What an Exciting Hack!

17 Dec

Today has been an interesting day, with ups and downs. But to cheer me up I am going to recount one of the more exciting moments of the day.

Otis and I went for a hack with Apollo and his Mummy this morning. We went down the road and then cut through some woods towards a field.
“It’s a good job I’m on Otis” I said as we negotiated the lock and chain on the first gate. Llani would struggle to stand still while I leant around his neck with no reins.

Apollo was excited for the fields; he knows them well! We had a steady canter along the top of the first field before pulling up for the second gate. It was a narrow one which swung open downhill. It was latched with a loop of bailing twine. Otis and I went through first, and then Apollo and his Mum followed.
“I’ll shut it!” She cries, attempting to turn Apollo around. He had other ideas though, keeping one ear fixed on the “Place to Canter”. They pushed the gate, then turned round as it swung back open.

I want to let them learn to shut the gate, but inside I want the job done, so I close my mouth a wait patiently.

“Your saddle’s slipping, do you want me to do the gate?” I say, as Apollo’s Mummy starts to slide to the right. She pulls herself up, as Apollo turned to look at his saddle sliding. Obviously this made the problem worse, and I watched in horror as his Mummy slide gracelessly off the side into a large puddle.

Apollo looked in horror and then BANG! Her air jacket exploded. Apollo leapt back, startled, before turning tail and fleeing. With Otis and me in hot pursuit.

“This is why I will never take you hunting” I said to Otis as we careered along the field, watching Apollo’s saddle continue to slip round. He was obviously frightened of his new style.

We continued down the field, me trying to steady Otis, calling Apollo, and keeping him firmly in my sight. Down into the wooded track, ducking the low branches, over the large stones and through the running stream before Apollo propped right and cantered along the road.

As I said last week, some people feel that it is safe and a useful training aid cantering on the road. After today, I maintain my view that I do not like cantering on a Tarmac road. It is slippy and the clatter of feet tells me there is more impact than trotting along it. Plus the fact that I was approaching the family on bikes very rapidly!

The young girl screamed, leapt off her bike and hid in the hedge, whilst the Mother and son pressed themselves close to the opposite hedge, mouths open in fear.

Thankfully, Apollo paused to look at the bike on the ground, allowing me to catch up and stop Otis. Apollo turned, but thought twice about running back along the road. Calling his name, I managed to get close enough to grab hold of his reins. They both stood there, trembling. I knew how they felt, as I felt my legs shake when I dismounted.

Otis was wired, and kept pacing in circles, so I stayed in the middle of the road and began to sort a frightened Apollo. The pommel was by his elbow, one stirrup was missing, and his martingale had slipped so that the rings had pulled his reins down to his chest. This probably didn’t help the panic button. His saddle cloth was a sheepskin one, which I always think are quite slippery so probably didn’t help the situation.

Once the saddle was back on and I was mentally preparing myself for taking two horses back to the field, I heard a shout. Apollo’s Mummy appeared round the corner, waving the missing stirrup! She was perfectly fine, except for having a wet bum and burst pride. Or air jacket!

You should also remember that the bike riding family are still hiding in the hedge, too scared to move. I returned Apollo to his Mummy and we told Family Bike to pass before finding a nearby gate and remounting.

We walked quietly home letting all of our pulses revert to normal, having a short trot towards the end to ensure both horses were sound and comfortable. I checked both horses legs when we were back at the yard, so thankfully we all escaped unscathed.


15 Dec


I saw this photo on the Internet and whilst I don’t know a huge amount practically about breeding, caring for pregnant mares and so on, I thought this photo describes the position of the foal inside the mare just prior to birth very well. It certainly helps get your head around how those long limbs fold away inside the abdomen!

Am I Any Good?

13 Dec

A couple of weeks ago I taught a client I hadn’t seen for a little while. She had been busy then I had been away.

In this interlude she had lessons with a couple of other instructors from the riding school. I enquired how her lessons had been. Often they’ve worked on different things to what I had planned and the two lessons could conflict. For example, if someone has had a lesson working on improving their canter seat then I would be silly to suddenly focus on jumping position in canter until one box is ticked off.

“I was shouted at about my leg position. It’s too far forward”, reported my client. I felt uncomfortable. Was she saying I was missing basic things or not teaching her properly? Almost every lesson we do without stirrups and her lower leg has improved significantly, but I had taken the decision to move onto some more interesting flatwork, such as leg yield or direct transitions.

“No one worked me as hard as you do”, she joked. “I wasn’t as red faced as I am with you.”
Do I work my clients too hard? I began worrying. Yes I keep them busy for the full duration of the lesson, but we have regular breaks to discuss the progress and exercise. If they look tired I give them a break, and a lot of the adults are happy to say when they need a rest. I don’t think I overwork them. They need to get their money’s worth!

“Someone did tell me my circle was great. But I didn’t think it was up to your standard so I repeated it.”

Are my standards too high? Yes I aim for perfection, but I know not everyone is capable of it. I like to give points to improve for every movement or exercise. So if the circle falls in on the second half I say “lovely first half, just be careful you don’t stop riding the circle until you’ve finished it.” Or words to that effect. Does anyone want to hear that they’re a great rider and doing well, when the movements are mediocre? Surely you don’t progress then?

Pondering these thoughts we went off to the arena. I was very critical with myself as I taught, worrying that I was a rubbish instructor. My client warmed up well, worked without stirrups in collected, working and medium trot (well as much variety as a riding school horse can provide) before cantering some figures of eight, working on using her corners and improving the transitions. She seemed to come away happy but tired, having enjoyed her lesson.

I came away realising that this rider must have improved in order to sit so well to the trot, and that I should try to remember that there is a balance for recreational riders. They want to improve, but they also want variety and interest in their lessons. They may be battling lumps and bumps, or life hurdles, which limit their skills, and I should be able to provide a positive reprieve from life.

Whether I’m a good teacher or not, I guess it’s the clients who make that decision!

Road Work

12 Dec

A couple of weeks ago I was at a yard I teach at and overheard a strange conversation. A livery owner had just brought her pony back from her first hack after getting the all clear from the vet for a tendon injury.
“Did you have a good ride?” asked one of the grooms politely.
“Yes thanks, it was great to be able to canter again.”
“So where did you go? Most of the canter paths are really muddy at the mo.”
“Oh we just had a canter along the road opposite as usual.”

My jaw dropped.

Never mind the fact that the pony has only been in rehab for the last month and probably shouldn`t be cantering as soon as she gets the all clear. I`m not the vet and wasn`t involved so can`t pass comment on the level of work the pony should be doing.

But cantering on the road?! This was drilled into me from the time I could walk, that you should never canter on the roads. The fear of our instructors wrath hung over us if our ponies ever got over excited and cantered a stride on the road. We could trot, and did a fair bit of trot work to build stamina and strengthen tendons.

I went home thinking about this cantering on the road malarkey. The livery must have been told at some point that it is OK. So I turned to the all-knowing Google and researched it.

The reasons I was brought up with that we didn`t canter on the roads where the increased concussion and danger of speed. Cantering is a faster gait and the legs hit the ground with more energy so there is the shock of impact running up the cannon bone, risking the onset of splints. If you are cantering along the road you are going faster, which means you are travelling towards oncoming traffic or hazards faster than in walk or trot. This gives the rider less chance to see the object, and the horse is more likely to perform an emergency stop and spin, leaving their rider on the tarmac. Plus an oncoming vehicle has less time to stop so there is a higher risk of a head on collision.

To my surprise, there were a few arguments in favour of cantering on roads in the world of the internet. Even more surprisingly there were some arguments which had some good logic supporting them.

Firstly it seems unanimous that barefoot horses have more grip on tarmac and are less likely to slip than shod horses so the people who leant towards cantering on hard surfaces tended to ride barefoot horses. I agree about the slipping factor. But surely working regularly on hard surfaces will wear down the hoof too quickly for the horse to grow and therefore they become footsore and thus require shoeing. Which means that you can no longer work comfortably on hard surfaces?

Some tarmac can become shiny and slippery, which is hazardous to horses in walk, let alone canter. Add this to the risk of man-hole covers popping up all over the show, and suddenly haring along the road at a rate of knots can be terrifying if your horse slips.

Secondly, was the theory that cantering is less concussive than trotting, so it is better to canter on the roads than trot. One supporter of this theory talked about the relative sounds of trotting and cantering. A fast trot up the road does indeed seem very loud, and going on the knowledge that sound is energy, if more energy is produced than the gait will be louder. Additionally, the two beat rhythm of the trot causes a heavy footfall, with the inclination to fall onto the forehand. So if you ride a horse who tends to be heavy footed and fall onto the forehand then trotting on the road can be very detrimental to their forelimbs. So we could consider canter. The three beat gait encourages the horses weight onto the hindquarters, which so lightens the forces on the front legs if cantering on the road. Again, this makes sense. But … if you have an unbalanced horse in trot, surely it is going to be unbalanced, with a four beat, on the forehand canter? This can mean that the canter is just as heavy on the feet as the trot.

Perhaps in this case you would be better off riding a slower, more balanced trot on hacks and improving your horse`s way of going in the arena? Once our horses are riding advanced dressage movements then they may well have the uphill, collected canter, that relieves the front limbs from tarmac induced concussion. However, what would be the risks to the hindlegs?

Some people say that when out hunting they often canter on tarmac because of the level of control, or uncontrol, should I say. They find a bouncy canter more comfortable than a high stepping trot. I can believe that this sort of canter is less concussive than a medium trot. However, all these hunters say that they only do it for short periods and when absolutely necessary.

Another interesting viewpoint is that of police horses. They work long hours on hard ground, and it can include cantering (for example after a thief) so how are these horses trained and protected against the risks? One answer is special shoes, whilst another answer is similar to that of fattening hunters or competition horses. Trotting up hills and other road work strengthens the tendons and ligaments, so that they are capable of standing up to many more forces than those horses used to working in an arena. It`s a bit like a cross country runner used to soft ground, suddenly running a road race. I`m sure he would suffer from shin splints as much as a horse will.

One point that I understood was maintaining a canter along a verge and across a driveway to get back onto the verge, as it keeps the rhythm of the canter and the horse doesn`t fight their rider for the short trot period. The tarmac would only account to one canter stride, which I`m confident most horses would be able to cope with.

After reading through all of the arguments, examples, points of view, and theories I came to the conclusion that the average person shouldn`t canter on roads as their horse is too heavy and unengaged for the benefit to the limbs to outweigh the safety risks. I am perfectly happy to trot on roads, and feel it is important in getting a horse fit and sound, but I won`t be trying canter any time soon!


Getting Into The Christmas Spirit

11 Dec


Moving Up From Riding School Ponies

9 Dec

I teach this teenager on her Halfinger pony, who she has been riding since Easter. He’s a big step up from her previous “perfect first pony” as he is sensitive and very powerful.

In the summer we did a bit of jumping, but it wasn’t hugely successful. The pony rushed and my rider felt a bit out of control and so let the pony run out. A bit like driving your car too fast.

Not wanting to teach this Haflinger to run out, we returned to flatwork and have really stepped it up a notch. My rider is naturally very quiet with the hand, so recently I’ve taught her to ride her pony “between leg and hand” a bit more. I don’t want him to be very collected and engaged, I just want to encourage the feeling of togetherness. This has been really successful, and their rein connection is more secure and the rider finds it easier to affect her pony’s way of going because the lines of communication are tauter.

With the darker evenings she is having to spend more time in the school, and I thought pole work would help provide variety to her rides.

The first lesson was not particularly successful. I think I made the exercise a bit tricky and overestimated my rider’s self confidence and progress. Or I had forgotten the speed the pony picks up when he thinks about jumping! Either way, it took a lot of tries to get her to canter over the poles.

The following week I took a step backwards. We warmed up paying particular attention to having the Haflinger between leg and hand, and then I introduced the trot poles.

I reminded my rider that she needed to ride every step towards the poles. Her pony isn’t a riding school “point and kick” pony, so needs her to be very focused on leading him to the poles and telling him what to expect.

She circled until he was balanced and rhythmical and then headed straight for the trotting poles. She looked at a fence post straight ahead, so she wasn’t looking down, and kept tunnelling her pony straight towards the post with her hands level and together, legs squeezing him down the tunnel of her hands.

As expected, he was over dramatic and leapt them. But he hadn’t thought of side stepping them. She rewarded him verbally and came round again, in exactly the same approach. He knew what was coming so tried to rush, but because he was up into the hand, the tiniest of half halts with her upright position, lifting her core, was enough to balance him so that he floated over the poles.

Another reward, and then off to ride a circle or two before re-approaching. Again, straight over.

I adjusted the poles slightly to suit his stride, and she came over them on the other rein. Perfect. When we discussed the exercise after she said she could feel her core muscles working, keeping her horse balanced and steady, but could definitely feel the benefit.

Next I turned to the canter. I asked her to ride the canter in a similar way to the trot, so he wasn’t trying to pull into the forehand – his canter is much improved already – and then for my rider to be strong through her upper body (he goes onto the forehand and she collapses through her upper body). On the flat she could feel the effects of these changes, and maintained it for longer periods at a time.

Now my rider cantered a circle, balanced both herself and the pony, and approached the poles. It was like pick up sticks! Not because the pony galloped through, but more because the poles were light and his out-of-sync stride just flicked the poles out of place.

Once I’d reorganised the poles we tried again. A better approach, with an even better canter, meant they cantered through the poles only knocking one. However, the pony was straight and didn’t even think about bypassing the poles.

My rider worked hard maintaining the canter as we repeated the exercise a few times on both reins. They didn’t have one run out!

I was really pleased for both of them as it gives a solid baseline to work from, and my client realised how she has to be the leader when riding a green or non-riding school pony. Roll on next lesson!

Potty Training

7 Dec

One of the horses I’m looking after always stops to urinate when you are turning him out.

“It saves on bedding” commented someone.

I had to agree, but then over the next couple of days I thought about this horse and his routine.

He is on livery so is turned out every week day at 8.30. But on weekends his owners looks after him, so sometimes doesn’t come until a bit later. And she may not turn him out immediately, preferring to muck out or ride first. So on days like these, such as those when the farrier or vet is coming mid morning, this horse is crossing his legs for hours on end. What does this do to his bladder and kidneys?

I noticed a morning or two later how concentrated this horse’s pee was, as well as the huge quantity, which again indicates that it could be harmful to his health.

So how long is the horse stabled for? Assuming he is brought in at dark, this is about 4pm at the moment. Which means that he is waits sixteen hours until he next goes to urinate. And that is assuming the last thing he does before going into the stable is to do a number one. No wonder his urine is dark yellow!

Looking into the situation, it does appear to be a surprisingly common issue, with many horses refusing to pee away from home, or in trailers, or new yards until they have settled. Some people overcome this by taking their horse out to grass last thing at night to urinate, and again first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, there is a risk of bladder infections with this behaviour so it should be discouraged if possible.

Some yards teach horses to pee into a bucket, which reduces the bedding wasted. I used to do this with Otis, as he insists on marking his territory on a fresh bed, as it seemed ridiculous to dirty the bed immediately. Instead of getting Otis to aim in the bucket, I used to push the bucket into the firing line as he prepared himself, which meant that Otis wasn’t reliant on the bucket to be able to urinate.

You can encourage the horse to urinate more frequently by providing a deeper bed so that there is less splashing on the legs. Also by ensuring the horse is relaxed and encouraging excretion by whistling yourself. In a similar manner to humans, the noise acts as a trigger.

I also read that some horses are shy, so cannot relieve themselves if too many people or horses are watching. Someone said they overcame this by crowding around when they knew their horse would definitely pee, and then rewarding him verbally and with treats. Soon the horse was comfortable in all situations, and much happier.

So how can we solve this little horse’s problem? Firstly, by changing his routine slightly so that he is given more opportunities to urinate in the afternoons and evenings, and provide a deeper, bigger bed. And then hopefully he’ll begin to relieve himself more frequently and so reduce the chances of getting an infection of some sort.

Friday Night Chuckle

5 Dec

This fluffy critter made me laugh this evening so I thought I should share!


A Colic Scare

3 Dec

This morning we had a bit of a colic scare, which makes an interesting story.

The owners of the yard that I’m doing a bit of work for were going out to dressage this morning, so they turned out all the horses (except for the stubborn yearling who hates going in the field) early and I turned up about nine am, as they were loading up, to start mucking out. We decided that I should come in a bit later so that I was out of the way while they frantically plaited, washed, and argued. Then I could work in peace and quiet.

Anyway, I had just had a ten minute stand off with the stubborn yearling, who had finally decided that I am more stubborn than he, and was halfway through the first barn when the yard owner’s husband, a stockman by trade, appeared.
“What do we do for colic?” He asked gruffly.
Panic mounted inside me, but I calmly replied with “how bad is it?”
“I dunno. It’s one of the youngsters but I thought I’d come and get you first”. He’s a man of little words, but I managed to find out that the gelding had been rolling a bit and kicking at his stomach all morning. As we approached his field the rose coloured was standing dejectedly by the hedge. Uncertain of his identity, we approached him quietly and you could see he had been in distress, however he was now standing quietly. He wasn’t tucked up and didn’t have an elevated breathing rate, but I wanted to bring the pony in so I could monitor him for a couple of hours.

He was quiet enough to lead in, and I was informed as we closed a gate “he won’t like it. The last time he was in a stable he had his balls off”.

I chuckled to myself, but needed the reassurance of knowing the pony was close enough to grab if the colic worsened. As we neared the yard the pony stopped for a poo. Now that’s a good sign!

I put him in a freshly mucked out bed with no haylage and after a bit of calling he settled. I finished mucking out that barn and moved onto the adjacent one.

I could still see the youngster through the grills, and an hour later I was starting the final box. “He’s been really quiet” I thought, “when I’ve finished this I’ll turn him out again.”

With that, he suddenly made a noise. And another. I looked over.

“He’s got bigger!” I thought in shock, before realising that he had reared up and had his front legs over the door. I sprinted round to the stable, where he was now thrashing his front legs around as he seesawed on the door.

Simultaneously, the farmer appeared from the house. As we approached the door the gelding retreated into the stable, trembling. We calmed him down and when he’d stopped shaking I put his headcollar on and turned him out. Being stressed wouldn’t help the colic situation.

When we turned him out he immediately went back to his mates and tucked into the haylage, happy as Larry.

My conclusion to the colic symptoms is that this morning, the first real frost of the year, he had eaten some icy grass and had a bit of tummy ache, which went when he warmed up and the sun came out. Unfortunately it does mean that he’s at risk of it happening again, and if so may need stabling at night so he goes out when the frost has lifted. Frosty grass also has high levels of sugars, which means there is a high risk of laminitis. But that’s another story!

Putting on a Rug

2 Dec

Now that winter is well and truly here I’m sure many of you feel like me, constantly putting on rugs or taking them off.

Working in a riding school you seen many interesting attempts and putting on rugs. I’ve seen the tail flap around the neck, and the rug inside out – God knows how they managed to do all the straps up! – to name but a few ways.

This post will attempt to explain how to put a rug on correctly, and more importantly, why we go to these lengths.

Firstly, the horse should obviously be secured. Have you ever tried putting a rug on a moving horse? It’s a merry dance!

Straps should be secured so that you don’t take an eye – either yours or hour equines – out as you lift the rug on. Belly sue ingles can be knotted loosely together and leg straps clipped to the D-ring on the same side as the strap.

Fold the rug in half. This is particularly useful if you suffer from short-arm-itis like myself, and have a long horse. Half a rug is much easier to throw on than the full length.

Once the rug is on the horse’s back it needs unfolding. There is usually a useful coloured stripe which can be aligned with the spine to make sure the rug is sitting evenly. Try not to pull the rug up the horse as this quiffs the coat and gives an interesting appearance the next time the rug is removed.

The first straps you should do up are the belly surcingles as this means if the horse panics and runs forward the rug will slide off their hindquarters, and not twist around as would happen if the chest straps were done up first. I have heard of horses breaking their shoulders as they trip over a twisted rug.

Belly surcingles should be fitted so that a flat palm can be placed between it and the horse’s stomach, too loose a straps endanger the horse as they can get a hind leg stuck when rolling or kicking a fly. The surcingles are crossed to further reduce the risk of horses getting tangled up.

The chest straps are fairly straightforward. A lot of rugs nowadays have clips at the from which can be adjusted by a buckle. It drives me nuts when people undo the buckle, unthread the clip and cause me to waste ten minutes of my life doing the buckle back up with icy fingers. I always think the clip should face the horse in case they lean on their fence and attach themselves to it.

If the horse has a neck piece on the rug then this can be folded up and fastened, ensuring the mane lies flat.

Finally the rug can be pulled back onto the quarters so that it is straight, without putting too much pressure on shoulders and withers. If the rug has a fillet string then the tail needs to be lifted over.

Alternatively, rugs can have leg straps which are often done up incorrectly. The purpose of these straps is to help stabilise the rug and stop it slipping during a good roll.

The leg strap passes from the front of the hind leg, along the inside, and is clipped up to the D-ring on the same side as the front. This means that the strap loops the hind leg, not crossing diagonally across the hind legs. The next strap mirrors the first except that it threads through the first strap. The straps are linked so that they don’t rub on the inner thigh and exert opposite forces to keep the rug level.

Finally, you should give the horse a once over to ensure that there are no taut areas of the rug, as this indicates a poor fit and the horse could be in discomfort when moving. A lot of makes of rugs are slightly different designs will suit different figures of equine. Really, it’s a bit like shopping in Next or Top Shop!


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