Box Rest

One week down.

And we seem to be surviving. I`m still sane, and Otis seems settled into this routine.

Here are a few things that I`ve established in our new routine.

  • I`ve cut Otis`s feed down to two small feeds, which are just enough to put his turmeric and supplements into, so he hopefully doesn`t get unmanageable and energetic.
  • Otis isn`t greedy so usually has a haybar, but in order to entertain him for longer during the day and to keep his stable a bit tidier, I`ve invested in some elim-a-nets which are very small holed haynets. This will mean it takes Otis longer to eat so should benefit his digestive system. Hay can trigger a stable-cough, so I`ve been dampening his hay. I don`t think it is beneficial to soak his hay, given the extra work involved, because he isn`t greedy or overweight.
  • Otis weighs 600kgs and because of his box rest he needs 2% of his bodyweight in feed every day. None will come from his grazing, so I need to provide him with 12kgs of feed per day. His hard feed is minimal, so he needs 11-12kgs of hay per day. This is actually quite a reasonably sized haynet morning and night. As there is usually a little hay left at the bottom of the net each time I`m happy with his rations.
  • I hadn`t actually ordered my winter bedding ration so I hurriedly did it on Monday morning. I`ve changed Otis from shavings to wood pellets and am very impressed with the bed. It`s drier, less odourous, far easier to muck out, and more stable so the bed isn’t scattered everywhere.
  • We`ve established our routine. In the morning I arrive, remove his rug and tie him up outside his stable while I muck out. Once the stable is done I give him a quick groom, pick out his feet and then put his day rug on. When he goes back in, he has his breakfast. In the evening I either skip out with him in the box, or if the yard is quieter he comes back out again. Once his rug is changed he has his dinner. I`ve got it down to a fine art now, managing to put him to bed yesterday in a mere eleven minutes. In the morning I try to spend a bit of time bonding with him.
  • I`ve put my favourite rug on Otis at night for the moment. It was one of the first rugs I bought him, and reminds me of a mint chocolate ice cream. During the day he has a summer sheet on. Changing the rugs prevents rubbing and gives him chance to scratch any itchy spots.
  • I dug out the treat ball, but haven`t used it yet. He seems quite happy without it at the moment, so I’m waiting until boredom kicks in and then I can introduce it.
  • It`s quite a walk to some grass from Otis`s stable, and as the idea of box rest is to limit activity, I`m compensating by taking him out to graze in hand every couple of days. He doesn’t seem that interested in the grass though, and marches straight back into his stable.
  • I`ve also got a plan for me. Box rest is hard work and you can end up wearing yourself out with early morning muck outs and evening skip outs. If a horse has a wound you usually feel you can`t miss a shift because no one else knows how to tend to the wound like you do. Plus you want to be the first to know about any changes to the injury. I`m lucky with Otis in that there`s nothing to actually treat so I don`t need to worry about that, but it`s still important for me to have a break. I`ve enlisted the help of Otis`s chauffeur to do a morning shift on the weekends, which will allow me to have a bit of a lie in and hopefully catch up on some sleep.

So yes, we`ve got into our routine, and hopefully the next five weeks will fly past.

My Livery Yard Part 2

Going back to my imaginary livery yard – that you can read about here – I was today thinking about how I`d organise the staff, keep liveries happy, and other bits and pieces.

Staff

In my experience, the professional equestrian world has two types of people; those who are very good with horses but not very good at mixing with people, and those who aren`t quite so good around horses yet are very good at dealing with the public. In order for businesses to be successful, I think you need both types of people in management. I`ve already decided that I would want a partner in my livery yard, so I would need to find someone who complimented me.

I think I would also have a core of three managers. The head groom, who would be in charge of the day to day running of the yard, caring for liveries, and helping exercise horses if needed. I think they would also have at least one permanent groom working underneath them, and then in winter they can be in charge of contracting another groom or two to help cope with the workload of the winter part-liveries.

I would then have an instructor, who would teach liveries, have external clients, and exercise horses. Instructors are usually good at communicating, so I would have them as the point of contact for the liveries. Let`s face it, I would be the instructor and point of contact, which means I would need to find a partner who had very good knowledge and experience of horse care, and was devoted to looking after them.

I would then have a maintenance manager, who preferably had a farming background so knew all about caring for the land and building robust fences, yet had animal sense around horses. I think I would have quite a laissez-faire approach to them, just meeting once a week. Their jobs would involve maintaining the buildings, fences, water system, arenas, and also caring for the land. Unfortunately, most horse owners have very little knowledge about when to rest, harrow, fertilise their fields, so the maintenance manager would oversee caring for the fields and advise liveries on when to rest paddocks, and organise the rolling and harrowing. I would have a separate email address for maintenance so that liveries could contact them with details of damages. The email system would also enable to maintenance to communicate directly with liveries. For example, “We will be fixing the fence in your paddock tomorrow afternoon,” or “Next week`s forecast is dry and warm, so we will be rolling your paddock on Tuesday”. Which should mean that everything runs more smoothly because the jobs don’t go through a middle man, and horses will be brought in if necessary.

Arena Booking

Everyone wants lessons, or to have enough space to jump, or to avoid an over crowded arena, but it can be so difficult to organise an arena booking system. I have a solution though! I would have a website for my livery yard, where the liveries are all members which gives them access to the Arena Booking System. That would mean that liveries can check to see if anyone has booked lessons for the following day and week, so can plan to hack on the day there is a jump lesson, or ride earlier in the day. People could book the arena out for a lesson, state that they are willing to share the arena, state if it is flat or jump lesson, or even if someone wanted to set up a jump course to jump on their own then they could and those who don`t want to school around fences know in advance. I would put restrictions on booking though, so that only one arena (assuming I have two or more arenas at my yard) is booked at any one time, and at peak times there would be no option of booking lessons unless people are willing to share.

Paddocks

Paddocks are also a difficult topic with livery yards. I think I would have individual turnout, but with over the fence contact with their neighbours. Depending on the land I had, I would assign each horse two paddocks. If possible I would have “winter grazing” and “summer grazing” on each side of my land as that would allow the tracks to be completely rested, and be easier to care for the land. The winter grazing will be the drier side of the land, possibly uphill, and the track and gateways would be of hardcore so that they don`t get as muddy. Winter grazing should be closer to the yard because with fewer daylight hours time is of the essence.

The ideal fencing is post and rail; I`d try to have that with electric running along the top rail, and I would definitely avoid stock fencing because of the amount of wire, and the fact they are not as solid looking so are more likely to be pushed or leant on.

Socialising

In order to keep liveries happy it is important that the manager is approachable, and knows the ins and outs of the yard. It is also important to encourage liveries to be friends – the yard becomes a happier place and there are far fewer politics around the yard. To help solve this I would organise a monthly livery get-together. In summer it could be a pub hack, or a BBQ, and in winter it could be roast dinner at the pub, or pizza in front of the TV watching Olympia. Just bringing people together without the horses and encouraging them to chat will help build friendships, as well as the staff being approachable so that problems don`t fester. The staff will also be able to get an idea of the vibes around the yard, which should also prevent arguments developing.

 

I think that`s as far as my daydreaming got me. There are definitely other aspects to consider, which I will probably think about on one of my next hacks!

Counting Strides to a Jump

When learning to jump it can be difficult to meet jumps on the correct stride and to learn the feel of a good jump, so instructors use placing poles to assist the horse in finding the correct take-off point, thus enabling the rider to focus on their position and the feel. However, sometimes the riders and horses can over focus on the pole and it doesn`t help improve the jumping technique.

I`m a big believer in the rider getting the correct canter on the approach and then allowing the horse to adjust themselves to find the right stride. Additionally, I find that novice jumpers have enough to worry about without trying to “see a stride” and position the horse themselves. One of the exercises we used to do as children was counting down to a jump. I could never get my head around it. I could always see the stride but I struggled to count “3,2,1,jump” on the last four strides before a fence. Perhaps my instincts worked quicker than my brain?

Moving on. Counting canter strides is important, but instead of counting down the strides, counting in threes or fours, will help stabilise the canter rhythm and the rider is thinking positively because they are counting upwards.

Even on the flat counting canter strides can help improve the canter rhythm. I`ve done it so many times that it has become autonomic. I often find myself mid-canter saying “twenty one, twenty two, twenty three … What am I doing?” because I`ve subconsciously been counting canter strides and reached a ridiculous figure.

A couple of weeks ago I introduced a client to the idea of counting her strides towards a jump. Her horse has quite a big, scopey stride so can do a mini-leap over poles which tends to complicate jumping as she gets left behind or he gets too close to the fence. To try to prevent my rider having too many dodgy jumps, and to instil the correct feeling and hopefully teach my rider to see where her horse will take off over fences so she can go stay in sync with him over jumps. This will make courses flow more smoothly.

Before she started counting her strides a few yards before the jump the horse either backed off slightly or lengthened his stride too much. Then my rider tried to correct the canter, but it was too late. When she was counting her canter strides, “1,2,3,1,2,3” she noticed instantly when the canter changed and could apply her leg, a half halt, or adjust her upper body position to regain the canter. I felt that she was then attacking the fence a bit more – I don`t mean chasing her horse towards the jump, but closing the leg and riding positively towards the fence instead of having the hand brake on. From then on, every jump was met on a good stride.

Now that the canter is becoming autonomic and consistent, I want to build up to riding lines between fences, around corners, and through combinations so that courses become flowing and smooth.

 

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Best Friends

With the imminent reunion of Otis and Matt, I wonder if they remember each other from six years ago. I used to go up to catch Matt and Otis would spy me from across the field and march over determinedly, lower lip wobbling and then follow me down onto the yard and walk straight into his stable. If dinner was there he tucked in, but if the bowl was empty I had to shut the door quickly before Otis exited to inspect any buckets on the yard!

The Rubber Curry Comb

Isn’t it funny how some horses or ponies are best friends, and some are a bit of a loner. But how do they pick their friends?
I guess sometimes we almost force a friendship by, say riding with one of our friends and their mount, or maybe the horses befriend each other because they know they have a chance of coming in for food with that person? My mum has a welsh cob and he is always in the field with her friends mare. But the net result is that my mum can’t bring Matt in without Chelsea following. But the funny thing is that before mum rode Matt, when I had him, he never looked twice at Chelsea!
Horses are clever though, in the autumn when they start to get hungry my mum will go up to feed Matt and end up bringing Chelsea in, as well as another…

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X-Rays 

X-Rays, as with humans, is a useful diagnostic tool to identify the cause of equine lameness. It is used if hard tissue damage is suspected. Although I’ve assisted friends while their horse is X-rayed, it was only in August that I had a horse of mine X-rayed.

Now whilst it’s a useful diagnostic technique, and completely necessary for Otis, I was slightly concerned that I would see something in addition to the problem, or see the early signs of a future problem.

Otis was having his feet X-rayed, so on the level surface of the barn we set up the equipment. A lot of horses need sedating, but my very patient Otis stood perfectly still. His front hooves were placed on wooden blocks, and he had to remain stationary from that point on.

I held him while the vet’s assistant held the panel on the inside of Otis’s left fore, and the vet angled the board so it would reflect the X-rays correctly, before angling the machine and taking a shot. Of his left fore, she took a couple of shots from different angles. This was because his coffin joint is angled so that it points inward. Then she took an X-Ray of the right fore for comparison.

It’s amazing really, that instantly we can study the images, take another angle, or retake the image so that the vet has the best records to analyse later, and to keep for future reference.

What we did find was that there was some sidebone on the outside of Otis’s left fore. I kind of knew it was there anyway because a hard lump developed after an overreach boot rubbed him about eighteen months ago. Anyway, on the X-Ray it looked rather furry, which suggests that it is active. Which could be causing him some pain. Once settled, sidebone usually doesn’t cause lameness, particularly when it is not near a joint, like this lump.

On both coffin joints there was a small spur, which is apparently to be expected with heavier horses who have quite an athletic lifestyle. The image below is not Otis’s, but it’s a fairly clean X-ray which should give you an idea of what a lower leg should look like.


Then the vet decided to X-ray Otis’s right hock… I really didn’t want to because I didn’t want to see any of the numerous hock problems developing that could cause future problems. The vet’s reasoning behind her concern for his right hind, despite the lameness being in the left fore, was that when we nerve blocked his left fore foot his right hind leg started wobbling all over the place!

Much to my relief, Otis’s X-ray of his hock was clean, so we refocused our attention on his left leg and booked the farrier to shoe him with remedial shoes before injecting his coffin joint. Which didn’t solve the lameness, but that is another story!

Giving Feedback 

At the moment I seem to be asking my young clients a lot of questions during their lessons. And not the “how has your day been?” kind of questions.
I will often ask a client whether they like their trot or canter, or if it feels better. Sometimes I ask if they “can feel it?”.
But what is “it”?
Well obviously it depends on the subject we’re working on, but it can be a more active stride, a lighter feel down the reins, the lift of the back, the correction of a bend, or a soften of the jaw.
But I’ve decided that now my clients, all another school year older, should start to make the link between what they are feeling, the mechanics of the gait, and what they did to achieve “it”.
One client in particular has a good answer to my question. I can say “how did that transition feel?” Or “what did you think of this canter compared to the second?”
And her answer invariably is “better”. Sometimes she says “not as good”.
So now I’ve started asking her “why?”
The first time she looked at me in surprise as she struggled to articulate her thoughts.
After a few lessons I started having answers such as “it was better because his hind legs were more active in the transition” and “he didn’t fall out through his shoulder that time because I had my outside rein and outside leg supporting him”.
I think that the ability to verbalise what you are feeling will help you as a rider to link the cause and effects of riding; i.e. The effect of raising the inside hand slightly prevents the horse falling onto the inside shoulder. Which means that my young riders should start to ride with some initiative, correcting their horse before I tell them what to do, which opens the doors for more exciting exercises because I don’t need to focus so much on maintaining the basics. After a while it becomes automatic too, which should mean that they can make micro adjustments to their horse and way of going whilst thinking about and planning their next movement, or their lateral work which will enable us to step up a level.

A Smile of Satisfaction 

I taught a new client this week and he really made my day. He’s nine or ten, I think, but possibly eleven, and has a little schoolmaster of a pony. I love the pony, he will do anything so long as you press the correct buttons.

His little rider is confident and gung-ho, but needs “refining”. I knew I needed to do some flat work, but when working with boys you have to drip feed them it in short bursts before jumping to keep them focused, and I wanted our first lesson to be a success.

So my warm up was fairly brief, getting my rider to have an active trot and riding a few circles, changes of rein, correcting his trot diagonal, shortening his reins, and making light of his lazy hands, which rest on his pony’s withers. With kids I try not to make their faults too negative, but make a bit of a joke about it; such as “those hands are looking a bit lazy!” with a smile on my face, to remind them to correct their hands.

Anyway, we did some short bursts of sitting trot before cantering. Some quick fire trot-canter transitions to wake his pony up, and asking my rider what he thought of the canter and whether it was good enough to jump out of. 

My rider looked pretty serious, but he was listening and riding well, so I felt pleased with the direction the lesson was moving in.

We moved onto canter poles, checking the quality of the canter on both reins and then built a decent sized cross pole.

All the time I was noticing how my rider looked down at the poles, leant forwards onto his hands a couple of strides before the fence, but had a secure lower leg and was able to create and maintain an active canter on his approach and rode positively away from the fence.

The cross pole was no problem but when it became an upright. They had an energetic canter towards the fence, but two strides before, my rider tipped forward and buried his hands into the withers. And the pony darted sideways, around the jump. Apart from his upper body going forwards, my rider actually looked quite secure, but he’s used to these stops!

I explained to my rider that when jumps got bigger his pony had to make more effort to lift his shoulders and when my rider tipped forward he was making it harder for his pony, which is why he ran out.

Just by sitting up and lifting his hands, they flew over the upright nicely.

After jumping off both reins I made a one stride double of a cross to an upright. My rider was a bit slow to sit up between the fences which allowed his pony to run out. The next time was much better and once they were looking more consistent I made the second fence into an oxer. The back rail was just shy of ninety centimetres. Yes it was big, but within their capabilities and I wanted my rider to realise the importance of sitting up before fences.

It took a couple of tries, but as soon as my rider had his shoulders back and hands carried, with the leg on, his pony flew the spread. And my rider’s face lit up! On the approach he was very serious and focused, but upon landing he had a huge grin on his face. It’s very satisfying to see someone suddenly piecing together the jigsaw and being so pleased with themselves and their pony.

I didn’t want to do the oxer too many times, so after a couple of good approaches we had a break to change the exercise into three jumps. The final fence was about eighty five centimetres as I didn’t want it to be too big if they had three fences to ride through.

The first time my rider forgot to sit up after the first fence. The second time he was a little quick to fold before the final fence so had another run out. It was so good to see them coming together and making progress with each attempt. As well as the huge grin on my riders face as he landed after the final jump and stopped to pat his pony!

That makes my job worthwhile; seeing such progress and happy faces afterwards. It makes my day and makes me glad I do the job I do! I know now what to do over the next few lessons. Grid work will improve my riders position and flexibility so he is quicker to sit up. I’d like to build up to a series of bounces without reins. We also need to check their straightness over jumps which we can do with the help of some guide poles. With the flatwork I’m just going to sneak it in at the beginning of the lesson and gradually improve this area without him getting bored and losing interest. Then perhaps one day he’ll ask to have a pure flatwork lesson!

Sponsored Rides

Have you been enjoying the countryside from horseback all summer and now decided to take the next step and enter your first sponsored ride?

I know a few people who have either done their first one this year or are about to embark on it. They’re a lot of fun, but the only way to enjoy the spectacular scenery is to go prepared. Then you’ll spend less time worrying about the what ifs and more time enjoying your horse and company.

My first fun ride was as a sixteen year old, taking three nine year old girls round on their ponies. Now, I don’t think I would like that sort of responsibility, but ignorance is bliss and if I remember correctly we had a great time.


Yesterday while I was riding I was thinking of a few ways to prepare, and then a few tips, for first timers.

  • Firstly, pick your company wisely. The more people you go with the more excitable things can be, so I would always limit my groups to a maximum of four, and then I would make sure I’d hacked my horse in a group of four beforehand so he was used to groups. Go with people who want to travel at your speed, and are able to. I mean, you don’t want to go with the long striding, bouncy ex-racer on your dumpy, steady cob because either you will be continually jogging to keep up or they will be constantly stopping to wait for you. Likewise, if you want to take it steady go with someone else who also wants to take it steady.
  • If you or your horse are a first timer it’s alway worth telling the other person that, or going with someone who’s happy to look after you and has a sensible horse who won’t be upset if you have to stop for a bit or your green horse has a wobbly. 
  • When you get to the sponsored ride it’s worth setting off at a steady pace – most horses are fidgety with so many others around them, but having a good trot or canter away from the start can get rid of the excess energy and means that they are far happier to walk the majority of the ride.
  • Beforehand it’s worth going on a long hack to make sure you’re both fitter and used to being out for a bit longer. After all, you’ll be spending two and a half hours in the saddle. If your saddle is really uncomfortable after a while then you’d better splash out on a seat saver!
  • It’s also worth going for a fast canter in an open space. Regardless of how steady and sensible your horse is, a canter in an open field will always feel faster than a canter in the arena or along a track in the woods, so you don’t want to feel unnerved by the increased power and speed. Popping a little log will give you the feel for jumping in the open but don’t worry if you don’t want to because all fun rides have optional jumps.
  • This is also a good time to test your brakes. There’s nothing worse than having your arms pulled out of their sockets for twelve miles because you kept your snaffle on. Some horses will be fine in their normal tack, but if in doubt then I always think a Dutch Gag is a useful bit to take because you can adjust the position of the reins on the day, which gives you a bit of flexibility and so confidence.
  • I would also invest in a grab strap. Or “chicken strap” as one of my friend’s mother called it! It can be a martingale strap or an old stirrup leather round the neck to give you some security should you feel wobbly.

I think that’s all the preparation you can really do, but remember a sponsored ride is all about having fun, so make sure you go at the pace you want to, and don’t feel that you have to jump every fence, or that every field must be cantered through. Supportive and experienced friends are a must, to give you that extra boost of confidence. And don’t forget to collect your rosette at the end!