More Equine Facts!

31 Aug

1) The measurement ‘hand’ is 4 inches because that was considered to be the average width across a mans knuckles. One of the best questions to ask the young clients.

 2) The Flehmen response is a way to direct scents in the air to specialized olfactory glands at the end of the nasal passage, and is is seem more in males than females, especially stallions. I most often see this when I let the horses eat a bit of human food – Otis`s favourite at the moment is malt loaf, and Llani loves the smell of cinnamon!

3) In Australia there were no horses until 1788. I assume that the British are responsible for introducing horses to Australia.

4) Human hair, fingernails and horse hooves are made from the same protein. I believe this is keratin.

5) Horses hooves grow approximately 1/4 inch per month, taking almost a year to grow from the cornet band to the ground. A livery horse at our yard had a keratoma removed in January and the hole is still growing out.

6) A horse trailer or ‘horse box’ was invented in England in 1836 by Lord George Bentinck. Pulled by six horses it was invented to get his race horses from one track to the next. This is interesting as I always assumed the horsebox came after the car.

7) When measuring height you use the top of the withers because the distance from the withers to the ground remains the same. (As long as the horse is standing on level ground.) If the horse was measured from the top of the head, the height could change every time. I like demonstrating this to the kids by getting them to measure the ponies` heights at different places in their body.

8) Alfalfa is thought to be the first cultivated food fed to horses by humans, probably the Parthians, around 100 b.c.

9) The first grain thought to be domesticated, and probably the first to be given to horses was barley.

10) In 1872, Leland Stanford (1824-1893) made a bet that at some point in the gallop all four of the horses legs are off the ground at the same time. Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) proved him right by using a series of 24 cameras and photographing a racehorse named Sallie Gardner. It`s amazing that someone could predict the sequence of gallop without the aid of video footage and a rewind button!

11) Aristotle (384-322 b.c.) in the 4th century b.c. described the sequence of the horses footfalls at a walk correctly

12) William Cavendish (1592-1676) described the trot and the amble. The first person to record the difference between the canter (3 beats) and the gallop (4 beats) was Claude Bourgelat 1712-1777) but he got the sequence wrong. Etienne-Jules Marey in 1872 was the first to publish an article on the correct sequence of the canter. The gallop wasn’t firmly known until the Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of 1872.

13) The name ‘Philip,’ and the feminine variant, ‘Philippa,’ mean ‘lover of horses.’ Funnily enough I don`t know anyone called Phillip.

14) Will Rogers (1879-1935) a political humorist had a horse named Soapsuds. Excellent name. I saw a competitor today with a horse called “Dylan the Unicorn”. It made me chuckle!

15) The horse is the state animal of New Jersey.

16) Cars with Horse names are the Ford’s Mustang, Pinto, Bronco and the Dodge’s Colt.

17) In 1961, the Morgan Horse was named the state animal of Vermont.

18) Morgan’s, being a stronger and more versatile breed, were a large part responsible for extinction of the Naragansett Pacer. This is just an example of evolution as the most well adapted species will survive.

19) The Shetland pony, the smallest pony breed, tends to be larger in the U.S. than in the U. K. Due to the harsh climate of the Shetland Isles, such diminutive breeds as the Shetland Sheepdog and the Shetland deer has been produced. Given that America is a bigger country it`s only right that their Shetlands are bigger than ours!

20) Shetland ponies were first imported into the U.S. in 1885. Again, I guess the British were responsible for that too.

On The Gallops

30 Aug

This week we’ve had five teenagers staying on a riding holiday. I’ve tried to balance our days so that the girls had fun, stayed dry, and had variety.

On Wednesday we went for a two hour hack and I brought the girls back via the gallops. None of them had been there before, but they were competent in canter and over fences so I wasn’t overly worried.

My back stop, one of the grooms, was on a very fast Anglo Arab, so I suggested she came to the front with me, so didn’t upset the other horses too much by overtaking. My instructions to the girls were quite simple – “I won’t have much control when we get to the gallops, and neither with Kelly, so just let your horses go. Don’t try and wait, heels down and hold on to your manes! Shout if there’s a problem. And whatever you do, don’t fall off!!”

Otis and I led the ride perpendicular to the gallops in a steady walk. He knows it’s a fittening exercise, and as soon as everyone was in line, I turned Otis onto the grass gallops and we were off!

There was a shriek behind me, so I looked back briefly but there were five riders on five horses so I didn’t worry too much. Otis galloped happily next to Kelly’s horse. That is, until she opened her out. Then we were pretty much left for dust. I checked behind me a couple of times and the girls were even further behind. I urged Otis on and enjoyed the unrestrained freedom.

We pulled up at the end of the gallops and waited for everyone to arrive. All the teenage girls were grinning and panting, patting their horses. “That was so awesome!” I agreed, it was very liberating, and blew all the cobwebs away. Otis felt great, and recovered on our walk back to the yard, so I hope he’s fit enough for Sunday’s event. Together, with that afternoons jumping lesson, the girls declared Wednesday to be the best day ever.

Friday was the girls last day, and after a disappointing Thursday I was allowed to take them in the cross country field. We didn’t jump very big, and I spent most of the time videoing them, but I think they thoroughly enjoyed popping over the little logs and cantering around the field. After lunch we had another hack planned. This time it was only an hour, but I planned to take Llani for his debut on the gallops. The ground is perfect down there at the moment so I wasn’t worried about the girls’ horses doing too much fast work on had ground. Besides, I think the riding school horses love it!

Our hack took us first to a steep hill, which we trotted up to get the horses warmed up and the wind out of their sails. This time I told the girls not to overtake me as I didn’t know how Llani would react. We set off at my word. There weren’t any whoops of delight this time, and Llani had one pony hot on his heels! Whereas Otis had accelerated in a straight line, and been completely focused on the track, Llani looked around all over the place, darting left and right and his gait varied a bit. Plus the fact that halfway along he ran out of steam! I let the girls draw level then, and he found a second wind.

Llani seemed to enjoy himself, but it took him a good half an hour to recover! According to the girls, Friday overtook Wednesday as the best day ever. The horses seemed to enjoy it just as much as the girls too, but hopefully they’re not too tired for the weekend.

On my hack today with Llani (yes, I’ve done a lot of hacking this week – my bum is very sore after twelve hours in the saddle) he felt nice and open and springy in his trot as we went across the field. It was as though yesterday’s gallop had unlocked him a bit and he had found previously unused muscles. I’ve done a lot of work getting Llani to stretch over his back and he is learning to stretch from the wither on his own accord, but today he felt a bit longer in his frame. Perhaps it was just exhaustion!

It does go to show though, that whilst you don’t want horses to gallop off at every field, a good blast unwinds them as much as it liberates us. The riding school horses hopefully go back to a lesson with a fresh mindset, and Otis has a good pipe opener ready for his next event. It was a test of Llani’s fitness and also hopefully served to get him more forwards and engage his hindquarters a bit.

On The Brink of Extinction?

29 Aug

Whilst searching around in my tired brain today (personally I blame the four little girls on the pony day and the seven am farrier appointment) I suddenly thought that I hadn`t written any blogs about breeds of horses. I tried to steer myself away from the beloved Welsh Cob, when I came across a website which described the rarity of Equine Breeds. Indeed only the Shetland pony and Welsh pony and cob are not endangered.

I was shocked to see that most of our native breeds are on the endangered species list, and those who still survive owe it to the leisure industry and the amateur riders. But with the importation of Warmbloods and other foreign horses, who are becoming more available to the amateur are the native breeds in decline even more?


Critical Endangered Vulnerable At Risk MINORITY
Cleveland Bay Dales Clydesdale Fell New Forest Pony 
Eriskay Exmoor Dartmoor Highland  
Suffolk     Shire  
Hackney horse & pony        

Eriskay? I hadn`t even heard of that breed before. Well, now I think about it the name seems vaguely familiar but I think I had the same reaction last time it was brought up.


Watchlist; Category 1, Critical.

Throughout the 20th century the ponies which were found in the Hebrides were known as Western Isles Ponies. These docile animals were the working ponies of the crofters.

They were invaluable to the island inhabitants who used them to carry pannier baskets of peat for winter fuel and seaweed from the shore to fertilise the land. They were also used for light ploughing.

With the onset of mechanisation, and a decline in the local population as people moved to the mainland, the breed steadily declined in numbers. By 1968 the only Western Isles ponies left were on the islands of Uist and Eriskay. The Breed Society was founded to conserve the remaining animals, and the breed name established as the Eriskay.

The Eriskay is a grey pony although occasionally other colours may be seen. Newborn foals can be black, bay or roan in colour but this gradually fades to the grey coloration seen in the adults. They have excellent temperament, and are strong and sturdy, standing up to 13.2hh, and ideally suited to the harsh environment of the Scottish Western Isles.


I was surprised the Cleveland Bay was on the critical list, as I thought it was enjoying a rise in popularity at the moment. But then I think some people may cross the Cleveland Bay with a finer animal to create more of a sports horse. For this reason, I also believe that the pure Hackney Pony is becoming rarer.

Breed Societies seem to work for the promotion of the breed and to encourage correct breeding so that the population doesn’t`t rise too much or the quality of horse is not jeopardised. Certainly, in Exmoor the locals take their ponies very seriously and the wild herds are monitored and rounded up regularly to check their health and to ensure there is no inter-breeding. The Queen does a lot for promoting Highland ponies, and even has her own stud in Balmoral, which should help support and popularise the breed again.

Due to mechanisation there is no requirement for horses in industry, except for the old-fashioned museum farms (Beamish in Newcastle was a childhood favourite of mine) and I have read of a couple of woodland farms which find it more efficient to have horses than tractors, and more eco-friendly. This means that all the heavy draught breeds suffered a decline, but recently the showing world has encouraged the Shire and Clydesdale back into the amateur world. Unfortunately, the heavy, ugly Suffolk has not enjoyed the same rise of numbers.


Watchlist; Category 1, Critical.

The Suffolk Punch is the oldest breed of heavy horse to exist in its present form and the earliest Stud Book of any heavy horse breed, and all modern Suffolks are descended from just one horse, Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, which was foaled in 1768. The modern Suffolk is taller than its forbears standing 16-17 hh, whereas Crisp’s Horse stood only 15.2 hh.

There were many thousands of Suffolks throughout East Anglia before the First World War as they are immensely strong and an ideal horse for working the land or carting goods. They are capable of working for long periods without rest, making them relatively cheap to keep. The Suffolk was hard hit by agricultural mechanisation as the flat arable land of East Anglia was well suited to steam engines or early tractors. The breed declined rapidly, and in 1966 there were only nine Suffolk foals registered.

The Suffolk is always chestnut in colour (always spelt without the “t” when referring to this breed), although the shade can vary from dark liver to a light mealy colour, occasionally with a white star but no other white markings. The legs are short, strong, and free from feather which was a useful advantage in the heavy clay soils of East Anglia.

In fact, the only native breeds not to make it onto this list are the Shetland, Connemara and the Welsh pony and cob. Shetlands are popular for small children, as well as being a useful companion as they don`t take up much space. My only conclusion to the popularity of the Welsh breed is that Wales is a notoriously patriotic country, and so tend to keep their breed alive and well. Hopefully the equine world will retrace their steps and move away from the Warmbloods and Hotbloods, instead making use of the variety of versatile horses and ponies we have in this country already.

Fun and Interesting Horse Facts

27 Aug

Ii was devising a horsey quiz for the pony day girls today, and found some of these little known facts.


1) Horses do not have a gall bladder - I guess this is why horses do not digest fats very easily.

2) When a domesticated horse is released in the wild they shed all traces of domestication rapidly – It just goes to show that we never really train a horse and become their leader.

3) In the wild a foal will suckle until they are one year old, in some conditions this can be longer – So why on earth do we wean at six months old?

4) Stallions will fight over females but generally not over territory – I read the Silver Brumby books as a child and Thowra definitely fought with Arrow over mares, but I`m sure the stallions fought for the right to graze in new territories …

5) Horses have better memories than elephants.

6) Horses have the largest eyes of any land animal – I didn`t realise this, but when you see an elephant`s eye you realise that the horse does actually have a large eye.

7) Horses are not colour-blind. At one time people thought that horses were colorblind. Although it is more difficult for them to see purples and violets, they have less trouble with yellows and greens – I remember reading this in a magazine a few years ago. Below is a picture that illustrates what a horse sees (bottom).


 8) A horse’s teeth take up more space in their head then their brain – Not surprisingly as they say the horse`s brain is the size of a walnut.

9) Adult male horses generally have 40 teeth and females 36 – This is because male horses have canine teeth, which is a throwback to the carnivorous ancestors.

10) The horse has binocular vision, but can also see different things in each eye. This is why you need to show your horses the spooky things in both eyes so the brain can get the message that it’s not spooky – this also explains why horse`s will spook at an object in the opposite direction.

A New Riding Hat

26 Aug

After procrastinating for most of the summer I went today to buy a new riding helmet.

My current hat, whilst it hadn`t been damaged to my knowledge is coming up to four years old. It`s a pretty basic skull cap as I have an odd shaped head and I`ve always found it very comfortable.

At the yard this morning I made a mental note of the make and size (3, yes I also have a big head) before heading off to the tack shop.

At the tack shop I was surrounded by numerous styles and makes of hats. Thankfully I know a little bit about them, God knows how unhorsey parents and child feel when going to buy their first hat. This helmet will be the one I use everyday so needs to be comfortable, with no peak for jumping, cross country and hacking. Past experience tells me that skull hats fit my weird head better anyway.

I found my current hat amongst the display and saw that it is kitemarked and up to BSEN:1384 1997 standard. Now this standard is the minimum standard to be used at the riding school I work at, so I looked at the more modern and expensive helmets. They were of BSEN:1384 2012 standard.

Doing what I do, I thought I would ask the assistant for help in finding a 2012 standard helmet which fits me. So she brought out all the size 3 hats and I tried them on. They tell you to go to a hat fitting with your hair in a similar style as when you ride. So it`s a good job I went straight from the yard! The first hat perched on my head, and the second pinched my temples. We continued through the rest of the pile. With one style the size 3 was far too tight whilst the 3.5 was slightly loose. If only they made a size 3.25! The assistant was starting to lose the will to live when she asked what hat I`d previously had (I think she was doubting I`d ever bought one!) I told her it was the Champion Pro-Plus and she dug out the size 3. I put it on, and it fitted like a glove.

Strange isn`t it, that the more basic skull cap fitted the shape of my head better than the more modern variations. I felt like Harry Potter picking up his phoenix feather wand in Ollivanders.

The only positive thing about buying this helmet was that it was half the price of the 2012 counterparts!

So I went home to read up on the standards of riding helmets, to make sure I was still fully protected.

The BSEN:1384 1997 standards was a big step up from the previous standards for riding hats, and is now the minimum standard for all hats.

EN1384 1996 / BSEN 1384 1997

This standard may be found prefixed by other initials belonging to the country testing the helmet, e.g. DIN EN1384 indicating testing in Germany. The BS prefix symbolizes that the hat has been tested in Britain and though in theory

there should be no difference, some European countries have approved helmets that may have failed if tested in Britain.

The two standards are identical in content and were a major leap forward over the previous British standards, offering bottom edge protection for the first time. The helmet is impact tested almost right on the bottom edge (as opposed to 75mm up from the bottom edge on BS4472 hats) so the protective liner has to extend all the way down to the rim. This change came about because it was found that in 25% of falls the rider did not land on the top of their heads, but on the sides, front or back. It does include a penetration test.

This is the basic minimum standard for almost all forms of riding.


Hats can also be marked with the KiteMark, which tends to praise the company, more than the helmet.

The Kitemark

The Kitemark is the registered trademark of the British Standards Institute and

can only be affixed to products certified by them. As well as complying with

the requirements of the relevant standard, e.g EN1384 or PAS 015, the mark

indicates that the company complies with a rigourous system of regulation

and testing. Companies are required to provide the BSI with unrestricted

access to their offices and factories and allow regular testing of randomly

chosen samples through batch and audit testing. Hats are only released for

sale once batch testing is completed, thus avoiding product recall.

Kitemark certification is voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time.


A higher standard than the BSEN is the PAS 015 standards, which are suggested for those who do more cross country riding. I`ve checked my new hat, and it is also meets the PAS015 1998 standard – phew!


PAS015: 1998/ PAS015: 2011 with Kitemark mark


This stands for Product Approval Specification and was developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) in response to concerns about the time it was taking to develop what would become the EN1384. The first version was formulated by looking at drafts for the European standard and taking the highest option in each case. After the official publication of the EN1384 in 1997 certain differences occurred between it and PAS015, leading to the 1998 revision of the PAS015 to remove those differences and address new areas of protection such as crush resistance and protection against injury when landing on an edged surface. As the test line is lower at the front it tends to lead to slightly bulkier helmets. A stability test is also included to limit excessive

movement during wearing or a fall. This has been revised in 2011 with an increased drop height and several other amendments affecting the performance of hats. It is expected that the 1998 version will run parallel with the 2011 for 18 months.


It took a lot of searching, but I`ve only found a little bit on the BSEN:1384 2012 standards. I was asked if I wanted to download a full copy of the BSEN 1384 standards document for £145 but I declined…

EN 1384: 2012

This European standard has been adopted for all riding helmets and helmet from Jockey British standards (British Standards). This legislation represents a step forward compared to previous regulations issued by British Authorities. It is recognised at European level and by many international countries with the exception of some countries who wanted to adopt Regulations stricter parameters. A novelty in particular: the use of the chin guard is no longer allowed because in case of a fall would result in mandibular fractures.


From what I can gather my new riding hat is sufficient for my daily activities and most riding, but it may be that when I investigate air jackets I need to look at getting a helmet which meets the 2012, or even the prestigious SNELL standards. After today I would never order a helmet online though, you can never guarantee the fit and a bad fitting helmet can have such detrimental consequences.

Field Frolicks

25 Aug

This morning I has a very entertaining morning in the field.

After Otis’s brilliant dressage test and 6th place at yesterday’s one day event he had booked a day off. It was drizzling and overcast when I took his feed to the field this morning. I shook his bucket and he eventually trotted over, pushing Number 2, George, out the way. I left Otis with his bucket under George’s watchful eye and started poo picking. Both George and Tricky, who share the field with Otis, know that the orange bucket is not theirs and they watch Otis eat, in a similar fashion to Oliver Twist looking into the Govenor’s dining room (you know the scene!) sometimes I feel sorry for them, but they are both semi retired and have their dinner when Otis is in.

Back to my story. I went off to poo pick and within minutes I realised I was being followed. Tricky trotted over to me, his head just above the grass. He stopped. Jumped in the air. Reared and then struck out with his front foot. Crazy pony!

While Tricky cavorted around me Otis became distracted from his bucket. He looked at us and then spooked at the woods behind him. Quick as a flash, George had his nose in the orange bucket! Otis soon realised he had been tricked and chased George away. George is quite thick skinned though, and just stood there, staring at the bucket.

So I continued poo picking, with Tricky cantering around and the Otis finished his breakfast. With that, he cantered over to me, bucking, hotly pursued by geriatric George. Tricky started trying to play with George, nudging him and stamping a foot whilst Otis looked around at his kingdom once before turning to the grass.

Tricky and George continued to play, with Otis stood in the middle staring at them, as if to say “c’mon guys! Act your age!”

I started videoing the horses interacting, whilst avoiding them. As soon as Otis saw the camera he marched over to me to investigate!

It was so funny watching the horses playing, but also so random! Tricky obviously felt full of the joys of spring and wanted the others to play too. George reluctantly got involved, but Otis was too senior to be approached!







Tight Throatlashes

24 Aug

I was competing today, and whilst wandering through the car park I was amazed to see such a number of tight throatlashes. Or throatlatches as some write. I saw a few horses tied up to lorries with their throatlashes flush with their jaw. These horses weren`t even working onto a contact and the strap was too tight already, so heaven knows how the horse felt once the reins were picked up and they flexed at the jaw.

I was always taught to fit four fingers between the throatlash and the horse`s cheek, and if in any doubt between two holes I usually opt for the looser one. As a horse works correctly and starts cantering the windpipe needs to expand so that the horse can get enough oxygen to perform properly. The purpose of the throatlash is to prevent the bridle from coming over the horse`s ears in an accident, not to control the horse.

I did a bit of internet research to see what everyone else`s opinions are, and many people seem to be confused between the fitting of the noseband and the throatlash. This seems to be a detrimental mistake for the horse, as it can mean the difference being able to breathe properly and opening the mouth. 

In my reading I also saw a few more “fittings” , which mainly concerned the noseband. My Pony manuals told me that I should be able to fit two fingers between the cavesson noseband and the pony. Nowadays however, the trend seems to be one finger. And of course we have a choice of many different types of noseband, which all apply pressure in different parts of the horse`s face. I`m not saying it`s wrong or right, but I find with Otis a tight noseband, either cavesson or flash, creates tension in his jaw. After all, the purpose of the noseband is not to strap the mouth closed, rather encourage it to not open widely and to help with control. If the jaw is stopped from opening then the horse cannot relax; this is highlighted in the fact Otis licks his lips when he`s concentrating. If he wants to do that and he still performs well then I don`t mind!

Other forums mentioned having the flash so tight you can`t put a single finger between it and the nose. Again, to me this seems far too tight to be comfortable for the horse. Can you imagine galloping across country with someone pinching your nose?

I think what I`m trying to say here, was that I am surprised how many horse owner`s don`t seem to realise how they jeopardise their horse`s health and comfort by over tightening their tack and can hinder their performance. Perhaps it`s people taking the golden rules and adjusting them to a certain pony or horse but have forgotten to revert to the golden rules on other horses, which has resulted in tack being fitted incorrectly. Perhaps bridles or tack should be sold with a fitting guide booklet?It needn`t be big, but should just point people into the right direction. After all, if you`re told to buy a breastplate as your saddle slides back yet you don`t know how to fit it properly how do you know if the saddle is prevented from sliding back? In the worst case scenario the saddle slides back even with the breastplate on and there`s an accident. There`s so many options for tack nowadays that it is impossible to know the correct fitting and measurement for all of them, so a fitting guide would serve as a useful educating tool, as well as reminding owners to have a regular check of the way their tack sits on their horse.


The Making or Breaking of Daisy

23 Aug

At the beginning of this camp I was briefed on my ride, who were the more novice group of the camp. They were just into secondary school, and had a variety of ponies and experience.

My chief told me that the youngest of my ride may be a problem. It was her first time at main camp, and she was quite novice and usually preferred riding with the minis (under 10s) at rallies. She voiced a concern that Daisy may not manage camp, and that it would either “make or break” her.

Then I was introduced to Daisy and her pony. When I approached I could hear Mum telling her what to do, and not to forget such and such. While Daisy put her tack in the tack room with her sister Mum told me that she was a fair weather rider, and found tacking up difficult as she couldn’t reach her 14.1hh chestnut veteran. My immediate response was that I hoped she had a box to stand on.

Lunchtime came and went, and all the girls were told to be ready for 3pm for a flat lesson. I took the lesson steadily, keeping the ride in closed order and working them with and without stirrups. Within about ten minutes Daisy came to the middle, sobbing that her arms were hurting from pulling her reins. Her usually docile pony has perked up being ridden in a group and kept trying to catch up to the pony in front. I briefly explained half halts to Daisy, and then sent her back out – he would tire himself out soon! Half her problem was that she looked like a pea on a drum, this cob was so much bigger than her!

Ten minutes later, she was sobbing because she had a stitch, so after a quick breather she resumed. When I mentioned the word canter she had a hissy fit, so feeling impatient, I left her in the middle of the school while the others cantered. At the end I offered her the opportunity to canter around whilst the rest of the ride walked. She agreed reluctantly and her pony, on a new lease of life, tanked around the arena with Daisy crying out loudly. Needless to say she didn’t canter again that day.

Just before 9.30 the following day, I went to my block of stables to find all the girls ready except for Daisy. Her patient pony was ready, but I had to help her zip up her new chaps and put her hairnet on. I think the others were keen to get started so we moved quickly. I noticed that Daisy was keen to please and follow instructions, but lacked the confidence to use he initiative (e.g. She waited until I told her to open the arena gate, whereas most other kids would have followed the initial instruction of “walk into the arena and form a straight line before checking girths and stirrups before mounting”).

Anyway, the flat lesson got off to a better start, Daisy worked in a space and began to ride independently. She had a couple of fast canters around the arena today and then I announced they would be swapping ponies. I put Daisy onto the 12.2hh grey mare who was very sweet and steady. To be honest, she looked perfect on her as they were the right size. The whole ride worked their new mounts and assessed them. I wasn’t too worried about Daisy’s assessment as I wanted her to focus on being confident and independent. She did manage to say a couple of words about the mare at the end, though. As we walked back to the yard Daisy said quietly to me “I loved riding Tessy”. I nodded in agreement and said she had ridden her well.

That afternoon we went in the showjumping arena, and the DC came to watch my lesson. I spent a long time on the grid, building it up steadily so that the more advanced girls didn’t get bored (although their approaches needed much improvement) but also Daisy didn’t feel outfaced. The cross rapidly became two crosses and then three, before the final fence being an upright and then a spread. Daisy was a bit wobbly in her position, but her cob looked after her, and she grew in confidence each time. The grid grew to a good 2’3″, and then I took to adding a top rail to the spread for the other girls, and removing it for Daisy.
To finish, they had to ride a related distance, counting the canter strides and then altering the number. This was slightly above Daisy, but she still counted correctly and kept her canter between the fences so I was pleased.

The following day held another flat lesson and a cross country lesson. When I arrived Daisy was crying because her bridle was tangled and she couldn’t sort it out. I untangled the martingale and explained that no one minded her asking for help. It wasn’t the end of the world; they were all here to learn, after all.

Soon the tears were forgotten, and the first half of the flat lesson went smoothly. We came to cantering, and Daisy cried “I don’t think I can do it!” So I asked why, and she said she thought her pony would canter when the one in front did. I told her not to panic. Privately I agreed, her could be a bit of a sheep, and with the greatest will in the world, Daisy didn’t have the strength to stop him. When it was the turn of the person in front of Daisy, I told her to overtake and have her canter, before letting that person back in front of her at the back of the ride. This worked smoothly, and she had some good canters. We even finished the lesson successfully riding a figure of eight in canter with a change of lead through trot.

Cross country was a challenge because her pony kept tanking back to the ride and skipping around the little logs, so I soon swapped Daisy onto the little grey. I felt they would be happier pottering around whilst the bigger girl would remind Daisy’s pony of his manners and correct behaviour. I assured Daisy that it was only physical strength which limited her riding ability. Both girls were happy, and all of the riders had a good gallop up the hill at the end.

I think Daisy grinned the whole way back to the stables! Apparently that night she text her Mum and asked her to buy the little grey pony!

The next day Daisy sat her D+ test with the rest of the ride and scraped through. I think passing that test boosted her confidence. She was so full of herself that the penultimate day, even after her crises if not wearing enough clothes to bed and freezing all night, she went cross country with her cob and even when he was tanking along she still aimed for the jumps! Today’s gallop was even faster than last time, albeit on a shallower incline. Daisy still thoroughly enjoyed it though!

On the final day we did a few relay races, and I was pleased to see Daisy getting into the swing of it and cantering around with everyone else. She seemed to have fun, and with the musical ride, her Mum saw a vast improvement in her skills and confidence level.

So, we had a few tears daily, which I think were only little things such as homesickness, shyness (not asking for help and panicking), and then confusion and tiredness. The tears were soon brushed away and she smiled most of the time. I think camp made Daisy, and I hope she’ll become more committed and ride more so that she improves. Hopefully she’ll feel a bit more independent from her Mum and start using her initiative a bit more.

After the musical rides, while all the girls were in fancy dress, I had to give out the felts to the successful candidates. Unfortunately, it took me so long to identify and give the felts that I lost track of names! With two white felts left, I went along the line asking if I’d missed anyone. There was no answer, and I left them with the Chief.

It was only when I got into my car to leave, complete with my wine from Daisy, that I realised I probably missed her out because she’s so mouse-like. Now I feel wracked with guilt because this girl, who’s overcome many obstacles this week, has given me a card saying “thank you for being such a wonderful instructor” and I’ve let her down by forgetting to give her her well earned felt! I hope she plucks up the courage to ask the Chief for it…


22 Aug

I was teaching a group of mixed abilities a flat lesson during the week which had an enlightening moment.

Previously I’d had them working individually, and I was trying to get the less confident riders to ride independently and focus on their position whilst the advanced riders were working towards improving their horses.

After I’d watched them all trot aimlessly around, riding a few circles, I instructed them to ride a trot-walk-trot transition over every dressage letter. For the novice riders it helped focus them on their transitions and to give them an exercise, and for the more advanced they could see how their horses improved by riding the transitions. In particular, was one rider who kept trotting around at one hundred miles per hour, catching up with everyone and pushing her horse onto the forehand. I had already repeatedly told her to think about her horse’s rhythm and to slow him down. As a teenager, she thought she knew best.

After a few transitions her horse started using his hindquarters to push himself forward, and had a more active, powerful trot. It didn’t cover the ground as much, but it was better balanced and more rhythmical.

So I asked his rider how the trot felt.

“Dead. Like, I’m not going anywhere.”

This is when it occurred to me that my rider had confused the words “forwardness” with “speed”. I tried to explain that a forwards horse had a desire to go forwards and could maintain his gait with little help from the rider. A horse working correctly has a constant and good rhythm (and tempo) which isn’t necessarily fast. A fast horse quite often lacks balance and rushes to escape his work.

I went on to explain that a horse works correctly when he is pushing himself along by his hindquarters, instead of pulling himself along with his shoulders, as her horse was doing.

I suggested that this rider counted her trot rhythm and tried to keep it a bit slower than she had been, but more consistent. I told her that circles and school movements would help establish the rhythm and engagement of her horse, and if she rode them with correct bend and in her rhythm her horse would become more supple and both would develop into established stages of training.

As a teenager, she obviously knew best and continued to ride her horse out of his natural rhythm had onto his forehand, but it made me realise that everyone interprets terms differently and often it is worth explaining every phrase so that we’re all reading from the same page.

Black Horses

20 Aug

Earlier this week I took the girls training towards their D+ test round the yard to test them on colours and markings. I felt they should know them so rather than teach they needed to be tested and then the knowledge gaps filled.

Bay and chestnut were easy, and then we found a black pony. “Dark bay” said my victim. I raised an eyebrow. “Well I was told that there’s no such thing as a black horse.” She cried indignantly.

And so began my lecture about black horses.

The trouble I had this week was that most of the black ponies had bleached over their saddle areas. I patiently explained that the coat of black horses bleaches in the sun, some more than others, and usually when they’ve been turned out wet or sweaty. Bleaching can be prevented or reduced by washing and drying the horse fully before turning out and wearing a fly rug or summer sheet.

You can distinguish between black horses and dark bay horses by looking at the skin around their eyes and muzzle. With a black horse this skin is black.

Then one of the girls said “so Ace isn’t black because he’s got white on his muzzle” … Nope. That’s a marking! The Friesian cross is indeed black!

Then we carried on round the yard and came across a couple of dark bays which were correctly identified and then we found another black horse.

“Black” I was informed by one of my riders. “No he’s not!” Interrupted his owner, a more senior pony club member. “He’s bay ‘cos his body has brown bits on.”

I felt like hitting my head against a brick wall. His muzzle was black … And his name was Jet!


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