Learning to Stretch

30 Jul

I`ve been working with a Welsh cob, Llani, who has done a fair bit of showing a couple of years ago and has some issues to overcome, and the last couple of days he`s really started making big steps forward.

He`s quite a forwards, spirited horse but he feels like he has been ridden with the handbrake on – from hand to leg as opposed to leg to hand. Initially I spent a couple of weeks lunging Llani naked, to let him feel free and unrestricted as well as improving his balance and suppleness. The first few sessions he trotted with his head in the air in a disjointed trot. You could see the muscles in his neck starting to relax and work properly, but when you reached his back the ripple of muscles stopped. I`ve only concentrated on walk and trot, with the odd canter to loosen him up, but also letting him trot over random poles to encourage him to lift and flex his back a bit more. Yesterday we had a breakthrough. Llani gave a snort and let his breath out, showing he was actually relaxing, and then his head dropped and the wither lifted. His stride is already very floaty, but it changed in cadence as he engaged the correct muscles. Finally, you could see his body rippling down from his ears to his dock. He only managed to keep this position for a stride before losing his balance and raising his head.

Today Llani settled quicker into a steadier rhythm and started lifting and working over his back a bit quicker and holding the frame for longer periods, which is great news. The next task I have is teaching him to change the rein easily. As a show horse he was never led from the off side and when I turn to stand on his right, he spins on the forehand to look at me. It`s very frustrating because he doesn`t seem to learn! Once I can stand just behind his girth I can usually send Llani away from me, but timing is of the essence because if I spend too long by his side he reverses to look worriedly at me. I`ve taken to leading him from the off side too, to try and desensitise him. He`s getting better and tonight he keenly walked by my left shoulder, instead of dragging himself behind and to the right of me.

In terms of riding Llani I`ve been doing a lot of hacking to encourage him to take a more even rein contact and to be a bit straighter through his body. I`ve been getting him up in front of my leg so that he is less likely to spook at any ghosts, and this is also helping him take the contact forwards and stretch at the base of his neck. I`ve done bits and pieces of schooling with him, focusing on his rhythm and suppleness by riding hundreds of circles.

Below are some photos taken on the ground, at the beginning of the last schooling session, in the middle and then you can see Llani starting to stretch at the base of his neck in the last photo. He`s used to being held together in quite a collected outline, so all of this is very alien to him, but after the last couple of days work I`m hoping he`ll start to understand what I want from him more.
photo 1

Llani before being worked.

photo 2

photo 3

Slowly thinking about taking the contact forwards in walk.

photo 4

The first trot, when he likes to put his head in your face.

photo 5

Cooling down and learning how to stretch slowly.

Shush! Dont Tell Anyone

29 Jul

Yesterday was my first day teaching at a Pony Club Camp. It was a bit daunting as I didn’t know anyone, but after my briefing I felt a bit better. So off I went to meet my ride – five, six and seven year olds.

This is when I’m sure many of you will be rolling your eyes, and I did think that this could be a long week. Whilst they haven’t developed the teenage know-it-all attitude, they do have the attention spans of a gnat and like to gossip.

Once I’d introduced myself and tried to learn their names (I didn’t even try to learn the ponies names!) we headed off to dressage. I was pleased this was our first activity as I could take my time assessing them, and assess them I did. Long reins, flappy limbs, and thankfully steadfast ponies, we did quite a lot in trot to tire out the speedy pony, and to make sure the girls tidied their position up. I had one clued up six year old who could be my lead file, which is something I usually dread, but my ride spent most of the time with the first three ponies bunched together vieing for first place and then the last two trailing behind in little more than a dawdle. Eventually we were organised and then everyone rode the dressage test individually. It wasn’t bad once they started to concentrate, and by the end of reading six tests I definitely know it! They will be practising later in the week.

Then after lunch we went over to the showjumping and they warmed up much better. Here we had a little canter and practised jump position before working over some trotting poles. I used my helper as a corner to help the girls ride straight, and it’s a good job she was moveable the number of times she had to jump out the way! The girls all had grins on their faces, so we moved on to jumping the course.

The trouble was that the bottom hole of the jump stands still made a fairly substantial cross, and I knew one pony tended to jump very big. I put a lot of the poles on the bottom of the stands so they were barely more than pole height, but it was safer than having bigger crosses. I left one as a bottom hole cross though to see them over it, and most of the girls said they’d jumped bigger.

My clued up rider goes first, and her pony leaps the teeny cross as though it was a three foot spread, and obviously she falls off. She got up immediately, unhurt, but with a large green poo stain on her smart jodhpurs.


I make a bit of a joke about picking the dirtiest part of the field, and she remounted and carried on. The girls all rode pretty well, still flapping but straighter approaches and the ponies kept trotting.

Upon our return to camp the mother of my faller saw the grubby jodhpurs (they weren’t hard to miss!). “I spy dirty Jodhs!” She called in mock horror.

Her daughter replied with “I didn’t fall off! I got off and accidentally sat in poo!” We laughed at her attempt of cover up and once she had gone to untack I explained what had happened. I think her mum had been expecting it.

Onwards and upwards, but at least they had all enjoyed their day. I wonder what today will bring!

Fly Strike!

28 Jul

I was de-feathering a horse over the weekend who is known to suffer from mites, and is regularly injected against them. I clipped close to the skin and wasn`t surprised when I came across a couple of scabs. I carried on, trying to clear them of hair so they could be treated and then I thought I saw something move. Initially I thought it was some mucky white hairs until I saw it again. Maggots!

One of the cobs wounds was wriggling with maggots. I reported it to the owner and finished clipping the rest of his legs, which had some sores but no more maggots, thank goodness. Immediately I finished the horse was taken off to have his legs washed, scrubbed and treated.

It`s not my first encounter with fly strike, and I hope you aren`t eating your dinner while you read it, but it`s usually me who has to remove maggots from the wounds. It would seem that I have a strong stomach for this sort of situation.

When I was about 16 my friend gave me a lift to a horse show. My horse at the time was a bit tricky to load (now he`s brilliant, but you have to open all the doors and windows of the trailer) so we spent a good half an hour trying to load him, whilst my friends mare stood on the trailer. A week later, I was called over to my friend, who was grooming her mare`s tail. Horrified, she showed me the dock, which was wriggling with maggots! I wasn`t sure what it was at the time, but knew that the maggots needed to be removed. Whilst my friend gagged and retched, I combed out the maggots with a fine comb she`d found in her car. I think I spent about an hour combing out the tail and then my friend washed it and found some sores on the dock. She came to the conclusion that her mare had leant on the breech bar of the trailer whilst we were trying to load my horse. The wound generated then attracted flies, who laid their eggs, and voila! Maggots appeared.

Apparently this is a very common way to get fly strike. A wound to the dock, possibly from rubbing in response to sweet itch, is easy to miss and in the summer open flesh attracts flies. It only needs a tiny wound to attract flies.

I soon forgot about this incidence, and then last year one of the riding school horses was reported to be colicky. I had been off for a couple of days and she had been kept in for surveillance. So first thing I did was check her out. She was very tucked up and banging the door for hay, which had obviously been limited. As I ran my hand over her, feeling the usual melanomas and then I checked her dock. As I looked down her back I saw her white coat wriggle.

The mare had been clipped as she suffered from Cushings and never shed her coat, and the triangle that had been left at the top of her dock was riddled with maggots! It was a fairly horrific sight, and a couple of grooms ran off to the toilet. I did my best to remove the maggots, but there were thousands, and upon close examination I could see them in her tail too. I rang the vet, who advised clipping the dock and affected area, cleaning the area thoroughly and spray iodine on liberally.

Dutifully I clipped the top of the dock, managing to leave a little bit at the bottom to help her swish the flies away, and then washed and removed as many maggots as possible. Then I spray painted her purple. I had found a couple of wounds on and under her dock, which almost looked like cigarette burns – round, inflamed holes which I can only assume were reacted fly bites, but I`m open to suggestions. That afternoon I de-maggoted the mare again, and thankfully over the next couple of days the maggots were eliminated and the wounds started to heal. We kept a fly rug on the mare for the rest of the summer, terrified that it would happen again.

Thankfully, the two cases of fly strike I`ve seen have cleared up quickly and without a hitch, but I know of some horses who have lost their dock, or have required box rest and treatment for six months or more.

Horse Poly Tunnels

27 Jul

I`ve always been lucky in the sense that I`ve never had to worry about providing a field shelter for the horses. When we were young the fields were hedged and had a treeline, and more recently Otis has always had a treeline to shelter from.

I`m not a massive fan of field shelters because I worry that multiple horses cannot get inside the field shelter at once and can fight over it. Additionally, the one at the bottom of the pecking order will be kicked out, or in the worse case scenario, cornered inside the field shelter and beaten up. Additionally, some shelters can become ovens so provide no respite from the heat in summer, and then in winter they become poached and mud baths.

On the way home from a show today I saw a large open field, with a large herd of horses in. In the middle of the field was what can only be described as a very large green garden poly tunnel. It was about twenty foot tall and the floor size of a standard arena. Open ended at both ends, it was an ugly sight, but it struck me that it was the most excellent way of providing shelter for a large number of horses. The large entrances mean horses can come and go as they please and don`t need to fight for space, and they are moveable so don`t need planning permission. The tunnels are long enough that horses can move to the middle to avoid the rain, but I would be wary in storms that the wind would gust through. I guess you would need to rotate and position the tunnel so that it`s not facing the north east wind. And then there is the difficulty of securing the tunnel so that it doesn`t blow over. I can just imagine large tent pegs and a wooden mallet!

It seems to be a very good method of providing shelter to large herds of horses, particularly as they are moveable and the land underneath rested and allowed to recover, as well as being very user friendly to the whole herd. Once they`ve got used to the green monster in the field of course!

Bumper Stickers

26 Jul

I saw this online and thought it quite appropriate. The first one made me laugh, and the penultimate one sums Llani up!

If Horses had Bumper Stickers

HONK…if you wanna see me spook!!

“yeah, yeah, whatever…” This, for the horse who sleeps through shoeings.

“Impulsion is Vastly Over-rated” – A lazy pony

“If you can read this, you’re about to be kicked in the face”

“Think Faster Human!” – for the really smart horse

I brake for… wait… AAAH! NO BRAKES!!!!!

“Turn signals are for amateurs.” – unbroke 3 yr old.

“Choose Life: Stay Outta My Way!!!”

“You Name it, I Jump it!!!”

“Got Grain?”

Gentlemen chase foxes, not cows.

“Because I AM smarter, stupid!!!” – the donkey

“It’s not trouble until I’m in the middle of it.” – 4 month old colt.

I have good Brakes, Do you have GOOD Insurance?

can’t jump today…the voices told me to stay home and clean my food dish.

“Caution: Gas pedal faulty”

“I see dead people.” – for the overly skitish type.

Soundness is a state of mind

Cross Country Debut

25 Jul

I took one of my young clients cross county yesterday for the first time.

She’s only nine and not been riding that long but she’s progressed to cantering around a small course of jumps quite confidently, so I chose an easy pony for her and we started off in the arena, warming up for jumping so she had to ride circles and transitions to make sure her pony was listening to her and she could easily adjust him around the course. Once she’d done a some canter in cross country position we started using the showjumps that were left out from last weekends competition. The fences weren’t big, but she had to ride good lines between the jumps as they were some dog legs. A big focus for her was looking up for the next fence, which was really highlighted when she cantered a dog leg and wasn’t looking around her turn so ran out of room! She soon picked up after that and organised herself.

Once she’d ridden the course in canter, in a good rhythm and accurately, we retired to the shade of the woods to look at the mini cross country fences.

Whilst her pony caught his breath I asked her what she should be aware of when looking for logs or cross country fences. She walked around both sides of the little logs and we came to the conclusion that we need to make sure the ground on the approach is safe, and not too rutted. Then on the landing side we make sure there aren’t any surprises, such as a ditch or again a big rut. I moved a couple of stray twigs and then she trotted over the trio of logs.

Her approach was positive but not wholly central, which is she’d had a more awkward pony could have caused a run out, so I walked the line she needed to ride so she could visualise it. I asked her if she’d noticed anything about the approach and thankfully she had noticed a slightly boggy patch which had affected her pony’s trot. The logs are only a foot high, so there was no danger to anyone and the boggy patch was ever so slight. We then altered her approach to the first log so that she eliminated the need to touch the boggy patch.

After she’d cantered through the three logs, looking very secure and confident we had a look at the mini sunken road. I explained how to ride it; leaning back but letting the reins slip through the hand if necessary as you go down and then forwards through the sunken road and then leaning forwards and holding the mane to keep yourself forwards, as you jump out. This sunken road is less than a foot drop so quite a nice way of introducing up and down jumps. Unfortunately, her pony was reluctant. I think this was a combination of her being a bit worried and not having him going forwards enough and also we didn’t have the benefit of being able to watch or follow a more experienced rider through the sunken road. Eventually she managed to walk through the complex, and got the idea of leaning backwards and forwards. Then she trotted across the sunken road, which were two banks downhill then uphill so got her riding over terrain without having a big jump.

To finish, she cantered through the little sequence of logs backwards, and got a lovely rhythm and jump through the second two, which are a double.

I think she thoroughly enjoyed her introduction to cross country, and it gave her a lot to think about, as well as making a nice change for her pony.

Stockholm Tar

24 Jul

My friend, who is new to horse ownership, asked me what hoof oil I use the other day so I replied “Kevin Bacon with tar” as I crouched down painting Otis’s nails. It was recommended by my farrier to help strengthen his hooves but is a pain to use in winter as it is rock solid, but at the moment it is runny than a fried egg.

The next time I saw her she told me she’d bought some hoof oil with tar and that it was a lot thicker than mine. Then she asked how often she should apply it so I said every couple of days would suffice as her horse doesn’t have a particular problem, she just wants to look after his feet.

I thought nothing of it until the following day when I caught her horse. Strange, I thought, his white hooves still have some tar on from a couple of days ago. It must be strong stuff!

Back at the stable I got out a brush to groom him and noticed the new pot of hoof oil. But it wasn’t hoof oil, it was Stockholm Tar!!

I laughed when I told her she’d got Stockholm Tar. She didn’t know what it was and to be honest I haven’t had a lot of experience with it so I sent her home to google it.

I could remember that it is antibacterial and most often used for plugging abscesses that have been treated to prevent reinfection. It is also very effective in the treatment of thrush as it stops water getting in. I didn’t know that many people who have horses with brittle feet use Stockholm tar in old nail holes and new. I also didn’t know that it is also a preservative for wooden boats and horse hooves is a secondary use. I remember it being a very messy process!

It’s an outdated treatment method, and has carcinogenic properties which has resulted in it becoming very unpopular, despite it having been successful previously. I think the development of alternative hoof treatments have superseded Stockholm tar.

Despite my friends error, the tar will still be useful for her barefoot horse’s sole and frog to help condition them, but I wouldn’t advise using it daily on his feet!

`Ear `Ear

23 Jul

Otis and I have had an argument. We`re back on speaking terms, but it`s a fragile relationship still.

Last Monday he shook his head violently when I put the headcollar on in the field, as if he had a fly in his ear, but once in his stable he was his usual self, let me groom his face and all the way up to the base of his ears and then I bridled him as normal – he`s always a bit sensitive about his ears, and only just tolerates me touching and “dusting” them.

Tuesday and Wednesday he was his usual self, and then on Thursday morning I noticed an open sore on the inside of his ear. About the size of a twenty pence piece it looked very shallow and clean, almost like a scrape, and I was surprised he hadn`t fidgeted when I`d put the headcollar on. With a friend`s assistance I cleaned it up and removed the gunk from his ear hairs. Otis was quite good to be treated, with only the help of the twitch to restrain him.

On Friday Otis was very wary of me going near his ear so I just inspected the wound visually, not wanting to make a mountain out of a molehill. He wears a fly mask with ears in the field so the wound is covered and kept free from flies. Then on Saturday I took the challenge and cleaned the wound. Otis was less than helpful this time, and we reversed around the stable a few times, but eventually I managed to wipe it with some damp cotton wool and put a globule of Savlon onto it. Unfortunately I was going away to visit my parents on Sunday and Monday, so advised Otis`s babysitters about his aversion to his ear being touched but told them I would treat it on Tuesday if it was no better as they would have difficulty.

So Tuesday arrives and Otis is shaking his head when I put the headcollar on in the field, so I gingerly remove the fly mask and inspect his ear in the stable. Unfortunately, the gunk is all caught up in his Granddad-esque ear hair, so the ear looks quite disgusting. But the wound itself is clean and starting to heal. I set to the task of cleaning the ear.

However, Otis is having none of it this morning, and we dance merrily around the stable, raising his head as I lean precariously on one leg on the upturned water bucket and then knocking me off in one fell swoop, clonking me on the head with the twitch. We battle it out for a few minutes and then I seek the help of my friend who has been blessed with the ability to look over six foot walls to help me. After a struggle we managed to get one wipe of damp cotton wool and one globule of Savlon into the ear.

This morning he was just as sensitive about me looking at his ear, flicking it away whenever I looked at it! I think this is mostly anticipation of me fiddling around with his ear. The wound still looked clean, and I`ve run out of Savlon, so thought I would try spraying purple spray to the ear lobe as I could catch him by surprise while he ate his dinner. Easier said than done as he kept his eye on me whilst he munched and it took me a couple of tries but I managed to paint his ear purple.

I was thinking about trying to buy a Savlon spray to treat his ear, but perhaps if the iodine spray works just as well, I will keep treating him like this and assess it at the end of the week. I wish he would realise that by letting me look at the ear and cleaning it up properly! After it`s healed I`m sure it will take me a few months of gradually building up to touching his ears and being able to run my fingers inside the pinna again.

Scaredy Cat!

22 Jul

This morning we went for a hack. My friend rode Apollo and I rode Llani. Llani often spots ghosts in the hedgeline so stops and spins around, but he is getting more confident each time.

I went first and we passed the Fern Monster in the hedge and some scary lorries before going through the woods. As we went through the woods we come out near a house and garden.

I was in the lead, walking past the stonewall when Llani spotted a ghost. To give him his due there was an elderly lady pruning her roses and making lots of snipping noises. He stopped and tried to spin round, but I stopped him and made him think about the situation. He stood but flat out refused to go in front, so I suggested Apollo did.

Now Apollo was wary because Llani was wary so hesitated and had a good look around. Meanwhile I was behind Apollo, with Llani keenly walking behind him. His nose was resting on Apollo`s tail when Apollo put the brakes on! Llani was very keen to walk on, so when Apollo stopped I suggested I carried on past, using my momentum to get past the scary Lady Monster. As soon as Llani`s nose passed Apollo he chickened out! Jammed on the brakes and decided it was just too scary. This time, however, Apollo decided to man up and walk past the lady. I wonder what she thought of the whole palaver!

Once past the stone wall I let Llani take the lead and we continued on our hack, I was pleased later when we approached a house with builders in the front garden because Llani stopped, looked at the situation and then walked past quietly. He does make me laugh though, being a tough guy when he`s hiding behind his friend, but then too much of a ladies blouse to go on his own! It reminds me of kids egging each other on but then not wanting to be the one to do the troublemaking!

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.

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