30 Sep

I heard from a friend who I haven’t seen for a while that there has been a few cases of strangles in the area.

For those of you who don’t know what strangles is, it’s a respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi, that is highly contagious.
Strangles can be fatal, but it’s primary cause for concern is the speed at which it spreads around a yard or area, particularly in enclosed stable settings.

Symptoms of strangles include fever, nasal discharge and depression initially, with the horse losing their appetite. Typically, the temperature rises to 41°C. After a few days lymph nodes around the throat swell, forming abscesses. The horse can have difficulty breathing and swallowing (hence the name ‘strangles’). A nasal discharge is at first clear and then becomes purulent after the abscesses have ruptured in the nasal passages. Sometimes the vet surgically opens the abscesses to help breathing, but at a risk of further infection. Ruptured abscesses shed highly infective pus into the environment, which can infect other horses.

Strangles is usually diagnosed quite easily by the fever, depression, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph nodes. Swabs or blood tests are then taken to confirm the presence of Streptococcus equi. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed the yard is isolated until the outbreak ends – this is usually three weeks after a complete set of clear swabs as the bacteria can harbour in the guttural pouch and the symptoms not appear for up to two weeks. In the cases I was told about it is thought that the ponies have had dormant bacteria in their system for about a month, and one is suspected to be a carrier.

Strangles spreads by direct or indirect contact – be it sharing a water trough, tack, clothes, buckets, hands, which is why it is very important to isolate sick animals immediately and have a strict isolation procedure.

Treatment varies from case to case, but usually involves keeping the abscesses meticulously clean by flushing them out several times a day, antibiotics if necessary, supportive stable care – keeping the horse on box rest with a warm deep bed, rugs, palatable food and clean water. The risk of further infection once the abscesses have burst is very high, which is why good hygiene is so important. Occasionally horses can develop abscesses in other body organs, which is very rare and usually fatal.

A complication of strangles is that some horses can “carry” the disease after they have been ill with no outward clinical signs, which means that stopping the spread of the disease is very difficult. It does highlight the importance of having a good isolation procedure for new horses on a yard though. Once a horse has recovered from strangles there is a good chance that he is immune to the disease.

When I was about twelve our yard had a strangles outbreak. We had just come out of the foot and mouth epidemic, so were able to finally hack and compete. One of our ponies brought the disease back to the yard after a local show and a couple of weeks later it spread like wildfire. I remember we had quite a good system of isolation, in that the back stalls were kept for the horses who were ill – they were used to the herd environment so large rooms of toes or threes was ideal for them. Particularly ill horses had internal stables on their own in the old farm buildings which was linked to the stalls. All the healthy horses were then left in one big field, and only allowed to use the outside stables. Us girls were not allowed inside the strangles area, and it was a scary time. I remember the riding school was still trying to continue and my Mum volunteered my pony for the more advanced groups. It wasn’t a success. I was schooling another pony in the same lesson and my pony cantered off with his rider, dumped her, and just trotted over to me!
There were a few horses who were really sick, and there was an air of concern around the yard. Once the horses had recovered they were turned out in another big field at the other end of the land – so they couldn’t come into contact with those unaffected. My pony at the time managed to escape illness, but typically was lame for a week! That was the first time I got to ride the non-riding school horses that were excitable/psychotic/mental/crazy or just plain forwards going. I loved it!

Anyway, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of strangles, and to keep up to date with the current situation of strangles in the area. Likewise, if your horse is unlucky enough to become infected, it is sensible and very considerate to inform those necessary – the yard, farrier, neighbouring yards, and friends.

How Important is Timing?

28 Sep

When you warm up for a competition, how critical is the timing?

Last week when I made my way over to the showjumping warm up I saw hundreds of competitors cantering around, and soon learnt that they were running ten minutes behind schedule due to a fallen rider needing medical attention. This was fine, I could stand and watch a few rounds to see if there were any bogey fences or if the time was tight.

Unfortunately, another competitor hadn’t realised there was a delay and while I was watching they trotted over to the ring entrance.
Loudly they started berating the fact that it wasn’t their turn, even though it was the time allocated to them. The stewards explained patiently that there has been an accident, and the response was “well I’ve warned my horse up for this time. If I have to wait then she’ll go off the boil and won’t jump clear”.

There was a little debate to which I’m afraid I switched off from, and then a couple of minutes later I read, at the top of the steward’s list of numbers “it’s been a long day, be nice to us!”

It made me chuckle, but on the way home I started thinking about how crucial timing is at competitions. I always expect them to run late, so check the situation when I arrive at the warm up. If there is a big delay I have a stand and wait, or walk on a long rein, depending on weather, how Otis feels, and how busy the warm up is. When I warm up I aim to ride him in with enough time to have a good walk and break, before picking him up again when the competitor before me is about to go in.

I guess it depends on your individual horse as to how you warm up, and how important the timing is so that they perform at their best. I was pleased to read an article by Mary King who backed up my method of warming up, but she also explained how fizzy or excitable horses need more time to settle in their surroundings and to relax. Lazier horses benefit from some jumps immediately before going into the jumping ring to wake them up and get them sharper off the leg.

I guess dressage horses may suffer from too much hanging around in the warm up or from going “off the boil” so to speak, and not move as extravagantly or as correctly as they can.

Ultimately it’s down to knowing your own horse and being savvy enough to find out if a competition is running to time and how much of a warm up your horse needs.

My Favourite Things

27 Sep

What strange things do your horses like to eat? Yes, I know we shouldn’t feed them snacks but they’re always getting their hands, I mean hooves, on things that are bad for them.

For instance, Otis’s latest craze is oranges. This is fine by me as he eats the peel and pith, leaving me with the segments … Well sometimes!

Today I went down the field at lunchtime to catch Otis to take out a hack that afternoon and hadn’t quite got round to eating my oranges. Stood in the corner of the field I started peeling my orange. Ever on the scrounge, Otis and Llani trotted over. Llani pushed Otis out of the way and stood in front of me, ears pricked, butter-wouldn’t-melt expression. He didn’t nudge me but was expectant. I offered him some peel, of which he wrinkled his nose and turned away. So I gave it to Otis, who gobbled it up happily and then waited patiently for the rest of the peel. But Llani had other ideas! He wouldn’t let Otis come near me! There was no nastiness, he just positioned himself between me and Otis. Not that Llani wanted the orange peel, he just didn’t want Otis to have any either! I pushed Llani away and let Otis eat the remains of the peel and walked away from them both to eat my segments in peace!

Is anyone else’s horse just interested in what their humans are eating? At competitions Otis snacks on whatever I’m eating – malt loaf, cereal bars, crisps, bourbons, etc – purely because I’m eating them!

Top 10 Exercises to Become A Better Equestrian

25 Sep

I saw this list online and thought it was worth sharing.

10. Drop a heavy steel object on your foot. Don’t pick it up right away. Shout, “Get off, Stupid, GET OFF!”

9. Leap out of a moving vehicle and practice “relaxing into the fall.” Roll lithely into a ball and spring to your feet.

8. Learn to grab your checkbook out of your purse and write out a $200 check without even looking down.

7. Jog long distances carrying a halter and a carrot. Go ahead and tell the neighbors what you are doing – they might as well know now.

6. Affix a pair of reins to a moving freight train and practice pulling to a halt. Smile as if you are having fun.

5. Hone your fibbing skills: “See hon, moving hay bales is FUN!” and “No, really, I’m glad your lucky performance and multimillion dollar horse won the blue ribbon. I am just thankful that my hard work and actual ability won me second place.”

4. Practice dialing your chiropractor’s number with both arms paralyzed to the shoulder and one foot anchoring the lead rope of a frisky horse.

3. Borrow the US Army’s slogan: Be All That You Can Be — bitten, thrown, kicked, slimed, trampled, frozen…

2. Lie face down in a puddle of mud in your most expensive riding clothes and repeat to yourself, “This is a learning experience, this is a learning experience, this is …”


Other People’s Horses

24 Sep

A client has been on holiday for the last couple of weeks and asked me to exercise her horse a few times.

It all came about because we were discussing her mare’s (a veteran with a heart murmur) condition and fitness. Considering the time of year, the mare looks really well. A bit on the fat side, but she always drops weight like it’s going out of fashion in winter, but I wouldn’t want her to be carrying any more weight. Especially with a heart condition. She’s still exercised regularly, had has a good level of fitness, which the vet said would carry her in good stead. With her owner going away, this little horse will lose fitness rapidly, which we must bear in mind post holiday as it will take her longer than usual to regain her fitness.

The net result of this conversation was that I was asked to ride the chestnut mare every three days to keep her ticking over. No, she won’t keep her level of fitness, but at least her body still gets a regular workout. On a parting note, my client says “I wouldn’t trust anyone else to ride her. I know you’ll look after her.”

No pressure.

So on day one I took Granny for a hack. Once I’d worked out which route I could take, which didn’t involve a path she would try to gallop on. Her owner told me that if she felt like the needed a good canter, then let her, but be quick to bring her back when she slows. It’s not easy telling a stressy horse that they need to stop living in the fast lane. So off I went on my hack. We had a good open trot along one of the fields, and I checked myself three quarters of the way along to come back to walk. I’m so used to riding fit horses and trying to improve their fitness that I had to remember I need to let this mare tell me when she tires. After our trot we had an active walk along the roads and into the woods, where we cantered steadily along the path before having another long walk. Unfortunately Granny then started to get a bit excited as she knew we were on the way home. After another trot I encouraged her to stride out in the walk to stop any fizziness, and once she realised we weren’t going fast she settled. I let her canter up a little hill, which felt amazing. She really pushed with her hindquarters and she loved every moment of it. On this hill I would be pushing Otis to the summit and then the plateau, but with Granny we stopped before the summit and then we walked back to the yard on a long rein to cool off. By letting her canter on this hill, and not one closer to home I could ensure I gave her a really good cool down, which is important for those with heart conditions.

The next two times I rode her I schooled her. Again I was a bit concerned that I would forget and work her solidly for too long, and exhaust her, so I set my alarm to beep every five minutes to remind me of the time. I also planned my session so that I interspersed lateral work in walk to help give her a break. I also tried to make changes of rein in walk to give her another break. I was aiming to work her trot in seven minutes intervals.

The first session was very productive and Granny worked well over her back quite consistently, in trot, laterally, and in canter. Trying to give her a good cool down I took her for a walk around the block. Unfortunately in the second session I encountered the narky chestnut mare side of Granny. I had to work harder, and she was less consistent, but still tried hard, and I was pleased with the results.

I’ve always fully supported my client’s decision to work her mare, with her heart murmur, and to manage the mare’s fitness and to give her a good quality of life, but when it was my decision on what speed or duration we went at, I was terrified of overdoing it! However, in my defence I don’t know the mare very well so don’t know the little signs to tell me she’s tired, and she doesn’t belong to me! When my client returns I hope she can feel a difference in the mare’s way of going from our schooling sessions, and her fitness has not deteriorated too much.

How Important is Rider Position?

23 Sep

Now this may sound controversial … but how important is the rider position when you look at different aspects of riding – be it dressage, showjumping, or general riding?

When you are training to be an instructor it is drilled into you, that perfect heel-hip-elbow-shoulder-ear line, or the elbow-wrist-bit line. Initially, when you teach people to ride you revert back to that “heels down”, “shoulders back” mentality whilst directing traffic.

Now I`m not saying this is wrong, as it gives you something to say as you assess the client, and we all need to improve parts of our position in order to ride more effectively or correctly. As an instructor develops experience they begin to notice crookedness in a rider and identify the root cause of a positional problem, and then have a number of exercises which will improve this.

I had an interesting couple of lessons a month ago. I videoed my client riding various movements so that she could see how her lateral work was coming along. I thought she was riding pretty well, considering she`s a mature adult she has a good level of fitness and her posture is good, and she is effective. Obviously there are things we work around, like an arthritic knee, but overall she rides with a lot of feel and effectiveness.

I guess it`s her history as a physiotherapist, but my client pulled herself apart whilst watching the videos. Not the movements or the way of riding but her position. All the teeny little faults, such as sticking her tongue out when concentrating. So the next lesson she came with the ideal position in her mind. And it all went wrong.

In my client`s desire to replicate Charlotte Dujardin`s position she created a lot of tension in her body, which transmitted itself to the horse and instead of being his usual round, soft self, he was hollow and resistant. I tried to take my client`s mind off her position by using mentally complicated exercises, and encouraged her to put herself into the correct position and then take a deep breath out in order to relax. This helped a little bit, and slowly over a couple of lessons she began to ride in her usual way, albeit with her hands carried a bit more.

So my point is; it`s all very well having the perfect position, but if it creates tension and stops you working in harmony with the horse, and feeling the movement, is it really worth it? Or should we take into account each individual and sacrifice positional points if necessary. For example, a rider who has tight, short calf muscles shouldn`t be repeatedly told to push their heels down as this will swing their leg forward and create a chair position. Instead off the horse exercises should be taught and the whole leg position improved. Or what about that client who is missing a rib from a childhood accident? They may collapse on that side, but it`s not really surprising and apart from making them aware of the crookedness and helping them reduce it, you are always going to have a slightly wonky rider. Or what about the client with short arms? They struggle to create the perfect elbow-wrist-bit line whilst keeping their hands in front of the saddle. It`s a catch-22 situation, as with the perfect line this rider may be uncomfortable with their hand position, and it may be too high, but when they have slightly straighter elbows they carry their hands in front of the saddle and in a more relaxed way.

All I`m saying it that as an instructor I try to improve a rider`s position in order to make them more secure in the saddle, or more effective with their aids, but I do not expect them to be able to mirror Charlotte Dujardin in their position.

Our Last Event

22 Sep

Yesterday was Otis`s last one day of the event season. Mine too, if I`m honest. Yes, there are a couple more opportunities to compete, but I feel that he`s performed brilliantly this season and deserves a little bit of downtime, and to focus on the individual disciplines over the winter. I want to get him to some more elementary dressage competitions, and also get more experience over 1m and 1.05m tracks.

Anyway, yesterday he performed magnificently. It was our fourth event in five weeks, and they have all been pretty successful – three rosettes out of four is pretty good going in eventing terms. Yesterday`s competition was the BE100 and the last three were BE90. So, with no time to spare I warmed up for dressage and he was a bit resistant initially, obviously thinking about the jumping phases, but he softened and relaxed just in time for the judge`s bell to ring. Our test was pretty good, I felt there were elements I could have improved on (like the jog in medium walk) and elements which felt consistent with previous tests (our first centre line). But the arena was on a slope, so I felt we were both a little bit unbalanced, but after I consoled myself with the fact that everyone in my section was riding on the same surface. I guessed my test to be in the 34 region, but to my greatest surprise it turned out to be worthy of a 31, which was third place.

My dressage scores have been getting more consistent – 32.5, 33, 32, and 31 – and he feels very settled when I start warming up, which is great. I`m still aiming to break the 30 penalty barrier, but it`s getting frustratingly closer. I also need to get my bum in gear and do more schooling on grass so that I can get him working as consistently and confidently over undulating terrain and long grass, as he is in the arena.

Next I walked the cross country and showjumping courses, before getting ready for the showjumping phase. I`m not going to lie, the show jump course was up to height and width, which made me feel a bit nervous. Especially with Otis`s reputation for knocking a pole. The only positive I could see was that the poles were all heavy wood so hopefully wouldn`t move if he grazed them. During the warm up I noted that everyone who had refusals had time faults, so there wasn`t a huge amount of spare time kicking around. He warmed up quite nicely on the grass, which is another area I need to practice – I like my arenas too much! We went into the ring, and then had to wait a few minutes whilst the penultimate jump was checked for problems (I assume there was a complaint lodged) and then we were off. To my surprise, they pronounced his name correctly – Tymor Del Piero is usually altered to “Tie-mor Del Perro” instead of “Tee-more Del Pé- aero”.

Otis cleared jump one easily, and then somehow we ground to a halt at the black and white number two. I`m not sure why, he rarely refuses, and I`m not sure why I didn`t attack it a bit more when I felt him falter. Perhaps it was nerves, but I swung him round and he popped over it easily. Conscious of the time, and kicking myself inside, I rode forwards towards the third jump and then around for the fourth and so on. Amazingly, we left all the jumps standing, but I wasn`t impressed with the refusal! A lot of people were having four or more faults, particularly at that jump, so I was still in the running.

We didn`t have long until the cross country, so we changed quickly and then went down to warm up. I only popped Otis over a couple of the practice jumps to get his focus on cross country, not showjumping. The course was much more hilly than we`ve done before – last week was a very flat course but seemed to go on forever. Otis always struggles with the time, I think due to his figure and nature of the breed, so I wanted to save him for the big hill at the end, and not let him go too fast initially. When the whistle blew we set off eagerly up the hill. He always has a good look at the first one, but galloped away happily. The next two came quickly as we went up the hill, and then I wanted to hug the right rope-line to save time towards number four. Otis had other ideas though, and we came to an agreement in the middle! Down the drop and over the narrow one. He was a bit looky as we went downhill over the two logs and a step down into water. The water had caused others a lot of problems, so I was grateful he just slowed to look before stepping in. I`d rather lose a couple of seconds then have twenty penalties refusal. Out the water and then down a hill. I remembered to swap my whip for the next skinny. I felt him lock onto that skinny though, which was a great feeling. He hopped it before carrying on downhill. We crossed another two fields before reaching a combination on a slope and at a funny angle. I flapped a bit to correct him for the ditch and skinny, but he took them both in his stride. Otis can be a bit funny in the fact if there`s a line of three jumps, say an option for each class, Otis will wobble as he decides which one we`re going for today, but once he`s on a line of jumps he is straight as an arrow. Which helped me out in the next big combination. Skinny, drop down, step up, skinny. He made it and found some more energy to head towards the next water. Another peer in, but we cantered through safely towards the steep hill. I cajouled him up there, as he was feeling tired by now, but he found enough in his reserves for the final two jumps and canter over the finish line. Before promptly stopping and puffing away.

I was pleased with his progress, but knew we had time faults – the hill really took it out of him – and the cross country course was being quite influential, with a lot of refusals, eliminations, or retirements. We cooled him off and loaded him before going to look at the results. It was after six pm at this point and I was ready to go home! We stayed, anxiously waiting for the scores on the doors, and to my delight we were fourth! Pipped to the post by the rider in third place who had 0.3 penalties less than me. Nought point three! If only we hadn`t oogled at a couple of jumps… and if we hadn`t refused the showjump we`d have been second!

So whilst Otis is getting more consistent and better at the events, which is reflected in our placings, everything is becoming more crucial – those four faults collected in the showjumping, or the time faults accumulated across country. We still have a lot of work to do – get a sub thirty dressage score, stop collecting time faults, and ensure our showjumps are clear … but he`s made the successful step up from Intro classes to Pre-Novice, and I`m looking forwards to honing his skills over the winter, ready for next season.

Tied In At The Knee

20 Sep

I met a horse last week, which really highlighted the conformational defect of “tied in at the knee”, and of course triggered me to inform my readers.

I`ve read all about conformation for various exams, but have yet to see such a good example of this. Tied in at the knee refers to a horse who has too small (or light) a tendons for their size. You can see this by there being a marked difference between the circumference of the leg below the knee and above the knee. It almost looks like an elastic band has been tied around the leg below the knee.


So why is this such a conformation no-no? Having a smaller circumference below the knee gives less room for the tendons and ligaments. Horses don`t have muscle below the knee and hock, so their soundness relies on their strong, long tendons. If the tendons do not have sufficient room then they may become damaged due to friction on the carpal bones or against each other. The tendons are discouraged from growing as they get stronger. This means that forward movement is restricted and the horse may have a shorter stride than expected. Horses who are tied in at the knee are not able to perform at high speed, and the tendons will struggle to absorb the concussion effects of jumping.

Tied in at the knee conformation cannot be altered, but the horse cannot be expected to work at a high level and stay sound. Deep going will put more strain on the tendons so this should be avoided, and the owner/rider adapt the horse`s workload to the individual. If the horse becomes sore or backs off work then his workload needs to be reduced.

A horse who is tied in below the knee is more prone to tendon injuries, particularly to the cannon bone region, because of the limited strength of the flexor tendons. Horses with this conformation also usually have small accessory carpal bones, which struggle to support the horse`s leg when weight bearing. Subsequently these horses are more suited for dressage and driving, in which the weight is encouraged off the forehand and onto the hindquarters.


18 Sep

How important is it for horses to have routines? I mean, it’s drilled in to us in all training – horses thrive off a routine.

But recently I’ve noticed that it can be a pain in the bum for a horse to be following his routine. Take for example, last week when Otis took me grass skiing in order to get to his stable as quick as possible to have his feed, which had been waiting in his stable the last two days. Turns out that day I wanted to ride him first, so he was thoroughly disappointed when he got there. But on the plus side, he’s waiting for me when we come in now as he doesn’t know if breakfast is before or after work!

Or another example, is when I rode Llani I took him for a walk around the block. But it was a different block to the last couple of walks. He was not impressed, and adamant that we should have turned left out of the drive not right. Now I’m really shaking up his ride outs, and avoiding doing the same route twice. Either I wander further along the road, or walk past the drive instead of turning back in, but the net result is the same. I am in charge of where we go today!

So whilst our horses need a similar routine: come in, tie up, stand still, etc they should also be flexible enough to accommodate us. So they’re happy to stand in their stable for an hour waiting for the farrier without demanding a hard feed. Or they wait patiently for their feed after they’ve been ridden, without stomping at the ground or trying to push you out the way. Both Otis and Llani know where feed bowls are kept, and when the box is open they nudge me cheekily, but if the bucket doesn’t come out they soon stand still!

Also, you don’t want your horse to be so stuck in a routine that they get peeved if you’re late. Stuck in traffic or, God forbid, overslept. I try and vary things during the day. One day I’ll feed when they come in, another I’ll groom first. Or when they’ve been finished they may have to wait micro seconds for the bucket or they need to wait until I’ve brushed them off and put my tack away! Whatever I do, I try not to let the horse take charge!

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.


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