Hoof Boots

A client I know has recently invested in a pair of hoof boots for her horse. She showed me them upon arrival (unfortunately they were too small) but I thought they looked like a pair of trainers!

 

 Her horse is quite a sensitive soul and has never been shod, but has recently become a bit footsore. The yard she keeps him on is quite flinty, which helps keep the unworked horse`s feet in good shape; however, when worked, the horses usually need shoes.

This owner decided that she didn`t feel her horse would be able to cope with being shod, and she would rather go down the hoof boot path.

I don`t know much about hoof boots, and I think it`s a topic that is hotly debated.

Hoof boots are measured to fit each horse individually, much like a traditional shoe, but a hoof boot is put on prior to working the horse, and is removed after. To me, this is an added chore when preparing to ride; but I can see that it would be less of a chore if you only rode a couple of times a week. Additionally, I think the cost of shoeing a horse who was worked 5 days a week is probably more financially economical than booting a horse in that level of work as the boots would wear out. But again, I can see the financial benefit of just popping on a pair of boots if you ride infrequently.

One of the main reasons that people put metal shoes on horses is because the hoof is wearing down faster than it is growing, so by putting hoof boots on when you ride I don`t really see the benefit to reducing the amount the hoof wears, as it is only on for a short period. I guess this isn`t a problem if your horse has strong feet, or the fields aren`t stoney, and the horse has some foot there already. However, if they have worn away their foot until they are foot sore, surely they need permanent assistance at least to allow the hoof to grow to a decent length.

Can hoof boots be left on permanently? Manufacturers advertise that they do not rub due to the fitting, but it seems to me that a stone could get in and irritate the horse, much like us with a stone in our shoe, and cause some bruising. Some people have said that hoof boots can rub, but I guess it depends on the individual horse`s conformation and the style of the boot; much like us getting our shoes fitted. You can also buy little pop socks, which help prevent chaffing and keeps the inside of the boots clean. You’d need to keep a close eye on it though.

The best use I’ve found for hoof boots is in conjunction with normal shoes. If your horse is prone to losing shoes, pulling them off in the field for example, then having hoof boots would permit you to continue working your horse while you wait for the farrier. If your farrier can’t come out for two days to replace the lost shoe then you don’t lose valuable training sessions with your competition horse. Additionally, it could be useful if you pull a shoe mid competition, particularly on an endurance horse. 

Do you remember those pull on over reach boots? I get the impression that putting on hoof boots could be as fiddly as that, but the modern ones have lots of velcro to help, and I’m pretty sure there’s a knack to getting the boots on efficiently.

I’m going to follow this horse’s progress as he gets used to the boots, and see if they are of benefit to him, as I think for horses working every day they could be more of a hindrance than a help, but for those who only ride infrequently, they could be a very useful accessory. 

Adjusting Strides

I read a really interesting article a couple of weeks ago, but haven`t had chance to experiment with it until this week.

The article was abut the importance of leg yielding when showjumping. This sounds controversial, but basically the article showed how you can gain space between fences without jeopardising your technique as the horse will still be perpendicular to the fence so will make the oxer more easily.

This makes sense, because you are riding a diagonal, so have a greater distance to travel so you should comfortably fit in more strides. More than just collecting your canter will, anyway. I`m sure everyone`s ridden that exercise when you canter through a related distance counting strides, and then have to increase and decrease the number of strides in between. This is the advanced version!

The first time I used this theory was yesterday morning in a dressage lesson. We`d played around with poles and cavaletti and I had a bit of time left at the end, so I tested her leg yielding ability.

I put down two short poles, about five canter strides apart, and askekd my client to trot over the centre of them to begin with. Then I asked her to come off the left rein and trot over the most left part of the first pole, and then leg yield to the most right part of the second pole. This exercise was made all the harder by the lack of jump wings, so my client had to use her leg closest to the edge of the pole to support her horse, so he didn`t skip around the end. They had to step quietly over the pole so their rhythm and balance wasn`t upset and they had enough time to leg yield. This is harder than it looks but my client managed to ride the exercise in trot on both reins. It was a good test of accuracy for both horse and rider, and their leg yield had to be straight and consistent.

Later that afternoon I was schooling a horse and someone had kindly left out a beautiful arrangement of  poles for me to work with, and two were a perfect five strides apart. So I cantered over them a couple of times, shortening our strides until the gelding rode six strides easily. Next, I tried cantering a leg yield between the poles to get seven strides. He found it quite hard, and I managed to leg yield into six an a half strides. We tried a few times on both reins, before admitting defeat by that seventh stride. I could see how the exercise is useful though, and our canter work improved. To finish off the exercise I cantered through the related distance in four strides.

This got the geeky part of my brain thinking. If those poles were twelve foot long instead of ten foot, could I have fitted in an extra stride? If they had been further apart, could I have managed it? With Pythagoras` theorem, and some trigonometry I`m sure it would be worked out – but I wish I`d measured the distance between the poles and the exact length of the poles so that I could do some homework.

Following on from this theme, I taught a young girl on her new pony tonight. We have a slight problem with the brakes. The pony has them, but is forward going and my rider isn`t committed enough to riding a balanced gait. As the pony tends to accelerate around jumping courses I have been trying to drill it into her that she must keep the canter under control on the flat. 

To accentuate my point, I laid down two poles five strides apart, and asked her to canter over them, counting her strides. The first time she got five strides, and the pony accelerated. So I asked her to go again; she got four strides. By now, the pony was really excited for the poles, and my rider could see how she needs to calm down the canter and keep the lid on it. On both reins she balanced the canter and rode an economical five and six strides through the poles and then she worked on her canter on the flat after, and I think she learnt an important lesson in keeping a lid on the gaits – and listening to me when I tell her to slow down! Giving a set goal, i.e. a set distance and a set number of strides, helped commit my little rider to achieving her goal – and to also see the results of her work. I`m hoping to continue to improve the quality of her pony`s trot and canter with similar exercises next week, and to use poles too.

All in all, two simple poles can be really useful in teaching a horse and rider to adjust their gait and improve their balance, as well as improving the communication between the two. I`m looking forwards to trying the leg yielding between poles/jumps with Otis soon.

That Monday Morning Feeling?

Do you have that sinking feeling on a Sunday evening, when you realise the weekend is over? Do you count down the days of the week until Friday night?

I`ve realised over the last couple of weeks I`ve come to realise just how lucky I am. On a Sunday I positively look forwards to Monday morning when I get back into the routine of getting up early and working on the yard. Seeing the horses, friends, and then teaching after school. Mondays usually ease me into the week gently with only a couple of lessons. Then on Tuesdays I have my brain tested with an advanced dressage lesson – lots of lateral work and complicated questions about aids, scales of training, degrees of shoulder in etc etc. Then after school I have some more lessons. I sometimes have a couple of horses to ride and if not I have an elongated lunch break to make up for teaching into the evening. The rest of my week continues in much of the same way.

For me, each day is different and brings new challenges and contemplations. Even if I have had a “bad day” it is by no means a negative experience. My feelings are usually based on the fact a lesson hasn`t gone as well as expected, or that my day has been long or busy, or that I`ve been rained on and am cold and wet. Of course, I look forwards to the weekend, but that`s only because I`m tired and need a rest, or want to spend time with family and friends.

  

Take today, for example. After the yard duties were done I taught an interesting lesson with cavaletti. Then I schooled Llani, who is really showing huge improvement in his leg yielding and lateral work. So on this high, I went to school another horse where I used lots of poles to improve his canter and practised some new exercises so that I can use them in my lessons, and then I hacked another horse. He`s an older boy, but with plenty of life in him still. 

We went for a long canter along the gallops – I always let him pick the pace as sometimes his energy levels are a bit lower. Today, however, he cantered merrily along with his ears pricked. The wind sent tears running down my face and I whooped with glee and the horse accelerated, his hind legs pushing him forwards along the gallops. He was thoroughly enjoying himself!

  

As we galloped I couldn`t help but laugh as the wind whistled around me, flapping the horse`s mane up and down. When I brought him back to walk, he jogged towards the next path, so I let him have another canter – much to his delight!

So after a day like today, with lots in store for tomorrow, I think I would be mad not to enjoy my job. But I count my lucky stars that I look forwards to going to work every day.

   

Jumping Bounces

One thing I took away from the cross country clinic I did with Otis a couple of weeks ago is that I need to stop backing off a fence when he backs off. I need to attack more so that he doesn’t chip in, and hopefully this will stop him jumping such a steep, high bascule.and make it easier to jump wider fences.

Back in the arena yesterday I decided to set up a row of bounces. With twelve foot between each cross pole I knew it would make Otis stretch between fences and make a shallower, wider bascule. I only used three jumps. Mainly because I ran out of puff shifting all the poles and wings, but also because I had to travel further afield (the jump store) for another couple of poles.

I gave Otis a placing pole a good nine foot away from the first fence and cantered him through the poles to open his stride and get him in the jumping frame of mind. Bounce poles on the ground are quite tricky as the horse needs to put in more effort and almost skip over each pole in order to make the striding. We managed it much more easily in right canter, which is his preference when jumping.

I built the grid up slowly and Otis took to it easily – unlike some, he knows what a bounce is. He had to stretch the first couple of times, but it quickly became easy. I raised it to higher crosses as soon as he became a bit too lazy and complacent. Whilst I want him to stretch, and not go up so high, I do want him to respect the height of the fences. I kept the bounce grid as crosses as Otis was much less likely to back off a cross, than he is an upright. I once taught a pony who easily bounced a grid as cross poles, but as soon as they became uprights he insisted on putting a stride in!

I worked Otis evenly from both reins. The left canter is getting more consistent over fences but when he puts in a lot of effort he tends to change. He did this a couple of times but once or twice he gave a good stretch and landed on his left lead. My friend, and pole putter upper, noticed that Otis jumps bigger from the right canter than the left, which I guess is due to hindleg strength. We finished with an oxer at the end of the bounces to really test Otis. The first time he out the brakes on, gawping as he clambered over the first bounce. But he soon figure it out and jumped the grid really fluidly off both reins to finish.

Jumping bounce grids are a very useful exercise to increase a horse’s agility, the riders suppleness, and also improve the canter by forcing a rhythm and improving the activity of the hindleg.

My next jumping exercise with Otis is going to be on a circle to further improve his jumping out of left canter and his confidence with it. I know he gets frustrated with himself because if I’m jumping a single jump from left canter and he lands on the right lead he shakes his head, slows down, and tries to change his lead!

Running Livery Yards

On the grapevine a few weeks ago I heard that I was in the market for my own livery yard. This was news to me, so I think the grapevine may have been a rose bush in disguise.

A couple of years ago I did dream of having my own yard, being my own boss, and potentially having my own riding school. Well, I now work for myself, so that is one box ticked. However, I`ve discovered that I prefer teaching for the long term, rather than the riding school one hour hello-goodbye sessions. I love seeing the progression of a relationship between horse and rider, as they work on the foundations which build into a great tower of success. This means I can cross “owning a riding school” off my bucket list. 

The last one, of owning a riding school, is I believe a pie in a sky dream. I`ve seen recently the politics, heavy workload, loneliness, responsibility, and paperwork involved in running a livery yard. Now, whilst I wouldn`t dismiss having my own house with three stables annd paddocks in the garden – I think I need to win the lottery first, though – I have decided that I am thoroughly happy with assisting the running of a yard, working on a yard and teaching. I have the best of all worlds!

One of my recent observations I`ve made is about the decision a yard owner has to make about whether they offer DIY, part of full livery. 

I`ve always been a firm supporter of the DIY route, with assistance from yard staff on an ad-hoc basis. My main reason for this is that I don`t see the point in having a horse unless you look after it yourself. As an adult, I now realise that part livery is actually a very good option to consider. Each yard has different elements in their part livery package – five days or a staggered week, am and pm, bedding included or additional – so it is worth speaking to yards individually. Anyway, as an adult, weigh up your petrol costs driving to and from the yard twice a day, the time involved versus your home life, and your working day and work load. The petrol cost alone usually balances out most of the additional part livery cost. Something I only realised recently is that as an adult you juggle so many balls, often it makes life easier if you know that someone is caring for your horse on a daily basis so you do not need to get up an extra hour earlier, or sacrifice valuable family time mucking out. After all, aren`t you better off spending the only hour you have for your horse riding or grooming, rather than mucking him out? I think part livery allows owners to focus on the better part of  horse ownership, rather than the menial task of mucking out or turning out. Another aspect of part livery that I like is that the yard staff know your horse well, because they look after him every day, not on an ad-hoc basis, as in the the assisted DIY situation, which means they are likely to pick up on behavioural or physical changes. If a yard is run from your home then part and full livery means that you, as an owner, have more control and knnowledge over who is there at odd times of the day. I mean, do you really want to be awakened at 5am every morning by the DIY livery who is turning their horse out before catching the train to London for work?

Full livery still eludes me, as I`m not sure I would ever be able to justify paying someone to completely care for my horse, while I did not even have the privilege of being responsible for him on weekends. Perhaps time will change my feelings towards this.

Another element of running a yard which must be considered is the subject of instruction. If you are an instructor than it is logical to promote yourself and put a ban on external instructors teaching liveries. However, this is quite egotistical  and would only work with small yards, as a bigger yard will have diverse learners and riders, so needs more than one instructor (perhaps one who focuses on flat, or jump, or one who teaches visually, or another kinaestheitcally) to satisfy all the clients. So perhaps a livery yard should offer a variety of clinics – where an instructor of a specific discipline and of a high standard comes in and teaches for the day once a month. But then this self-limiting as owners cannot always book time off work, and may prefer to have more frequent lessons.

As a riding school you should have enough of your own instructors to satisfy the liveries, so they can book lessons through the riding school and so increase the riding school`s revenue. This sort of situation is very appealing to first time horse owners, as they have good continuation from their riding school era, and a good network of support. 

If you do decide to allow external instructors to teach your liveries, how do you police it? Should arena`s be booked off, and an arena hire fee paid? Or should the instructors have to lump it and share with other liveries? Should there be an arena hire fee, or does the arena hire come from the liverie`s monthly fee? Who should be responsible for booking an arena?

I work at one yard who bills liveries separately for arena usage – this accomodates the happy hackers, who want to save fifty pounds a pony, or the retired horses, yet for those who use the school it is not an astronomical cost, and there is no limit on usage for the arena. Those people do not have to pay arena hire if they are taught by an external instructor. But this yard does not provide an instructor, so an external one is not taking income away. Another yard I go to charges arena hire for external instructors, which is payable whether the arena is shared or not. This gets into difficult waters because I know that if I was paying to have a lesson and had to pay to hire the arena as well I would not want to share my space with others, or have jumps erected in the middle. In that case it is also necessary to have a good method of policing arena bookings. I`ve seen large white boards at some yards, where liveries write in the time slot. But then in petty environments names can be rubbed off and double bookings made.

When looking at the responsibility of booking an arena I can only say that from my point of view as an instructor who visits four different yards a week I do not want to be ringing each yard manager to book each arena. I juggle enough balls teaching at three different locations in three hours! If I were at a yard that I had to book the arena for my dressage lesson, it would be very easy to pop in and book one day when I was already there with my horse.

I think this area of running a yard is very difficult, and I am yet to see a suitable, universal method, which keeps everyone happy. 

Another aspect of running a yard is, of course, the dreaded politics. Unfortunately horse ownership brings out the worst in people but there is nothing worse than when a yard manager gets involved. They should remain impartial, rise above any bickering, yet at the same time be quick enough to bang everyones heads together. This makes me realise just how lonely running a yard can be. No one talks to you unless they have a complaint, and you have to keep everyone at arm`s length so you are not accused of being biased. I guess this, along with the paperwork, can lead to a yard manaager isolating themselves in the office under a mountain of paper. Which creates it`s own problems, as the yard manager is not out on the yard interacting with the horses and liveries, so is not seen as being approachable and they do not nip problems in the bud because they don`t hear of them until the molehills become mountains.

All in all, the last couple of weeks pondering has led me to decide that I`m perfectly happy being involved with the running of a yard – giving my input and suggestions to improving and helping in the day-to-day running, but I am just as happy to go home at night and not worry about who hasn`t paid their bill, or who isn`t talking to who. Meanwhile, I am left alone in my evenings to plan the next day`s lessons, riding, and itinery in peace. Although, sometimes this juggling act can be as much of a headache!

Fairfax Girths

Earlier this week I rode a horse in her brand spanking new Fairfax girth.

Have you seen these?

Have you touched one?

Have you ridden in one?

I hadn’t, until now. Yeah, of course I`d heard of them – they were kept top secret until after the London Olympics as they were hoped to be Team GB`s secret weapon.

Anyway, you can feel the quality. You can smell the quality of the leather. It`s made of top-quality leather, which is lovely and supple, and there are several leather loops for martingale and side reins to be attached. Each girth even has a serial number stamped on, and a little arrow pointing towards the front of the girth.

The girths are well cushioned, which gives them quite a lot of bulk, which was the problem a friend found with her side saddle – by the time the two other girths have been fitted. The Fairfax girths are cushioned by Prolite, which is often used in riser pads as it distributes pressure evenly, absorbs impact, and doesn`t rub easily. These girths were even tested by Centaur Biomechanics to analyse the pressure on the working horse.

The Fairfax girths claim that the design allows the Prolite cushioning to “float”, which allows the horse to move more freely. However, both my friend and I found the girth to be very heavy, despite it`s luxurious feel.

Research has also shown that the horse has a reduced gait asymmetry when wearing a Fairfax girth, and a wider range of movement.

Fairfax Performance Girth

You can see from these girths that they are contoured. This is to avoid the pressure points just behind the elbow – where all the girth galls form – and allows the muscles to move freely.

I gulped at the price of these girths – £220-290 – and I have to say I didn`t feel a massive improvement in the way the horse I rode went, but she tends to be a bit wibbly wobbly and doesn`t always go forwards to the contact, so she may not be in the position, with her training, to give me consistent comparisons. I also wasn`t fussed on the extra weight the horse had to carry.

However, I think there is a lot to be said about girths with a contour fit. I`ve seen a huge number of horses recently, particularly those that are clipped, with slight rubs from their girths. I always pull Otis`s forelegs forwards before I get on to reduce the chance of rubbing, as do many of my clients. Hopefully when their summer coats grow through the horse`s will have more protection on these pressure points. I have seen photos of horses competing who have clipped out, leaving the girth area, as well as the spur square commonly seen, which is a good preventative. But there are plenty of other girths on the market which have similar contour design that are much more competitively priced that I think I would be just as interested in trying.

Has anyone used a Fairfax girth, and what are their thoughts on them?

Hold On Tight!

I ride this super sensitive horse for this lady. As well as being sensitive to the leg, this horse also worries about life – tractors, plastic bags. In fact, he`s more of a worrier than Llani! He`s also a fair weather horse, hating the rain and shying at the wind.

Anyway, riding him is like sitting on a ticking bomb. Well today, the bomb exploded.

It was a chilly day, but no more windy than normal and he was a little tense in the trot, but I worked through it – encouraging him to accept the leg on circles and leg yield. He was trying to rush as I applied the aids, but eventually I felt he was ready to canter.

I sat and asked, and he did his little scoot that he usually does and picked up right canter, before accelerating and getting a bit unbalanced and I felt his legs do something. I think he became disunited and then panicked himself. The result as we came round the corner was that he started broncing down the school. The broncs got bigger and bigger, with his head getting closer and closer to the ground, until I parted company from him and landed on my thumb.

Which is why I`m now here typing away with a puffy left hand and sore thumb.

It got me thinking though, after I`d got back on and ridden him a bit more, what`s the difference between a buck and a bronc?

From recent experience, they definitely feel different. In a buck it`s almost as though the back is arched downwards, hollowed, or like a cereal bowl. The front legs are on the ground, and the head is usually up. Quite often a buck incorporates a kick out, which stems from it`s development as a method of protection against mountain lions, who attacked by jumping onto their backs.

A bronc, on the other hand, is like sitting on an upturned cereal bowl. There`s very little to support you, as a rider, because the neck is disappearing in front of you, and the wriggling body makes it harder to grip on – the old saying of “grip with your knees” comes to mind in that situation.  The back is lifted, and the broncing usually involves all four feet off the ground at the same time at some point. With a bronc, the horse is usually intent on removing their rider, or whatever is on their back. A buck, however, can be high jinx or releasing excess energy, happiness, disobedience or a response to pain

Either way, it`s important to discover the reason behind the behaviour – I`m still working out the reasons for this horse`s broncing today, but his back and tack will be investigated first and then  the other usual routes will be gone down.