where you get bonus points for putting in a higher level of difficulty! However, Carol is away for the next couple of weeks so Lexi is doing some general fitness work instead.
Duke was absolutely adored by the judge and steward at Hailsham EC event, run at Golden Cross. Carol was pleased that he won a cup and trophy for best ridden Arab/part bred (he is part bred), but I think he is just pleased with the carrots and polo treats.
The stable cat (who has taken over the house too) has become increasingly demanding in her retirement. No longer content just to sleep on the hay, straw, beds, chairs, and clothes, she now vocally demands laps to sit on, food, attention, food, laps, cuddles, attention etc. etc. at increasingly regular intervals. She has also taken to sitting in the arena when we are riding, sleeping on the mounting block, lying in the pathway of way of the horses being led (and people and wheelbarrows), and taking over their stables. It is not nice when she sneaks under the blankets in the middle of the night after being out in the rain (sopping wet), but I think she is enjoying herself!
Bugbear for the month (other than the wet cat waking me up at 3.20 a.m.) is the flies. It has obviously been a good year for fly production, but the equine fly sprays don’t seem to make much impression in repelling the blighters. Even the 72 hour one doesn’t last a day, so if anyone has any magic products or ideas (including repelling midges) then we would be glad to hear of them.
Here’s hoping the weather settles a bit so that the farmers can get this seasons hay made, and happy riding in the sunshine.
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We now have summer rain instead of spring rain, except that I am not sure there is much difference. Hopefully the hay paddocks are growing though, as there has been a bit of a shortage of hay round our way (South-East) as last season’s stocks run low. There is also a forecast for a number of heat-waves this summer, so watch out for rock-hard ground, dogs left in cars, and the level of water in troughs and dog-bowls. Message from the stable-cat: and cat bowls. (Also bird-baths, though don’t put them where the stable cat can get at them). Oh, and don’t forget sun protection and plenty of fluids for humans too!
We are currently having a pause after a rush of shows (as the horses have all been going out to different shows). Duke, the latest addition to the stable, has only been out twice but enjoys pointing his toes for the judges and everybody falls in love with him. Diva is progressing well and had her first big outdoor event, behaving very well and getting mid 60’s at Hickstead. She is now working at home on canter half halts as she has the medium canter down pat and just needs to find a steadier working canter, but was lovely and steady when she jumped for the first time in two years.
Lexi (with Carol) is boldly taking on Advanced Medium dressage, after a break of 6 years! It has given her a new lease of life but a combination of over-enthusiasm to be back at that level, combined with a tendency to show off her ‘party-piece’ (sequence flying changes) even when not asked for, has meant that the scores are not yet back where they were with her previous owner. However, she has only done three tests so far so there is plenty of time to improve and in the meantime she is enjoying herself. So many people write off older horses (she is 18) but if they are sound and healthy then there is no reason they cannot be out competing too.
Last month’s gripe was about lame horses being ridden at shows, and it is sad that Carol had to pull up a rider to query an obviously lame horse when she was judging dressage. The rider elected to continue the test, but fortunately retired soon after; it may just have knocked itself before going in the arena but is it really worth a ribbon to keep going when you feel your horse isn’t right?
There is a whizz-bang new machine that can assess lameness in horses (subtle and obvious) and although it doesn’t give a diagnosis we may one day see all horses having to be passed as sound before competing. However, at around £20,000 I can’t see that happening soon and it isn’t something you would have lying round the yard at home! So, until we have smartphone apps that detect lameness, we will just have to persevere with old-fashioned horsemanship and use our own common sense if our horses don’t feel quite right.
Our free article for the month is on Buttercups, so check it out if you are having a buttercup problem in your paddock or if you think your horse might be showing effects of the toxin.
As I write this the clouds are coming over black and the forecast is for hail, which will be something of a shock for all the new-born lambs and foals. However, nature is a wonderful thing and animals are fully adapted to cope with this, so long as they have sufficient food and are healthy. In contrast, there are many adult horses fully rugged up with thick waterproof duvets (and sometimes more than one) because their owners feel cold. Not surprisingly, there is an increase in metabolic problems in horses in modern times, and over-feeding and over-rugging are significant factors in causing these i.e. some people are ‘killing with kindness’ because they refuse to let horses be horses. On the other hand, the most clicked-on page on this website is the article on rugging, so hopefully some of the science behind how a horse controls its thermoneutral zone will sink in.
Carol has been very busy giving lessons, and is off to Badminton Horse Trials to help someone competing in the Grassroots trial. Best wishes to Tanya for a successful event – her horse is going so well at the moment.
The horses on the yard have also been busy, with Diva having her first go at Novice dressage despite only learning a couple of moves the week before (for a very encouraging 63%). We wanted her to have two tests on the same day so that she could gain more experience in the arena, and she was very good for her level of training. Although it is tempting to keep her at the lower levels until she is regularly scoring in the 70’s, it isn’t always the best thing for a horse’s long-term education. Her next goal is to perform the same in outdoor tests as indoors but, as she has been out to Brightling gallops (to trot and canter) and behaved perfectly, we don’t expect this to take long.
Lexi also behaved beautifully on the gallops, but she did think that the uphill bit was hard work! She much prefers doing her ‘tricks’ in the arena, with flying changes and canter half-pass her favourites. We did try to explain to her that being fitter would make these easier though, but she thinks eating is more important! However, it will be good to get the horses out on the hills more this summer and get them fitter, and it also gives them excellent variety and the chance to use their muscles evenly.
It was very disappointing recently though to see at least one lame horse at every venue we have watched. Although one judge was brave enough to pull up a competitor and give them the opportunity to withdraw, others don’t seem to take action. It was interesting recently that a research article found that over half of riders do not even notice when their horse is lame, but one rider clearly did know as she was overheard to say that she would keep riding the horse the whole time between tests as she didn’t want him to stiffen up again – God knows how sore that horse was the next morning!
However, I am sure that readers here would not do that, so enjoy your riding and try to aim for the patches of gorgeous sunshine.
Spring lambs and sunny weather – what more could we want. The horses are delighted to be spending longer out in the fields, though we are not so keen on the brushing off of the mud afterward. All the horses go out without rugs whenever the weather is nice enough, and it is essential for their Vitamin D levels that they can have their bodies exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is made naturally by the body, with one essential step needing UV light from the sun to activate the vitamin precursor in the skin – it has been shown that artificial Vit.D (provided in feeds) does not ‘work’ as well in the body, so natural is best.
A big condolence to our neighbour Sue, who had to give final peace to one of her horses recently. They had shared 20 of the mare’s 24 years together so it was a big wrench, but the mare went downhill suddenly after having a great life.
The dressage season is getting under way with a vengeance, but fortunately we are local to a lot of venues so don’t have much travel time. However, after being used to eventing where there was always something to do (e.g. walking the courses, preparing equipment etc.) it does seem weird to have an afternoon draw for dressage and be twiddling the thumbs for most of the day!
Both Lexi and Diva continue to make steady progress, gradually increasing the number of 7’s within a test. The most recent events though have been slightly affected by a plague of memory loss that seems to be hitting competitors round our way i.e. everyone is forgetting their test (with or without a caller)! So, it will be back to pacing them out before the next event.
We also have a new addition to the yard, ‘Duke’ who has competed Novice dressage and who will hopefully make his debut with Carol soon. He has settled in well, and loves his snuggles so it is easy to see that he has been well handled in the past.
It was disappointing on the weekend to see a horse being hit for being nervous! The horse was obviously upset about something, and wouldn’t stand to be mounted, so the rider hit the horse! Yeah, sure, we all know that having someone hit you makes you calmer (NOT!!). I know riders get worked up at shows too, but sometimes just having a bit of patience and considering the long term effects of what you are doing can make a big difference to the horse. See the latest article in our ‘free articles’ section if you want more information on how a horse’s memories work. This follows on from last month’s article (Memories-2) but can be read separately. Professor Pony also has a new letter in his Dear Abby column, about a horse that is considering a change of career, so check out his page if you have not caught up with him lately.
Happy riding and enjoy the spring.
It is interesting to watch the warm-up areas at different horse shows, and to see the different schooling methods. One thing that is of concern is how riders react when their horse is worried.
If a horse is nervous or frightened, then hitting it will make the situation worse e.g. if the horse is shying at something and it feels the pain of a hit then it will associate the pain with the object. This can make it scared of the object and/or more anxious and nervous generally and yet it seems to be a common occurrence at shows! As well as being a welfare issue, it can also leave a horse with bad memories for life, because horses are much better at remembering things than they are at solving problems.
See this month’s article on what you can do to help your horse if it is nervous.
Anyway, that is the rant for the day. On a positive note, Diva and Lexi have been out and about and Diva has done her first Prelim for a promising result of 68% (yes the judge was a bit generous, but it made up for being under-marked in her very good intro the time before!). There have been a few show cancellations so she skipped intro-to-canter but didn’t seem to notice. Lexi has also been going well getting back into her career and has been going out to play in Elementary tests while she gets fit enough for the higher levels. Some uneven judging has been disappointing (i.e. only half a mark difference for a very good movement and a not good movement), and she has a mind of her own when it comes to what she thinks she should be doing (e.g. half-pass instead of leg-yield) but it all shows promise for the rest of the season.
We continue to wait for the paddocks to dry out, and envy those with all year turnout. Either we have fine days but heavy frosts, or warm but rain. The horses enjoy the sand pens though, which at least lets them get out into the air and have a roll.
Hopefully the Easter bunny will bring more consistent weather in time for the outdoor shows.
Another month to spend dodging rain and high winds, but fortunately there usually seems to be some part of the day that is okay for riding in. Mind you, it is not the horse’s that mind the weather – just us feeble humans.
Well done to Carol and Lexi, who achieved over 60% in Novice at Plumpton. This was Lexi’s first affiliated test since she went on maternity leave about 5-6 years ago, so we can forgive the additional movements not asked for in the test! The courbette was quite nice though. Both Lexi and Diva will be getting into more competitions over the next few months, preparing for the summer season. We are very lucky to have so many winter venues close by, and very grateful to the people who put the effort in to run the events (sometimes for minimal or no profit by the time the costs are paid).
Also this month, a big congratulations to Serena who was best in her class in learning the skeleton for Anatomy. It isn’t easy to remember all those Latin names for the bones and Serena put in a lot of hard work to achieve this.
On a not so complimentary front, I was recently reading ads for sale for cheap horses. It is amazing the number of people wanting a ‘forever home’ for their horse when they have obviously not provided one themselves. This seems particularly common for older horses where there will be a limited market anyway. Of course people’s circumstances change, but it does seem unreasonable to expect someone else to provide a home for the rest of the horse’s life in this day and age. If you want to be sure of the horse’s future, then let it go on a long term lease and then you can always check it is being looked after and find it another good home when that one is finished.
Also upsetting is the number of horses with serious long-term health problems that are being given away or sold cheap. Even as companion horses these will often need expensive treatment to remain pain free, and what are the odds that this will happen for years and years? Just my personal opinion, but either pay for it to be looked after in a retirement home, or make the big decision yourself to end its pain.
Enough grumbles for now. The wind is howling outside the window; the horse’s have all been worked; the dogs are snuggled in; and the cat has finally moved off the pile of clothes so they can be put away. What more could one want?