Curly Coats

23 Nov

You know that distinctive curly coat of a horse with Cushings? Well what if there is a breed of horse with a gene that gives them a curly coat?

I was surfing the web as you do, and came across The Curly Horse! They look cute, but with a rather drowned rat appearance!

I’ve posted the links to the websites that I perused as they will provide much more information than I can repeat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a curly horse, but with their hypoallergenic properties they could be a useful addition to many riding schools.

http://www.ichocurlyhorses.com

http://pets-lovers.net/what-is-a-curly-horse/

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curly_Horse

http://www.curlyhorses.com

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Rain Scald

22 Nov

I saw a horse earlier this week with rain scald, so I thought it was a very topical subject for the time of year.

So what is rain scald?

Rain scald, or rain rot, is a very common skin ailment of horses which predominantly affects the back of the horse. Like mud fever, the bacteria which cause rain scald thrive in warm, moist conditions which means the disease is more prevalent in spring and autumn.

The actinomycete, dermatophilus congolensis, has properties of both fungi and bacteria and causes the disease rain scald. This organism lives on the horses skin, not in the ground as is often believed, but a horse who is carrying the organism will not necessarily suffer from rain scald.

What does rain scald look like?

The horse will suffer from numerous scabs along his top line, varying in size from a pea sized to a two pence size, and can be crusty. The scabs and embedded hair can be easily picked off, revealing pink skin and often pus underneath. The scabs usually heal rapidly, turning grey and drying up.

Rain scald can be transmitted between horses by sharing rugs, saddle cloths or grooming brushes, so infected horses need to be carefully managed and the horse isolated as best as possible.

Horses suffering from rain scald will usually have thick coats, such as those going into winter as they retain a high level of moisture close to their skin. A cut or scratch allows the organism to enter the horse`s epidermis and thus the scabs form.

Putting a warm rug on a sweaty or wet horse provides the ideal conditions for rain scald to occur, or over rugging a horse so that they sweat. Some people suggest that poor stable management, or damp walls, can be a contributing factor.

Rain rot may go away on it`s own accord, when the horse moults and loses their winter coat, but there is a high risk of secondary infection so it should be treated immediately as the secondary infection will be harder to treat and more resistant.

To treat rain scald the scabs need to be removed gently. Baby oil is a useful tool for softening the scabs and making them less painful to remove. As the organism grows best in an oxygen reduced environment opening the scabs and removing the thick hair around them will oxygenate the area and promote healing. Ointments aren`t recommended for use as they hold moisture close to the skin, but it is beneficial to wash the affected areas thoroughly with an anti-bacterial shampoo, and drying the area carefully afterwards, and keeping the horse in a dry, well ventilated environment. In severe cases a course of antibiotics may be required.
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Mud Monster

20 Nov

I ride this horse once a week and he’s a bit sensitive when you groom him, particularly in the barrel. It took me a few sessions to get to know him and his idiosyncrasies, but the best method is a cactus cloth and the softest body brush on the planet. Ignore him peering round to look at you because he isn’t going to nip you, he just looks like it.

A fortnight ago I commented to another livery, “I don’t know how he stays so clean when you can’t use a dandy brush”.

This livery then informed me that my ride rarely rolled, unlike her mud monster. So I bathed in luxury that whilst everyone else was scrubbing away I could lightly flick off this horse and crack on with riding.

That is, until this week.

I was horrified! Great clumps of mud clung to his neck, mane and forelock. Out came my cactus cloth and I rubbed his body in large circles, loosening the mud. That cactus cloth had never worked so hard in it’s life! I had to resort to picking out smaller clumps around his ears.

Eventually he was presentable and I could enjoy the ride, but it did make me glad that Otis is not adverse to the plastic curry comb on his quarters after he’s had a spa in the muddy field!

I was impressed with the effectiveness of the cactus cloth though so may look into getting one to help de-mud his ears and around his eyes.

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Karma

18 Nov

A couple of weeks ago a friend came round to my stable, and said:
“I was walking along the gallops and found an over reach boot. It looks Otis size so would you like it?”

“Ooh yes please,” I enthused. Otis is renowned for losing over reach boots and the two he was currently modelling were hanging on by a thread. He used to have to wear them all the time when he was younger, but regularly lost the boots at the far end of the field or lost the shoe but retained the boot. Since he matured I’ve had a reprieve, but my farrier recently shod him with lateral extensions to encourage the inside heel to grow. My options were to put over reach boots on at all times or to book routine shoe replacements every three days. So I went down the boot route.

The next morning we hacked out with another friend. Our route took us towards the gallops so we decided to have a blast. After all the ground was perfect.

We cantered steadily away from home before turning around and letting them go.

Five minutes later we pulled up and I cast my eyes down to check the boot and shoe situation.

Otis was minus an over reach boot.

I guess that’s what you call karma. I received a boot from the gallops, but I had to leave one in return.

Solo Hacking

16 Nov

I was hacking Llani last week, and was really pleased that he hacked out through the village and up a previously unexplored road before going into a new field and cantering around before wandering home. All without spooking or getting worried.

He was nosey but confident as he peered into the driveways and at the plastic wrapped silage, but he didn`t hesitate at all.

It made me think as I went along about the process of teaching a horse or rider to hack along. After all, it was only a couple of months ago when Llani was a nervous wreck, spooking at any excuse, even in company.

Initially I guess the first step is to happily hack with others, be it in front or behind, and to have a selection of familiar routes.

If it is the rider who is nervous about hacking on their own then they need to feel like they can take the lead on a group hack confidently and then, on a fine day they can spend fifteen minutes in the arena, getting their bodies warmed up and making sure they feel comfortable with their horse – for example make sure your horse isn`t unsettled today – and then finish their ride with a walk around the block. If necessary, someone could walk on foot to boost confidence levels. The route taken should be familiar to both horse and rider as it quells some nerves and reduces the number of unknowns. Once the rider feels happy going around this route they should try another known route and build up from there.

I think if you are a nervous hacker it is important to regularly hack so that you build on each week and make progress, as well a maintaining the standard.You should aim to push yourself slightly more each time. So ride a route backwards, or wander down an unknown lane and then return to your original road, or pick a slightly busier time of day, when you know you may meet a few more cars or pedestrians. Factoring in new things one at a time can improve your ability to cope with the unknown and will mean that you are more confident in a variety of situations.

The one thing a rider shouldn`t feel is stressed. So don`t pick a time of day when you have a pressing appointment, or it is getting dark, make sure you have plenty of time so you can stay in walk for the entire hack should you wish. The horse will pick up on your nerves too, and start looking out for monsters which could upset a rider further. If you have bags of time and reach something you don`t feel is solvable (such as roadworks) then you have chance to take a longer detour which will leave you and your horse happier.

If it is the horse who is being introduced to solo hacking I tend to follow the same procedure. I make sure that the weather is suitable. For example, I wouldn`t choose a windy day to hack out alone, and I would avoid the village on bin day. After riding in the school, and ensuring he has got rid of any excess energy, I would walk him down along the lane or wood or field, whichever he feels most confident at. Once this route becomes easy I would alternative it with another, more complex route. This more complex route may just involve crossing a road, or it may be riding past horses in the field – thus testing the napping response. On slightly windy or wet days I would do the easy route, as the weather is an additional factor for the horse to cope with.

Once I have established a few routes I make sure I vary them, or combine them to make longer tracks, and to make sure the horse isn`t becoming stuck in a rut and that he is happy to be taken wherever I want to go. Sometimes I just ride past the turning for home a few times to make sure they aren`t hurrying home. If you`re lucky enough to have a couple of entrances to the yard it is important to make use of them.

Gradually, with regular work you can reduce the school work before the ride outs and increase the duration of the solo hack. As with a nervous rider I push boundaries everytime. We end up wandering along a different track in the woods, or stopping to watch some lorries go past the gateway. I want to feel every hack is beneficial and educational. The horse should enjoy it, and even if they face their fear of the cyclist behind them, they are still rewarded. Any spook should be discussed. If Llani spooks at something I make him stand as soon as possible. I don`t tell him off, but make sure he can look at the object, take it in, and learn that it is`t a monster. When he`s considered my question I quietly ask him to go past it. When he has he gets a big pat and verbal reward. I believe that teaching the horse to digest their situation and what is being asked of them is key to them remembering the lesson and means that they react positively when put into that situation again.

I don`t think it should take too long to teach a horse to hack alone, but it needs to be consistent so that they don`t forget the lessons they have learnt and become wary of the monsters they haven`t seen for a month. If I know there is roadworks or other monsters nearby I take the challenge of introducing it to my horse. If I know they`ll be worried I go with someone, but then later I ill revisit it on my own.

If anyone else is going through the process of learning to hack alone then I`d appreciate their feedback and suggestions.

Do They Ever Learn?

14 Nov

Sometimes I feel that I spend my whole life saying “don`t walk behind your pony”, “Careful of your reins, they`re by your feet”, “Turn your pony away from you”. Today, I had a classic example of a girl who thought she knew best.

This seven year old girl was on her own for the lesson so I spent a bit of time tacking up her pony with her. She loves doing that and when you have lots of kids it`s hard to get involved with stable management, so I made the most of this opportunity. She put on the bridle fairly easily, and could tell me the different parts confidently. Then we put the saddle on, adjusted it so it was in the correct place, and then girthed up her pony and led him out of the stable. I got her to halt and adjust her stirrups from the ground, before checking her girth and then she wanted to go to the Big Mounting Block.

She walked her pony over confidently, but somehow ended up with his tail facing the block. Slightly confused, she looked to me for advice.
“Right, we need to get ourselves the right way round, otherwise you`ll be riding backwards”, I joked. “Now you`re going to turn Popeye right and walk a big circle so you end up approaching the mounting block with you closest to it.” I accompanied by explanation with vigorous arm movements, to make sure she knew where she was going.

She nodded and promptly swung round to the left, pulling her pony towards her.

I watched, interested to see how this would evolve as she still wouldn`t end up with the mounting block on the near side of her pony when she continued her three hundred and sixty degree turn before emitting this piercing shriek. If I`d been wearing glasses they would have shattered!
“HE`S STANDING ON MY TOE!” She squawked as I intervened, pushing the blissfully unaware pony off her flat foot.

Telling her she`d be fine, and to make sure she could wriggle her toes I began to demonstrate the error of her ways. I showed her (again) how to correctly turn her pony away from her, highlighting how far away his hooves were from mine. Then I turned him towards me, and pointed out how close he was to stepping on my feet. She watched me, silently taking it all in. I suppose at least she wasn`t still shrieking. I handed her back the reins and she then turned her pony away from her (towards me, but you can`t win everything) and approached the mounting block and then quietly got on.

One lesson well learnt!

Opposition Buzz

12 Nov

The equestrian world was devastated by the sad news of Opposition Buzz`s death . He was a prolific cross country horse, who took Nicola Wilson to eleven four star events.

The sad thing about Opposition Buzz was that he had only recently been retired. Nicola said that “he would not know the right time to stop, so they had to make the decision for him”.

This led me down memory lane, and a certain pony came to mind.

This pony was 13 hands high, a wiry black mare flecked with grey hairs. Her name was Bubbles. Bubbles was a raving lunatic. To ride anyway. On the ground she was quiet as you like, but as soon as she hit the arena she was a powerhouse. She flew over everything and was faster than lightening. Oh, and did I mention she was ancient?

I first remember Bubbles when one of the older teenagers took her on at the yard. There were various teething problems, such as Bubbles spinning on a sixpence and leaving the yard, discarding her ungirthed saddle as she went. This rider was fifteen and soon went off to university, so Bubbles was passed to a friend of my age. When I finally got my chance to ride her, aged eleven, I loved her! Yes, she pulled my arms out of my sockets, but it was great not having to kick! Shortly after that Bubbles contracted strangles and was severely ill.

She recovered well, and my friend continued to ride her until she grew too big. Another girl a few years younger than me took her on then, and again grew to have a great relationship with her. This was the last permanent rider Bubbles had.

The biggest problem about Bubbles was that she was immensely strong for a small pony, so it was difficult to find a rider gutsy enough to jump at a hundred miles an hour, yet strong enough to apply the brakes when necessary, but also not too big for Bubbles, as we were aware that she was “aged”.

The last winter Bubbles lived in, as she always dropped weight badly, and was exercised by us all in varying degrees – even if we could wrap our legs around her stomach. No rider appeared for her and by the spring the yard owner decided to retire Bubbles, and let her nanny the yearlings and youngstock.

We all accepted this, Bubbles was old and grey, she was still full of life, arthiritis-free, and jumping anything put in front of her, and galloping full pelt along the green lane, but it was useless if we didn`t have someone to enjoy her.

About a month later I remember arriving at the yard, where the atmosphere hung grey and dreary like the March day. Bubbles had colicked and died as she was rushed to the vets.

It was tragic that Bubbles had been so full of life and energy, but hadn`t enjoyed retirement. Despite a large field of lush grass and companions, she still whinnied everytime we rode up the lane.

I believed, and I still do, that Bubbles was a worker. A bit like Opposition Buzz. A bit like me. She liked to be kept active and feel useful, but being out in the open field babysitting the youngsters hadn`t occupied her mind. I think she became stressed and eventually that triggered the colic.

Which leads me onto the question. Perhaps Opposition Buzz hadn`t wanted to retire? Perhaps he still needed to stay in a lower level of work to stay happy and healthy. That isn`t to say his owners made the wrong decision, because he probably needed to stop top level competition, but maybe he wasn`t a horse to be retired. Health wise, I don`t know the ins and outs of his seizure, or any other factors involved, so it may just be an unlucky coincidence.

So how do we decide if our horse should be retired? I guess their general health gives you a good indicator, but also they will tell us. Not trotting over to us in the field, or being lethargic in the school. It`s the same indicators which tell us that they need a holiday or change of workload, but owners of veterans may need to ignore the jogging, excitable horse underneath them, and not let them jump more than twice a week because the arthritic changes will cause them pain – even if the adrenaline pushes them through at the time. Retirement for some horses may mean working at a lower level, or it may be no jumping, or less frequent exercise, as opposed to complete field rest. I guess this is where it counts to know your horse.

Haynets

11 Nov

Recently I was catching up with an old friend a few weeks ago and she was telling me about her daughters mare, who had recently been in hospital with a severe parasitic infection in both eyes.

The infection was caused by your every day black fly, which just goes to show how important it is to check out your horse`s eyes in summer and to provide them with a fly mask. Luckily, the mare pulled through.

The hospital that this horse stayed at for six weeks had a strict “no haynets” policy, due to the high incidence rate of horses being admitted due to haynet related incidents.

When a horse eats from a haynet long stalks of hay are precariously close to their eyes, and if there was a thick, or particularly rigid stalk then they could easily poke themselves in the eye. If some dust or seed was caught then an eye can easily become infected. An alternative problem is that the hay stalk can scratch the eye, which can cause an ulcer, which when left untreated can cause all sorts of problems.

My friend was telling me that the equine hospital feed hay on the floor, which I agree with as it is so much better for the horse`s respiratory system – dust is caught by mucus and gravity pulls it down the nasal passages, away from the lungs – feeding from the ground encourages correct muscular development. As a result, my friend has had a haybar fitted into her mare`s stable, and won`t be using haynets for her other horses. The filly isn`t allowed haynets anyway because she chews at them, unties them and then tries to tie herself up in them!

The hospital also recommends not using haynets when travelling horses. I can see their point – the trailer or lorry is a cramped environment so horses cannot escape any long stalks. Additionally, the movement of the vehicle can sway the haynet close to the horses eyes. Given all this, we should still remember that eating can help keep horses calm when travelling, and when you are travelling multiple horses it can stop bickering in the ranks. Perhaps it is better to use the haybags that are available, or small holed haynets, haylage or hay with soft/short stalks. I always tie my haynets to the front of the trailer, so that Otis has to reach forwards to eat; when it is tied next to his lead rope it is very close to his eyes and he has to twist to snatch a bite, which I think is detrimental to his balance. I would always travel him with hay though, as he gets worried by travelling and I feel eating helps destress him – I back up this theory by the fact that every time he travels with a haynet, eating happily, he arrives dry. When he leaves his hay, he is white with sweat.

I was watching Llani eating from his haynet soon after seeing my friend, and you could really see the jerking, snatching movements he made with his neck as he tugged the long stems out of the net. The next day I put Llani into Otis`s stable, with the haybar, and you could instantly see the more natural position of his eating. He held his neck relaxed, and chewed through the hay in a very calm way. There was no sudden jerking of his neck. I can only gather from this that eating from a pile of hay is much better physiologically for the horses than eating from a haynet, as they are less likely to tweak a muscle by the snatching motion and their eyes are further away from the hay stalks.

I`m not sure on other people`s feelings on haynets, but I think they should be used with discretion and when alternative options are available use them to reduce the risk of injury to the horse.

Going Away

10 Nov

Firstly, make I make sincere apologies for neglecting my blog over the last week. We went on holiday and my good intentions of writing a few blogs during the plane journey went by the by. Apparently sitting in a cramped plane is not conducive to writing anything worth reading. And then when we reached the hotel, pool and beach I didn`t feel any inclination, so I`m sorry.

You will be glad to know that my brain, which never switches off, has accumulated a few interesting posts which will appear over the next week or so. Today`s however, reflects on the stress I`m sure many of you feel when leaving your beloved equines in the caring hands of someone else.

When I go away I like my horse to have a week off. I think if we feel we deserve a break then they definitely do. In the summer this isn`t such a problem, as you can put the fly rug on, provide small daily feeds and leave a fly spray and you know that they will not suffer. However, in the winter I always worry about the “what-ifs”.

What if he`s too cold? The answer is quite straightforward – leave alternative rugs for any weather change. However, each horse is different and people like them to be of different temperatures. Otis runs a little on the hot side, so whilst many horses are in medium weights he is in a lightweight. Some people like a horse to feel toasty under the rug; I like them to be warm but not toasty. Horses can warm themselves up much more easily than they can cool themselves down. It`s useful to have a friend who knows your horse and how you usually rug them.

What if the rug rubs him? I take their rugs off everyday, which means that the under rug won`t rub and it prevents slippage. This is usually the problem when you have multiple rugs on. Which is why, just before I went, I reclipped Otis so that he could wear his thicker rug, which doesn`t rub and is easy to readjust by his baby sitter. Unfortunately for me, the British weather decided to give us the hottest Halloween on record, which meant that I was chopping and changing my mind faster than a yo-yo. As we flew out of Gatwick in the pouring rain though, I knew I`d made the right decision with putting the heavier rug on.

Will he lose weight? In the summer this isn`t really a problem as the grass is plentiful, but in the winter it`s really important that the horses get enough fibre to help keep them warm and to keep the weight on them. Until I went away the horses had been grazing the rested paddock but I wanted them to start having ad lib hay in the field. This meant that I could continue their once daily bucket feeds without worrying about weight loss. If my horse was the bottom of the pecking order then I would be more concerned about them having sufficient hay. Now I`m home I can start to feed twice a day as necessary. There is always the concern that the bigger bucket feeds could cause choke or colic, which is why I ensure that plenty of water is available for the feeds and they aren`t made too big while I`m away.

I find it easier to leave the horses out while I`m away, so have purposefully maintained their summer/autumn routine until after I get home and then they don`t feel too unsettled. If they`re in I feel it is a big ask for people to muck out and feed twice a day. Plus I then worry about the banks not being high enough or the bed being too narrow …

Anyway, much to my relief, the horses were fine when I got home – albeit in a mud bath, but I suppose we`d better get used to it. Their rugs were still in tact and neither of them have any rubs which is great. Their shoes are still on (always a bonus in the mud and with Otis`s track record!) and both of them were keen to see me. Llani had decided that he didn`t want a star anymore and had tried covering it in with mud – either that or he has been practising handstands! Otis wasn`t too bad considering it has been a week, but I always wonder how he gets mud in his mane, under the neck of his rug, or up on his rump …

After a good half an hour of grooming each they both looked respectable and I could have a quick ride, which will bring me onto a blog post, which will rear it`s head later this week.

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