Girth Galls

16 Sep

They’re awkward things aren’t they, girth galls? They come in just the wrong place and take forever to heal, only to be opened up instantly.

So what are they? Girth galls are basically areas of irritated and sore skin under the girth. They can be as mild as raised bumps, or as severe as open wounds. Some horses are more prone to them than others, and sometimes tack is to blame.

Yesterday I clipped a very hairy Otis very early on, and was shocked to see that the skin around his girth was slightly agitated, almost like hear bumps. I stretch his front legs forward each time I ride, and always wash him off afterwards. I can only assume that his thick winter coat means there is a build up of scurf and I can’t get in deep enough to properly clean and dry the area. Today however, he looks much more comfortable and the skin is calmer.

Usually thin skinned horses are more prone to girth galls, and those with excess skin in that area. For that reason, pulling the forelegs forwards once the girth is tight helps stop any rubbing under the girth. You can also prevent galls by rubbing the area with surgical spirit, which hardens the skin and makes them less prone to rubbing. This is one of the BHS’s favourite steps in their fittening programme (worth a few brownie points in exams). Cleaning the girth is also a useful preventative action as there’s less chance of dirt rubbing against their skin. Personally I don’t like the fabric girths as they can get ridged with dried sweat and are difficult to clean thoroughly (they crease up and then the creases fill with grime). On the same note, proper grooming before and brushing off after will help reduce the likelihood of girth galls occurring.

Another favourite with people is to buy sheepskin girth sleeves, which are softer on the skin. But it’s no good using them if you don’t wash it regularly! I have a story about these; a client has always used a synthetic sheepskin sleeve on her loan pony, as directed by his owner. However, we have had terrible problems with her saddle slipping around this rotund pony. So we naughtily removed the sleeve, making sure that she neurotically cleaned his girth area, and the saddle stopped slipping. Feeling guilty though, her Mum bought a real sheepskin sleeve, which is coarser and not as shiny. The saddle still didn’t slip!

The moral of the story is that solving one problem usually causes another!

Back to girth galls. The girth is the one area that must be checked thoroughly every single day, and the girth kept scrupulously clean to avoid causing a problem, because once a horse is prone to galls they’re always susceptible to them.


15 Sep

I was teaching a little group of young girls (5-6 years old) on their own ponies over the weekend, and I wanted to do something fun yet educational. Obviously it is difficult to introduce complex theories and ideas to them at this age, but I don`t like putting two poles up and sending them over them countless times. The parents expect them to jump, but I don`t want to raise the height particularly, so I turn towards more complicated exercises.

Before the lesson I built a box in the middle of the school, two poles on each side. In each corner I placed a jump stand which can have cups placed at right angles. Then for the middle I found a few “pole pods” which are useful stacking pods of about 4″ high with a basin for the pole to sit in. We used to do a very similar exercise when we were younger, but we had 20L oil drums as stands.

During our warm up I had the girls riding over the poles and through the box, and then once we had cantered a few times I started the main part of the lesson.

Initially the poles were on the ground and I got the girls to trot over the left hand side pole, ride a circle inside the box and then exit over the opposite pole. This was harder than they thought! I was impressed with one of the girls, who really prepared her pony and turned the whole way around the circle, looking where she was going. The others waited until they were inside the box before trying to circle.

Once they had mastered this I got them to trot diagonally through the box, and then I raised them to teeny uprights. For this they used opposite sides, and trotted over the left pole and then the right pole of the second side. This was fairly straight forward, but tested their listening skills and concentration. So we moved on to turning right angles inside the box, and weaving it together so that they entered the box, turned right. Turned left outside the box and re-entered it before turning right again inside the box to exit. This little course was quite hard for their little brains, but the ponies were amenable, and the girls soon trotted round confidently, getting straighter towards each pole and planning their turns whilst entering the box. I think it really helped them plan and ride between fences smoothly. Finally, they rode a U-turn inside the box, entering and exiting on one side. I think they were concentrating so much on where they were going they kept forgetting to go into their jumping position!

I finished the lesson with the girls trotting straight through the box, over the poles, remembering their jumping position. The ponies weren`t sure where they were going so it was nice to see that the girls had to navigate properly. They seemed to all enjoy themselves, and hopefully it improved their approach to jumps and made them think about where they were going a bit more.

We used to progress with this exercise, to jumping corners, cantering full circles inside the box, jumping two adjacent sides so that it was a bounce, jumping in over the corner (obviously with an oil carton instead of a jump stand!) and jumping through the box in pairs. For a relatively simple set-up, the exercises are limited only by your imagination.


13 Sep

I was teaching at a Pony Club rally this morning and it occurred to me that it must be hard work being twins who ride.

Today I was teaching eleven year old twin girls. Both of whom seem fairly confident and of a similar level. However, through the lesson I realised that one wasn`t as confident as the other, and gets worried easily, although she tries to hide it. The other one has more natural talent and also a scopier pony.

Everyone knows that being a twin is hard. You are compartmentalised as a pair; as kids you are dressed in matching outfits, and presents are usually very similar. If they are like a family I know one twin has red things, the other has blue. But what if you don`t like the colour blue? Or you fancy wearing something red today?

Anyway, I digress. Twins are put together and rarely seen as individuals, which means they compete for attention, and rarely get the chance to be independent and let their personalities come through. I`m sure some of you can remember the Jacqueline Wilson book about twins (Ruby and Garnet?) in which one twin is very dominant and the other particularly submissive. The story ends with them being sent to separate schools so that they can develop as individuals.

So if as a parent you have twins who are both interested in a sport, it can be easy to provide equally. Or is it? With BMX biking you may go out and purchase two identical bikes with identical tyres and identical gears. The twins can now embark on lessons, either individually or as a group, depending on your finances. You can then enter them in competitions knowing that, as a parent, you have been unbiased.

Can you imagine trying to be fair as a horsey parent? You can kit your children out in identical protective clothing (I dread to think of the cost!) but how do you provide two identical ponies for them? Yes, I know they are individuals and will suit different ponies (in terms of personality and traits) but when they start learning you, as a parent, need to be able to source not one, but two, angelic ponies for the twins to learn to ride. This takes me back to a camp I did at the beginning of August which had two twin boys, who had just come off the leading rein. They both had two lovely ponies, but their Mum told me that they`d bought one pony for the quieter, less confident twin, who had turned out to be a minx off the lead rein, which hindered his progress. When the more confident twin started to ride a couple of months later they bought another pony, who just happens to be a gem. They soon sold the minx of a pony and got an ex-riding school mare, who has really helped the nervous twin come off the lead rein, but you can quite easily see how he may have felt unfairly treated, in that his original pony wasn`t a well mannered as his brothers. This reflects in their progress and subsequent relationship. I guess here you can only hope that one of them chooses to take up showjumping and the other opts for dressage so that they compete as individuals, as opposed to one half of a twin.

Today`s twins have another two great ponies, but the more confident twin definitely has the more talented pony, who incidently has a bit more attitude. I could see today how the different ponies lead to competition between the twins – “my pony won`t do that! … He always jumps that first time…”

I`ve come to the conclusion that if I should ever have children, and end up with twins, that providing for them in the equine world would be my worst nightmare. Not only do you have to find two similar ponies, you have to ensure that they have similar quality tack and equipment. Then to make it worse, when they outgrow their pony you don`t just have to cough up for one upgrade, but two upgrades! And that`s before you start looking at riding lessons, rallies, competitions…

I think I would split them up in terms of their riding, so that they have separate lessons and can develop at their own speed, and they put them into different groups at Pony Club, and encourage them to enter different disciplines or competitions. After all, horse riding is an individual sport. Individual in terms of the human, but very much a team with the horse. By dividing the twins up, you can only hope to draw their focus on their relationship and development with their horse, and not their sibling`s.


12 Sep

I drove through town on my way home today as I had various errands to run, and I was reminded of a surreal morning at my old stables.

The stables I used to work at are right on the edge of town, with most of the fields adjacent to houses on one side. For this reason we never used to catch the horses before nine, as we then avoided rush hour and school traffic.

It was a dreary February morning and the yard was in full swing; mucking out the numerous stabled horses and preparing the barn for the day`s catch. The office door swung open as one of the ladies unlocked at nine o`clock. A couple of minutes later she stumbled back out, tea in hand, to inform the nearest groom that there were several phone messages, claiming that a herd of horses were herd trotting around the housing estate at seven am that morning. More recent messages claimed that the horses had made it to the school playing fields. They failed, however, to mention which school it was…

In great haste, we grabbed an armful of headcollars and piled into the rickety landrover. Bearing in mind, there was a bit of ice and it was just before nine, so that landrover hadn`t warmed up yet and the ice was still on the inside of the windscreen. At least someone had closed the window, and the driver wasn`t left with a puddle of icy water to sit in.

Anyway, we were off! We headed down the road to the field where five opinionated mares had been turned out the day before, and left out so that they could kick up their heels for a couple of days – there must have been a problem with high spirits and clients! When we reached the field I jumped out the back and called the mares. There wasn`t a sign of them. Not a single horse was left! So I hopped back in and we carried on driving into town, with our phones on standby for an update on the nomads.

There were a couple of droppings in the middle of the road, pointing us in the right direction. Almost like the gypsies following their trails of patrins (thanks to Enid Blyton for teaching me this word in my younger years). We met many children and carers walking to school, and some of them offered helpful directions.

Eventually we found the five mares attacking the front hedge and garden of a home. They eyed us balefully, but I grabbed the elderly matriarch, holding her rug while someone else found a suitably sized headcollar. Soon we had captured the five horses, but were left with the problem that we only had four headcollars that would fit…

We also only had two members of staff to lead the mares back through town, as someone needed to drive the landrover home. So I ended up with three of the horses, all of whom decided that it was boring walking home, and life would be more interesting they jogged sideways along the pavement, scattering children as we went. My colleague had a homemade headcollar cross leadrope and the other two horses.

So we began our journey home. You would not believe how far we had to walk! Even with the shortcut, we still walked over three miles back to the yard. The mares were all unharmed after their little escapade, if a bit warm under their layers of rugs and possibly a little sore from all their trotting on hard ground. We found the fence in the field had been pushed over in the corner, and the horses had got out onto a long, twisting, tree-covered lane, so we were lucky none of them were involved in a car accident.

The moral of the story is to always check the fencing really, really well, and don`t leave a herd of mares who are used to living in out, even if they are misbehaving, as they may take it into their heads to take themselves for a walk!

Having a Gallop

11 Sep

For those of you unable to experience the thrills of a gallop, I recorded Otis and mine trip down there earlier this week.

It was videoed with my phone, not a headcam, which is why there is so much mane in the way!

How Much Do You Rely On Your Stirrups?

10 Sep

When I was learning to ride as a child one of the favourite exercises was trotting without stirrups.

We used to do rising and sitting trot without stirrups, and both rising and sitting with just one stirrup. Now rising trot without stirrups really works your tummy and thigh muscles, although the BHS disapprove of it as an exercise I find it useful for clients who rely too much on their stirrups to rise, and it wakes up the more correct muscles. I always intersperse rising without stirrups with sitting without stirrups so it doesn’t overstrain the rider, but also so that they still sit more deeply in the saddle before we retake the stirrups. I’m sure those hours of rising trot without stirrups are the reason I ride bareback in rising trot.

Now who does riding without one stirrup? I find it gives you the confidence when riding out that if you lose your stirrup you can easily find it but also you are balanced and don’t wobble around too much. My Mum does this exercise quite a lot still.

I can clearly remember being about ten years old and having a revelation whilst riding without one stirrup. I wasn’t leaning to the side! I used to struggle a bit to rise with only one stirrup and usually found myself leaning heavily to one side. But on that particular day I remained vertical! Ever since then the exercise has unfazed me. I’ve even cross countried happily heading towards a meaty trakhener whilst trying to remain in cross country position and regaining my stirrup. I probably gripped a bit too much with my knees on that day, but between gripping or falling off, I know which option I’d rather take!

Now why is this relevant today? Well yesterday I was teaching a lesson and parked myself in the corner so that I could see a different angle of my client, who I suspected to have straightness issues. What I saw was very interesting. As she rose her right hip was higher than her left but her right shoulder was dropping, which meant she was rising in a diagonal line as opposed to vertically up from the saddle. So I took her stirrups away and got her to feel her seat bones and focus on being straight in the saddle by imagining headlights coming from her hips and shoulders. The headlights need to be pointing straight ahead, not down to the ground, and they needed to be the same height. She improved a bit, and I carefully replaced her stirrups so that she didn’t move off her seat bones. After a bit of rising trot I noticed her become crooked again, so I told her to take her right foot out of the stirrup and continue to rise. She couldn’t. She physically couldn’t rise without the support of her right stirrup. I explained to her that this meant her right leg was stronger and more dominant so her left leg cheated and glided through life. We worked on rising trot with just the left stirrup for a few minutes on both reins before replacing the right foot. She was much straighter!

My clients left leg was starting to pull it’s weight and she rose vertically up instead of towards the left. For the rest of the lesson, and many more to come, I just need to say “left leg” for her to remember and engage that side of her body. It was really fascinating the effect of removing one stirrup, and highlighted to me how important the childhood exercise I used to do was.

Holding Their Hand

7 Sep

I touched on this theory a couple of posts ago, but will now try to explain the concept that has been running circles around my mind for a few weeks.

It started when I was riding in the arena with another livery. She was telling me about a lesson she had had, and what she was working on. After watching a very classical instructor teach, she booked a lesson with her. This livery was by no means negative about her lesson, but was a little bit confused and had lost her way.

The crux of the lesson was to get the mare to be less reliant on the rider’s hands and to learn to self carry and find her own natural gaits. From what I gather it involved a fair bit of trotting on a long rein. My friend was now practising this and her mare kept running off. She was tense, unbalanced, and kept losing her rhythm. My friend was confused as to how this would help her improve her mare’s schooling.

My only answer to this predicament was to liken it to holding a child’s hand. When you have a young child you firmly hold their hand to direct them, help cross the road, etc. as they get older the parent backs off and tends to guide the child when necessary. Once they reach teenage-hood the parent rarely holds their hand and let’s them go their way.

Now if we compare this analogy to the equine world, we can say that young horses have their hand held to direct them around the school, whilst more established horses are expected to do most of the work and the rider makes small adjustments. Now I think that my friend’s horse, like many, has never got past the “hand-holding” stage. What she learnt to do in her lesson was aimed at the teenager and young adult, who is expected to live life themselves. Which you could expect from this horse. However, imagine being a seven year old child who is used to Mum holding their hand on a busy street, and helping them cross the road. Now take away Mum. This child feels lost and unsure. Take this back to horses, and you can imagine that my friend’s horse felt lost and unsteady without the constant contact on the rein, or hand-holding.

I suggested to my friend that she took the content of her lesson and aimed to build up on it. So in her first couple of schooling sessions she aimed to lengthen her rein and encourage her mare to look after herself in walk. Once they get the hang of this then they should increase the length of rein and lessen the contact, and introduce the concept into other gaits. This should allow the mare to adjust and learn without being outfaced.

I think my friend took this on board, and adjusted the exercises to suit her and her horse, which has hopefully helped them both. When they feel they have mastered this then it’s time for another lesson.

More recently, I’ve been trying to do this with Llani. Now I began by hacking him out and when safe encouraging him to lengthen the rein. I don’t want to drop it because he will get worried, but he needs to build the confidence to take the lead and not need me to hold his hand all the time. With Otis I can drop the rein and he will continue marching confidently forwards, which I think means he has reached the teenage stage in my hand-holding theory. In the same way in the school Llani is stretching and walking happily on a long rein, but in trot he still doesn’t know what to do when I offer the rein. He will get there though, and he is in charge of the speed that he progresses at. There’s no point pushing him more than his brain can handle and him losing confidence.

Can anyone else relate to the hand-holding theory?


6 Sep

Has anyone been watching the WEG? I saw a bit of the vaulting yesterday, which is surprisingly underrated. I was impressed with the gymnastic ability of the Eccles sisters, and they made my demonstration of full scissors this morning look like a feeble attempt. I can only just do full scissors, let alone do it vertically!

Anyway, I was thinking that vaulting is very much a team effort. You need an exceptional lunger, who can keep the perfect circle, and a horse capable of cantering slowly for minutes at a time in a perfect rhythm. I thought it was quite nice that Mr Eccles went onto the podium with his daughters, which showed great appreciation.

So with vaulting fresh in my mind today, I experimented in my nine o’clock lesson. The two girls rode well, and seemed really confident cantering around. After the canter they said to me “on our pony day in the holidays Karen told us to get you to show us how to do full scissors”.

Great. Cheers for that, Karen!

Back to my nine o’clock lesson! I had the girls walking around doing some balance exercises. They’re quite supple and I think I’ve exhausted the windmill and helicopter ones, so I got them to sit sideways whilst walking. They managed it easily except for one wondering how princesses rode side saddle because it wasn’t very comfortable! Then I got them to sit backwards. And then to the other side, before sitting back to the front. They found this a bit harder, and became quiet for about thirty seconds.

Next we halted and practised Around the World with their hands on their head, and half scissors. I was building up to full scissors, and borrowed the biggest pony to demonstrate. It takes a bit if effort, and I’ve never been very graceful at it, but I did it a couple of times before dismounting. Then my clients had a go. They giggled away at each other as they leant forwards and tried wriggling around. After I’d pushed them back onto the saddle and man-handled them so they performed full scissors without sliding off their ponies they had a go on their own. One of the girls, who’s a gymnast, soon got the hang of it, and I think with a bit of practice the other girl will be able to do it too.

With a couple of minutes left, the girls asked for another exercise. I scratched my head for a moment, before suggesting that they swapped ponies. Without touching the ground!

I remember doing it as a teenager, but on 16.2 horses, which is a bit further to fall! The girls lined up closely, and it talked them through swapping. One of them slid to the front of her saddle, whilst her friend sat sideways. With one foot reaching into the stirrup, she leant across and then swung her right leg over the cantle to be sat behind the other girl. This caused a lot of giggling, while they worked out what to do next. It didn’t take long for both ponies to have a rider and I could breathe a sigh of relief as the girls walked back to the yard, chattering happily about their lesson and telling everyone who would listen what they had done.

The best thing about today’s lesson, was swapping ponies, apparently. You can forget about canter and trot, exercises are top of the list!

The Pessoa

5 Sep

I quite like lunging with the Pessoa to show a horse where he should be putting his head and neck. I find that the pulleys release the pressure on the bit when the horse stretches into a long and low frame.

Anyway, the Pessoa can be mis-used as you can tighten the ropes and the horse stretches down until their nose is between their front legs. I used the Pessoa regularly with Otis for a couple of years but now find that lunging him naked is of just as much benefit to him as he has learnt to carry himself and work over his back without gadgets.

Back to the purpose of my post. I have lunged Llani naked regularly to encourage him relax and go forwards. I find he is now less tense, and you can see the muscles working from neck to hindquarters, like a wave of energy through his body. This partnered with Llani’s ability to lunge in both directions without turning in, made me decide to introduce the Pessoa.

I took the opportunity this morning, when I had lots of time, to fit the Pessoa. I let the sheepskin hug his quarters as I led him to the school, so that he could get used to the feeling of being “hit up the bum”.

I quickly sent him out on a circle, and didn’t spend too long walking – he’s just learnt to stay out on a circle, so I don’t want to give him an excuse to turn in (I try to extend the walking period each session, and finish with a long walk down on a circle). Llani was so funny! He waddled with his hind legs as he acclimatised to the feel of the sheepskin under his tail. I just encouraged him to trot and let him take his time getting used to the Pessoa.

It didn’t take as long as I anticipated for Llani to adjust and begin to trot normally, so I soon halted him to clip up the rest if the Pessoa. Obviously I wanted to set it into the lowest position but I had to be careful Llani didn’t feel too restricted because then he wouldn’t want to go forwards.

It was fairly loose, but Llani’s immediate response was to lift his head to resist the Pessoa. I think it’s the result of being ridden in draw reins or with a heavy hand. I let him stand and relax a bit, before asking him to walk on. Albeit reluctantly, Llani stepped forwards and after about half a circle was holding his neck in a longer frame. It was a fragile outline but he was really trying for me, so I asked him to trot on. In the upwards transition Llani often comes up and back at the rider, so I’m hoping that the Pessoa will help stop this habit. The trot was very staccato as Llani held his head up, resisting the Pessoa. I sent him forwards and suddenly Llani stretched forwards a bit, as he often does when I ride, before dropping his nose and lifting his back. Unfortunately for Llani, the Pessoa released go the pressure when he worked correctly, and he couldn’t feel a heavy rein contact. He jerked his head up, losing his balance, and resumed trotting as he had before. I describe riding Llani as being a parent. He wants his hand held all the time, and for the rider to put him in the right place. I will explain this theory another time.

Gaining a bit of confidence, Llani stretched forwards and engaged his back, and allowing the Pessoa to go slack again. This time he managed to maintain this for two strides before reverting to his usual trot. He seemed it appreciate the alleviation of pressure.

After working on both reins Llani managed to stretch and engage his back for a few strides at a time. I didn’t work him for too long as Llani isn’t used to working in that way, and then I unclipped the Pessoa to let Llani stretch and cool down. I was surprised with how much he had unlocked and released his trapezius muscle. His neck stretched out from the wither hugely!

I think the Pessoa will really help Llani learn how to work correctly which hopefully I can build on when I ride him and he can build a better top line. It will be interesting to lunge him naked in a months time to see if he’s holding himself up.

Sausage Boots

4 Sep

I noticed about a month ago that Otis’s feathers on the inside of his hind legs looked as though they had been cut off.

Now it took me a while to work out when, how, and if he was knocking himself when working. I’ve deduced that it only really occurs when galloping and jumping, which is why it took me a long time to find the cause. I rarely jump or do fast work for two days in a row, so couldn’t definitely say he was moving incorrectly.

When you look at him move he is straight behind, but a bit base narrow. This combined with the action of galloping and putting his hind feet between the front feet, means he knocks his coronet bands. I think the problem is compounded by the fact he now wears hind shoes, which he has done for six months.

Temporarily I used over reach boots on his hind legs, and then I procured two fetlock boots to trial.

They’re funny looking things aren’t they! The rubber tubes can be quite large and bulky, but the ones I’m using are fairly discreet. I think they also look better when there are two boots, so the horse looks symmetrical.

Anyway, I’ve diligently used the sausage boots for a couple of weeks and been unsure about the effectiveness. There’s been no new marks on his hooves, but no improvement either.

Last week on a hack, one of the girls asked why Otis wore so many boots (brushing, sausage and overreach boots (these are because he’s due shoes)) and another girl cried “he knocks his hind feet cos you can see the boot spinning”.

I guess that means the boots are working!

I watched him working in the school today and the boots barely spun in trot, and I would assume you get a bit of movement because they are proud to the leg, so hopefully using the boots when I hack and jump will protect the feathers and his legs.




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