Judging Coloured Classes

21 Jul

We went to the Royal Welsh Show today and after walking through the trade stands we stopped by one of the rings with an ice cream. Being judged was an in-hand Coloured Horse Class so we sat down to watch.

It occurred to me, as we watched, that a coloured class is very difficult to judge. For instance, there were two miniature coloured Shetlands, a 17.2hh piebald sports horse, several gypsy cobs and all range of colours in the ring today.

If you were asked to judge a Hunter class you would just need to be on the ball about the type of horse a hunter is. Yes there will be a couple of breeds, but you look at quality of movement, conformation, temperament and rideability. You are looking for the horse you most want to take on a days hunt.

If you are judging a breed class, be it Welsh Pony or Highland, you are looking for the horse which is most correct to the breed specifications; i.e. conformation, size, way of going etc.

So going back to the coloured class today. What exactly is the judge looking for? The ideal conformation will vary on whether she’s looking at a part thoroughbred or a gypsy cob. This means the judge needs to know a lot about all different types of horses. The horses action and way of going will also depend on whether he’s been bred to draw a cart or be a sports horse. Likewise, the temperament will vary as a cart horse needs to be more sedate and sturdy than the alert competition horse.

Then of course is the colouring or markings of the horse. This is completely down to judges preference, which I find hard as some people prefer piebalds over skewbalds or palomino pintos, or Appaloosas over tobianos. Then some people like a horse to be predominately white and others like large patches of colour. Others like faces to be symmetrical or to have “normal” markings such as a blaze or star. How much should the markings on a horse affect their placing in a coloured class? In theory it should be the biggest factor because that is the name of the class.

I’m not sure how the judge chose today’s winners as I personally didn’t like some of the markings or types that were in the front row. I’m sure it leads to a very biased, grey area with lots of disputes over placings, particularly in qualifying classes. So should coloured classes start to split themselves into height or type? This would make the judges job easier as they wouldn’t be looking at such a motley crew, and then competitors would be on a more even keel because the judge is clued up and has a more specific criteria to judge the animals on.

All I know is that I wouldn’t have liked to judge today’s class as it was full of so much variety and influencing factors.

A Tangled Web We Weave

19 Jul

So today was embarrassing. It proved that it is always better to tell the truth.

A fortnight ago a little girl, 4 years old, came for her first pony ride. From the barn I saw her getting her hat fitted,
“She’s tiny!” I cried, “I don’t want Bill! He’s too fidgety.”
“That’s ok” replied my colleague, “I don’t want to use Ben. Fancy swapping?”
I nodded gratefully. Bill was a chestnut pony and Ben a grey.
So I told the manager about the change of pony and she said “yes that’s fine but I’ve already told her she’s riding Bill so you’d better call him Bill, not Ben.”
This could get complicated I thought. But who am I to argue?

I introduced pony and rider and we went for a lovely wet walk through the woods. She chattered non-stop and I had to keep biting my tongue to stop calling Ben Ben.

Confused yet?

So midday today I walked back to the yard and was greeted by this little girl. “Hi Susy, I’m riding Sunny today. Where’s Bill?”
Remembering the saga I told her Bill was on a lesson and we needed to wait a few minutes until Sunny came back from his.

We waited, and then the real Bill came back from his lesson. His instructor called to me,
“Do you want Bill?”
I shook my head furiously.
“That’s not Bill.” Stated the little girl. “Are there two ponies called Bill?”

I came clean. I explained the change of pony last time and how we were hoping she’d forget by the next time she came. No such luck, I mean, she’d managed to remember my name! Her Mum laughed about it, but I think she thought we were a load of nutcases ….

Preparation is the Key

18 Jul

I went to a Pony Club Instructor Course this week which was very interesting. Basically it was about setting the standards for each progressive test and what is expected at that level. I am new to Pony Club teaching so it was all a bit new but there were some interesting points I took away.

We used four guinea pigs, aka riders and ponies, of varying ages and ability so that we could deduce the level they were at. As usual there were some opinionated instructors, and I spent most of the time listening, but many people and myself included, were shocked at how little preparation went into each transition the girls rode.

Later on we learnt that none of the guinea pigs would have passed their D+ test as they didn’t prepare their transitions.

“Ah, I can use this in tomorrow’s lesson” I thought to myself. So duly the next afternoon I found myself in the corner of the arena watching my little ride warm up. It was a hot afternoon so we only worked the ponies in for about ten minutes and then I brought them back to walk to ask some questions.

My first question was to describe the walk-trot transition. Then the trot-walk transition and finally the walk-halt-walk transitions. It took a while, but we managed to break the procedure down into:
1. Half halt, this lets your pony know you’re about to do something.
2. Seat, be it take sitting trot or sit taller.
3. Leg or rein aids, depending on whether the transition is upwards or downwards.
4. Seat – particularly sitting for the first few strides of trot.
5. Establish the new gait – thinking about rhythm and forwardness.

The first two points tended to be completely ignored so the rest of the lesson was spent with me shouting “whole ride prepare to …”

By the end of the session they were riding consistently good transitions which were active and the ponies responsive. Next time we’ll move onto accuracy by riding transitions at the dressage letters.

Ribbons in Tails

17 Jul

Today I was teaching two kids. One was riding a grumpy pony who is renowned for kicking others when you pass, but they are competent and work in open order and are both aware of this pony’s habits.

Anyway, whilst riding a serpentine the grumpy pony passed the grey quite close and stopped to think about double barrelling him. Shouting him forwards I used this opportunity to talk more about behaviour of horses and the necessity to pass very wide if you knew your horse was anti social or if they didn’t know the other horse.

I then asked if there was anything they would do to this grumpy pony at a competition to make sure others knew this horse kicked. The girl, who reads books like they’re going out of fashion, cried out “put a red ribbon in their tail!”

“Correct” I say. “Now what does a green ribbon mean?”

“It’s an inexperienced horse” she says after a moments thought.

“Yes correct, and it means that the horse may be unpredictable. Do either of you know any other colours?”

“White!” Called someone after a lap of trot.

Now this stumped me. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what white meant!

Smoothly, I covered myself. “What does white mean?”

They shrugged and neither child knew.

“Why don’t you look it up for homework? There are other colours too” I ask before moving on to our focus of the lesson which was preparation for transitions.

So tonight I thought I’d better do my homework!

So here it is; white means that the horse is for sale. A blue ribbon means the horse is a stallion whilst a pink ribbon (which is rarely used) means the mare is in season.

Maybe for next week I’ll do my research before I ask the questions!!

Horse Quotes

16 Jul

“So here is what horsemen, on color, have thought.

A bay is hardy, a chestnut is fast

And you can’t kill a buckskin: he’ll last and last

A grey is gentle, a sorrel is hot

A dun is a horse you’ll be happy you bought.

White eyes are flighty, white feet may crack

While some won’t rely on the feet of a black.

Some pintos are lucky, like the medicine hat,

But all horsemen agree the best color is fat.”

– Anonymous

I found this saying online and thought it was quite interesting. We all know chestnuts, particularly mares, are flighty but the old wives take about the colour of the feet is purely fictional.

Four white socks keep him not a day, three white socks send him far away, two white socks give him to a friend, one white sock keep him to his end

I was wondering if anyone had any other sayings to add, or whether they think a “good horse is never the wrong colour”.

What’s Wrong With Ponies?

15 Jul

A couple of weeks ago a friend said to me “he’s a bit small”.

She was looking at a 15hh Welsh cob.

Now I think this is the perfect size, small enough to mount from the ground, big and sturdy enough for the average adult, yet small enough to avoid most branches and to easily open gates or reach over to assist a child. In terms of competing this height is definitely in the horse category, yet you have the benefit of being able to make tight turns and easily adjust them round a jumping course. In dressage a shorter stride gives you a bit more time to prepare and ride your movements. You aren’t limited with the level of competition you enter, I know a teenager who competes a 12.2hh pony at advanced medium dressage. Little Tiger went round Badminton and she was only 14.2hh!

From a care perspective, a smaller horse is cheaper to keep, stables and fields don’t have to be excessively sized, and it’s easy to lift share because they fit comfortably into a trailer without overloading the tachometer.

So why are people so sizest about the horses they ride? Yes, if you are a larger rider or have very long legs you do need a taller mount, but most adults would get away with a 14.2-15hh horse. Perhaps it is related to the weight issue in the media a few months ago, which criticised overweight riders. There is also the issue, linked to modern breeding, that bigger or taller horses are more prone to foot and leg problems. So this suggests that a smaller horse should be more robust and have a longer life expectancy.

Smelly Feet

14 Jul

Picking out a horse’s feet today I noticed a deep groove in the middle of his frog, which looked suspiciously black. Upon leaning close and giving a big sniff I decided it was thrush.

Now how on earth does a grass-kept horse develop thrush in the middle of summer?

For those of you who don’t know what thrush is, it is a bacterial infection of the clefts of the frog. Thrush is associated with damp, moist, dirty conditions, and there is a foul smelling black discharge. The hind feet are more commonly affected. There is sometimes pain when pressure is applied to the frog, but in this particular case the horse shows no signs of discomfort.

Treatment for thrush involves moving the horse to drier conditions. As this horse is already in a dry field, there is not much that can be done there. The next time it rains it would be a good idea to bring him in to keep his feet dry. The foot should be thoroughly cleaned and dried out to remove any debris. If the thrush is serious then it is a good idea to have the frog pared so that air can get to the damaged tissue and help it heal. The clefts of the foot can then be scrubbed daily with iodine or antibacterial solutions. I usually put a good dose of “purple spray” down the clefts after the foot has been dried.
For this horse I have started cleaning the foot and spraying it with iodine, and when the farrier comes later this week I’ll ask him to have a look.

Prognosis for thrush is good, and most infections clear up between seven to fourteen days. To help prevent thrush reoccurring it is important to have the horse’s feet trimmed and shod regularly so that the heels cannot get too long, and the frog deep. Good stable management is vital, to keep the stable clean and dry, and to limit or change turnout so that the feet stay as dry as possible. This may mean changing fields to a better draining one, or limiting turnout. Feet should also be picked out daily to check for signs of infection.

Long Arena Tests

13 Jul

What do people think of long arena dressage tests? Even at prelim level?

I rode two dressage tests today; one was short arena and one was long arena. The short one is one I`ve done a few times, and whilst it was an interesting one (Novice 30), I quite enjoyed the challenge of Novice 38 – the long arena.

Once I`d got my head around where the extra letters were, and explained them to my reader (who also had to know the test inside out) the test was nice and symmetrical, yet a more flowing and complicated series of movements. Being a long arena I found it tested my accuracy and meant that the movements were more interesting, a twenty metre circle is harder when you`re riding it in sixty metres! Otis needed to focus more on me as he isn`t as complacent in a large arena and cannot predict the movements. It took it`s toll on us though – that centre line felt as though it went on forever! It was early afternoon and the arena was a sun trap, so a combination of heat and fatigue from a longer arena meant that when I saluted Otis just dropped his head and gave a big sigh.

So how did we do? The tests were fairly marked, and the comments made sense. In the short arena test I need to work on changing the rein in canter, with a couple of strides of trot over X. Sounds easy, but I had too many trot strides. I`m always balancing between Otis rushing, or trying to do a flying change, with him hollowing and dropping the contact. Today I got a good, forwards downwards transition, but too much trot before picking up canter. Otherwise, our canter work is improving, and from the video he looked more consistent. We were seventh.
In the long arena test Otis was tired (partly due to the heat, the deep warm up arena which took it out of him, and the fact our two tests were fifteen minutes apart), which hindered our medium trot work. However, in the free walk on a long rein Otis really stretched and got our best mark yet for it. This is something I`ve been focusing on as he naturally holds his neck quite short and hollow. We were second in this class, so I was very pleased with him.

Anyway, there aren`t many local dressage competitions which offer long arena tests at the lower levels, and I think they`re missing out. Obviously some venues are limited by their facilities, but if they have a 60x20m arena then they would be surprised by the interest in a long-arena class. It`s like stepping up half a level in dressage, and pushes both horse and rider as well as adding variety to the usual short arena tests.

Additionally, why doesn`t British Dressage put more emphasis on long arena tests? Providing more of them, or at least updating them more frequently. It would encourage more people to give them a go, but also raise awareness and knowledge about riding in a bigger arena.

Helmet Awareness Day

12 Jul

I’ve been reliably informed that today is Helmet Awareness Day, so I thought it was time to jump on the bandwagon and discuss helmets.

To me, it’s always been a cardinal sin to ride without a riding hat, and even when I rode bareback around one of the hacks to catch up with an adult when there was a sick horse I stopped at the tack room to pick up my hat. We wore our hats up the field if we wanted to ride back down.

I’ll admit, I have mounted and gone “oh my hat!” But we’ve never got further than the end of the drive. It’s always a risk in winter or the rain that you leave your woolly hat or cowboy hat on by mistake.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to rant about how you should wear a helmet when you ride, but rather look at the safety aspect of borrowing one. Most riding schools have a cupboard where new clients can borrow a hat. Firstly, there’s the danger of contracting nits, but secondly how many tines has that hat been dropped? Or even, how old is the hat? Manufacturers say we should replace hats every three years as they degrade, but most riding schools have cast off helmets which are older than me! How much protection do they actually provide?

Furthermore, why do some helmets pass the safety inspection and some don’t? Why are there several kite marks or BSEN numbers around? Shouldn’t helmets meet one set of criteria which comes under one title? And why are manufacturers (because there are some) allowed to still make hats that meet the 1996 regulations, when they have clearly been superceded by 1997 and 1998 as well as the others years since?

From a parents point of view, it drives me mad when they scrimp on headwear. Why go to the cheap shop and get the helmet that won’t protect your child’s head? And why if they have been riding weekly for several months don’t you buy them their own instead of exposing them to an elderly helmet with a couple of invisible cracks in which means when the child falls off whilst cantering their head is broken?

It’s all beyond me. I’m not saying money buys everything, but when kitting yourself out to ride, a hat fitted by a qualified fitter, which meets the most recent set of safety standards, is surely the way forward? In terms of borrowing hats from riding schools I would only do it for the first few lessons. It’s not worth the risk.

But the UK is pretty strict about wearing helmets on or around horses. Many clients tell me about their trip to the a Grand Canyon or Mongolia, where they were thrown onto a horse without any form of assessment, and sent off on a days ride with no helmet! I think I’d be sick walking along the narrow path of the Grand Canyon, regardless of if I had a hat on. But still, there are branches and rocks from above, even if falling off meant certain death.

Not wanting to put a downer on horse holidays, I do wonder when the world of Health and Safety will catch up with them.

The Pecking Order

11 Jul

How much does the herd pecking order affect a horses behaviour around humans?

I only ask because of recent observations of Apollo. Until recently in was in a herd of three geldings and was very much the baby. There was no nastiness but he was undoubtably the bottom of the pecking order. After a settling in period he became very easy to handle on the ground. He’d learnt the routine and stood still, moved over when asked, etc etc.

A couple of weeks ago he moved over to a field of four geldings. Two section As and a section D. Again, no nastiness amongst any but the two horses seem to be dominant. That’s probably partly to do with size.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that on the yard Apollo still stands, picks his feet up etc and is generally well behaved, but he seems to be pushing his luck a bit more and trying to boss us around. A big nudge with his head, standing in our personal space, disregard for where we are – it’s not bolshy it’s as though he isn’t aware of our presence. Demanding attention by stamping his feet if he’s being ignored, that sort of thing.

I’ve managed to portray him as an unlawful thug, but he only exhibits these behaviours a couple of times. We are being strict with him and putting him in his place, so hopefully this will phase out soon, but I wondered how much this teenage behaviour (after all it could be growing pains of a four year old) were attributed to suddenly moving up the social ladder.

Additionally, this can have knock on effects to ponies being handled by children. A dominant pony will take their child for walks whilst the submissive pony will allow their child to walk all over them. Not literally I hope! So should it be considered when turning your pony out? If he is dominant would his ego and the confidence of your child benefit from the pony being in a herd of small horses, who can squash any cheeky behaviour?

Furthermore, should we look at the personality of horses before giving them a field partner, to make sure they are compatible and fairly level in the social standings? So don’t turn out a dominant mature horse in his prime with the elderly, sedate granddad?

It’s all food for thought, and very interesting watching horses interact in the field, as well as with different humans.

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