Fly Masks

I bought Otis a new fly mask this season. Well, two actually. I can`t believe the number available, in numerous sizes; some with fluffy padding, some providing UV protection, some with ears covers, and some with nose nets. Then of course comes the range of colours and the material.

The first fly mask Otis had this year has ear covers, mainly because a couple of years ago he got bitten inside his ear and it abscessed – not at all pleasant. So I like to keep the flies away from his sensitive lugholes. However, the downside to these ear covers is that if your horse has ears that fill the covers the stitching and excess material on the inside can rub the tips of the ears. Debris also collects there, so as well as washing the mask I also need to turn the ears inside out. The little rubs on the tips of his ears have caused me to purchase another fly mask without ears, with the idea that a couple of weeks break from the ear covers will allow his ears to heal and then I can revert to the original fly mask.

The original fly mask is well shaped, with a fairly rigid mesh because I don`t like the idea of the mask lying too close to the eyes, which is why I opted for one with more contours and not such a soft, floppy material. I’m sure it damages the sensitive eye whiskers, and can`t be that comfortable for the horse. At the other end of the scale the stiff mesh fly masks don’t contour to the horse`s facial shape and are more likely to rub because the material is not as forgiving. It`s personal preference, but fly masks are now made of far more superior materials than the ones the first graced the market a couple of decades ago.

I never looked for a nose net for fly masks for Otis because although he has a small patch of white on his lip, he doesn`t suffer from sun burn, but this mask I bought earlier this season happened to have a nose net. It doesn’t cause a problem for Otis, but some horses don`t like the feel of a net around their muzzle. The nets also collect dust, from grazing and from their nose so need cleaning frequently.

Some masks, and they tend to be at the higher end of the market, have UV protection, which is a must if your horse suffers from uveitis, blue eyes, or has sensitive, pink skin because this could still get sunburnt with a normal mask. Do these masks come with UV nose nets because I assume that horses requiring UV protection to their face are likely to need similar protection on their muzzle.

Another accessory on fly masks is padding; if your horse has sensitive skin then it`s another thing to consider. Some have discreet fleece over the stitching and edges of the mask, whilst others have more elaborate padding. Again, this is down to personal preference. If your horse needs the padding to prevent rubbing then it is definitely worth considering, however the padding makes the mask warmer so you may get into trouble on hot days. I find the discreet fleece edging an attractive option.

Finally, you want to consider the fastening for the mask. One strap or two straps? Double Velcro? If you have a horse who plays with his field mates then a secure fastening is the most important aspect, however it also needs to be quick and easy to put on, either in the gateway or around the headcollar on the yard. I also prefer the masks to fit quite snugly around the jaw because I worry that the ones that are a little loose in their fit can allow flies up inside the mask, which would be torturous for a more horse and potentially cause a bad accident.

I`ll start off with a picture of Otis in his bug-like fly mask, but lets see your horses sporting their summer head wear too, with a bit of blurb about the type of mask you chose.

It`s Pony Club Camp

Today is the first day of Pony Club Camp – how exciting!

The forecast for the week looks warm (not as hot as last week thankfully) but overcast so hopefully it will all go smoothly and there won`t be too much running for cover.

This will be the third year that I`ve taught at this camp, and I have to say it is extremely well organised. A couple of weeks ago all the instructors met up for supper and were given our folders, which list all the different rides, some information on the levels of the individual riders, the individual tack and turnout, and report sheets. And most importantly, the timetable for the week. That’s right. At this camp I know what I am doing on the last day before I even get there! Normally camps are organising their instructors as the kids mount the ponies! We have a meeting every morning over breakfast to discuss the day, make changes if necessary, and generally gossip.

However, this camp does have a huge advantage over many other clubs, in that their camp is held on an idyllic private estate. That means that there is no sharing of facilities with liveries or riding school lessons, and the riding arenas are set up the week before, and stay up for the week (just think of how much time you save not moving fences every lesson!) Additionally, they have space. Acres of it. In the riding field there are usually three dressage arenas, a junior showjumping course, a senior showjumping course, a gridwork arena, an arena cross country arena, the senior musical ride arena (juniors do theirs in the menage) and half the cross country course! I will be walking miles – better charge my fitbit!

I`m sure this week will be totally exhausting, given that my riders are six years old; filled with laughter, that happens when you mix kids and ponies anyway; a few eyeball rolling moments (well, I do have four boys to contend with); and hopefully a bit of learning thrown in too. Everyone particularly looks forwards to the last day, when there are dressage, showjumping, handy pony (for the little ones anyway) competitions and the highly anticipated fancy dress musical ride.

I’m sure it will be a blast, and will provide plenty of anecdotes for The Rubber Curry Comb.

Wish me luck!


Milk Thistle

Last year one of my clients had a mare who was suffering severely from sunburn on her nose. She`s a piebald mare so has a fair bit of pink skin and white hair, but it was strange how badly affected her nose was considering that suncream had been applied daily and she wore a fly mask with a nose net to protect her.

I had seen this sort of angry, red sores before on a liver chestnut with a white stripe, and that was treated by the vet with flammazine cream and the mare was diagnosed as having photosensitivity issues. I think the blood test results showed abnormal functioning of the liver.

So I told this client about this other horse and left her to read up about it.

The liver removes toxins from the body before they can damage other organs and systems in the body. Disease and heavy drug use (for example, horses on a low-level dosage of bute for long-term) can affect the functioning and efficiency of the liver.

Horses detox their body via the digestive system, kidneys and urinary system, liver, lymphatic system, respiratory system and through the skin. Herbal remedies can be used to aid detoxication, but should be a low strength so that the horses delicate digestive system. The most common herbal supplement for liver support is Milk Thistle.

Milk thistle contains Silibinin which protects the liver by preventing certain toxins from entering the liver cells and stimulates regeneration of damaged cells. It also boosts antioxidant activity as well as increasing the oxygenating function of red blood cells.

If your horse was on long-term courses of drugs then your vet might recommend feeding a milk thistle supplement to support the liver. Research has shown that horses being treated for Lyme disease, EPM, or other chronic diseases have benefited from a milk thistle detox a couple of times a year.

This year, the coloured mare has been fed milk thistle seed, in the powdered form which is supposed to be the most digestible. She has definitely benefitted from it as her nose doesn`t have the crusty sores that she did last year. Her nose is covered in sun cream every day, and she definitely still needs it as on sunny days it still looks a bit pink, but it is a normal reaction to UV rays. I guess you could check that her fly mask and nose net are UV proof as that would provide her with more protection, and potentially when riding out on hot days a UV nose net could be attached to her noseband for added protection. In more severe cases (possibly a horse with more white throughout their body) they could end up with the scabs on other areas of their body, especially where the coat is thinner and the skin more sensitive, so would benefit from a UV rug.


If your horse tends to get sun burn similar to the above photo, it would be worth speaking to your vet and considering feeding a supplement that supports and promotes liver function as well as superficially protecting them from the sun with masks and cream.

Bringing Horses Back Into Work

After twelve long days (well it seemed long to me) Otis trotted up sound – Read about it here. Which allows me to begin the tortuous task of bringing him back into work.

Rehabilitation can be a stressful experience because there’s always the risk that the horse goes lame again. Or that the injury isn’t totally healed. Added to the fact it’s actually quite boring riding in walk!

I spoke to my vet friend and we’ve concocted Otis’s fittening regime. We are being overly cautious in case there was any damage to the tendon. I will begin by three days of riding him in walk for twenty minutes. Then three days of walking for thirty minutes. Then I can introduce some trot in a straight line on hard ground as well as increase the duration of walking to forty minutes. Luckily for me the tracks in the woods are dry now so I’m not restricted to just roadwork, which can get tedious after a few days.

After a couple of days of trotting in straight lines I can start to do a bit of schooling. 

Within a fortnight or so I hope we’ll be back up and running! 

When bringing a horse back into work after an injury it’s paramount not to rush. Take one short cut and you’re taking two steps back. Patience is a virtue and all that… 

The fact that Otis has only had a dozen days off means that he won’t need bringing back into work over a long period of time. Obviously the more severe an injury the longer you should spend rehabilitating them as there is more new tissue to strengthen and heal. Another factor you should take into consideration is if they have been on box rest and how long they have been off work, as this affects how “soft” the tendons are and the horse will have lost general muscle tone and fitness. Again, Otis was on field rest as the lameness was so minor, which means he will have retained some tone and fitness, so I can begin his rehab with twenty minutes of walking.

Other aspects to consider when bringing a horse into work is terrain. Usually for tendon and ligament injuries they say walk on a hard surface, not an arena, as there is less of a pull on the horse’s leg as they lift it up. Corners put pressure on the inside limbs so they’re avoidable too. Putting in some hill work allows you to increase the workload of the limbs without increasing the speed and concussion to the limbs. Probably at the similar time to introducing trot to Otis I will find a couple of hills to walk up during our hacks. Adding in the hills means I can increase his general fitness which will be important when we start schooling again.

If a horse has a real tendon or ligament injury then using exercise bandages instead of exercise boots will provide more support for the tendons, which eill be very beneficial in the early days.

Before and after each ride it’s important to check the injured limb. If there’s any heat or swelling it’s telling you you’ve gone too fast. So maybe cold hose it again, rest for a couple of days, and go back a phase in the rehabilitation plan to give the injury site time to strengthen and heal. 

I’m going to stick to my plan, keep a close eye on his leg and I hope it won’t be long until I’m back riding my favourite equine properly.

Giving Advice

Here’s a little riddle for you all to get your Friday brains ticking over.

Almost everyone needs it, asks for it, gives it, but almost nobody takes it. What is it?

The answer is, of course, advice.

It’s my biggest bug bear about the equestrian world. The fact that everyone has an opinion and insists on giving it to anyone who stands still long enough, whether they’ve asked for it or not.

There are numerous trains of thoughts about training or managing horses. Some of which works, some don’t, some horses thrive of a certain method, some don’t. For most pieces of equipment there are arguments to use it or not to use it.

I think it’s important that individuals, whether it’s your first horse or your fortieth, develop their own school of thought, training approach, stable routine. Whether they have one horse or several, if they develop their own opinions, which will be more rounded, researched and well-reasoned, it gives a better understanding to equines. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask for advice; rather ask advice from those you trust, or ask a couple of people, or read a couple of books, and draw your own conclusions.

Some professionals in the industry naturally attract advice-seekers – vets, farriers, instructors. Which is fine, and I for one am always being asked questions about different tack, health, behaviour. Unless there’s a safety factor, I try to keep my opinions to myself unless asked, and then try to give a balanced opinion – e.g. If asked whether a certain noseband should be used, then give the pros and cons of it and let the client make the final decision. Sometimes if I’m giving feedback after teaching or riding I will advise that the owner checks something (like teeth) or suggest reasons for a behaviour (like head shaking). It’s not to say I’m right, it’s just a suggestion to help improve the horse’s comfort. It might also be that an inexperienced owner hadn’t thought of it. 

But I think it’s important that those professionals only give advice in their area of expertise, and when asked. For example; if you ask an instructor if your saddle fits they may look at the basics, but then should say “get it checked by a saddle fitter”. After all, you don’t want to be liable if your client gets bucked off because you’ve told them the saddle fits!

To me, someone who gives advice willy-nilly, about subjects they aren’t qualified or that knowledgeable in, loses  my respect. It also creates tension on yards, especially if you have two conflicting advice-givers. I always want to be the quiet person in the room who doesn’t say much, but when they do it’s very profound, and everyone should take note.

That’s probably because I don’t like being given advice. If I want advice I will ask those I trust, and I also am knowledgeable and firm enough in my convictions that I know when someone is talking out of their depth! So yeah, giving me advice when it’s not asked for is a bad idea!

If you go back to the riddle, it says that “nobody takes it”. I think this is another hard part of my job; people ask your advice, you give it, and they don’t follow it. For example; someone asks advice about their first sponsored ride, and you say “Go with one or two sensible companions” and they go in a group of six and their horse gets overly excited and they fall off. Or you give feedback after a lesson about the fact the horse should wear a flash, for example, to help when jumping, and they ignore you and find themselves being tanked off with.

I think that’s one of the hardest parts of my job: I always give feedback to clients, and when I say something I’ve thought about it (I don’t spout fresh air) long and hard, so get quite frustrated when something (an accident or safety issue) happens that could have been avoided. Likewise, I also get frustrated when I hear advice and opinions being thrown around like loose change! 

I think the best way to succeed in the equestrian world is to give well thought out, reasoned opinions and pieces of advice when asked. Because then people will start to seek your advice because they know that you have the facts or experience to support it, and that you aren’t trying to brainwash them, just educate.

Working Horses on Hot Days

The last few days we have been experiencing a heat wave. Temperatures in the high twenties, low thirties.

Yes I know, you South Africans/Americans/Australians, it’s not that hot but for us British it is!

This brings me onto the slightly controversial topic of should we work our horses on hot days? Some say it’s cruel. It’s cruel to send anyone to work on days like today in my opinion. Other’s find it a necessity.

For my job, I need it to be a necessity otherwise I don’t earn any money, but there’s a difference between working a horse and, well, working a horse. If you’re a competition rider then you need to be able to perform well come wind or shine; you wouldn’t not go to championship show just because it was halfway through a heatwave, would you? 

First of all, if you look at the forecast for the week and notice one day is particularly hotter than others then perhaps you can organise that day to be their day off, or if you can’t do that then organise your day so you ride early in the morning or in the late evening. 

Then of course you can adjust the actual workload you do with your horse. Choose a cooler day or time of day to jump or do any intense riding. Pick a shady route for your hack, or just ride for a shorter period. Of the horses I’ve ridden this week I’ve taken some for quiet hacks in the woods, others I’ve schooled for half an hour before taking them into the woods for a good cool down. During the schooling sessions I tend to focus on lateral work, especially in the walk, and have frequent rest breaks, or walk work to try to stop both of us from overheating. And of course keep the canter work to a minimum, with a good breather between reins.

I think the important part when working with horses in the heat is to listen to your horse. Does he have a thick coat anyway? Is he a horse who doesn’t like the heat? How fit is he? Does he tend to sweat up anyway? One of the horses I rode today, a Shire cross, came out in white foam on a walk hack – there’s little point trying to school him in this weather unless it’s before nine am. He won’t appreciate it. 

Once you’ve decided what the best form of exercise is, it’s important to remember to take lots of breaks, and make your cool down longer than normal, and if you feel the horse is getting tired, or lethargic in his way of going, then call it a day and cool down on a hack. Even if you’ve only spent twenty minutes schooling instead of his usual forty five minutes. Working in the heat is far more exhausting than during normal temperatures. The aim is to exercise the horse, not kill him.

With a long cool down their breathing should return to normal, but their muscles don’t cool down that much, so the next important step is washing them off. Lots of water, a big sponge, wipe away excess water as it warms and douse them with fresh, cool water. Offer them a small drink, and leave them in the shade for a bit, just like you would do after exercise.

Some people, especially those who’s horses don’t have shelter in the field, bring their horse in for the day when it’s hot. I left Otis in today, mainly because of his thigh sweet itch rug, but I found it was stifling in the barn whereas there was a small breeze across the fields, so I’m not a hundred percent sure which option was better – in with no rug, or out with rug. Also, you should make sure your horse is happy to be in. Some are creatures of habit, and resent change so can get worked up in the stable, which is counter-productive. The best solution really is to have a nice high hedge on one side of your field (or a tree!) so they can shelter there. 

Other hot-weather care includes sun cream, to both horse and human; fly spray (again to both horse and human); checking that the water troughs are clean and filled up.

When horses get dehydrated they lose the desire to drink, which can make it very difficult to rehydrate them. Which is why it’s so important to make sure there’s clean, fresh water, in the shade if possible – I hate drinking from a water bottle that’s been in the sun! You can add electrolytes to their feed or water to help replenish the salt they’ve lost through sweating. Providing a salt lick can be beneficial, and adding some apple juice to a bucket of water can help entice them to drink.

I always have this problem with Otis at competitions. The water is from home, yet he rarely drinks. So I make his breakfast quite sloppy to get some liquid into him, and offer him buckets, wipe his mouth with a wet sponge, and totally drench him after riding in the hope that water goes in somewhere! At home he goes straight to the field, where he sometimes drinks from his trough. If a venue has some lush grass I let him graze before loading him because there’s a higher water content here than in his haynet.

So really, it’s not that bad riding during a heatwave, you just want to adjust your day and exercise plan according to what suits you and your horse best. Being sensible, taking shade and riding at a slower pace, are all sensible precautions that will keep both of you more comfortable. Then of course, pay extra attention to hosing them, and you, off afterwards so that their core temperature is brought back down to normal. 

The Pink Phenomenon 

Some of you in the UK may have noticed pink haylage bales popping up on farms. They’ve got a good reason to be there, for every roll of pink wrapping bought £3 is donated to the Breast Cancer Now charity. Then farmers are encouraging anyone who buys a pink bale to donate to a breast cancer charity too. I think some are including a donation in the selling price.

Anyway, there is also pink hay bale netting available, which I am yet to see.

One of my clients was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is halfway through her chemotherapy, so to cheer her up I made this video when I took another horse onto the gallops and encountered the infamous pink bales.

Watch Capische and The Pink Phenomenon here!
I hope you get a laugh from the video, it was certainly entertaining to ride past them. If anyone is feeling generous then please feel free to Donate here.
Otherwise, when you see a pink bale on your travels, take a moment to think about those fighting breast cancer, because seeing pink dotted around the countryside is a stern reminder of the disease.

Patience is a Virtue

“Patience is a virtue, 

Virtue is a grace.

Grace is a little girl who doesn’t wash her face.”

This rhyme was said over and over to me as a child because, regardless of what anyone thinks, I’m not a very patient person. If I want to do anything I want to do it now. Which usually means I get less help or end up struggling on my own because I won’t wait two hours until another pair of strong arms gets home.

At the moment my patience is being tested with Otis.

Last weekend (as in nine days ago not three days ago) we went to a BE100 ODE. Only the second one of the season because of inconveniences like weddings and honeymoons. I didn’t feel hugely prepared as he’d lost a shoe the previous Wednesday and I’d missed our final fast work session having a “get your bum in gear” showjumping session the weekend before.

Anyway, I didn’t know the dressage test that well. Well, I didn’t read it properly and made a slight error on both canters which meant we ended up on 32 penalties. When really it should have been sub-30 and near the top of the board. Showjumping was fine, one down but neither of us ballsed it, which was an improvement from the weekend before. Then he flew round the cross country, obviously not inside the time as we aren’t fit enough, but only 1.2 time penalties. It was close, but enough for eighth place. Frustratingly I know that had I got that sub-thirty dressage score I would have been placed higher.

As soon as we were back at the trailer I noticed Otis wasn’t quite right. He was pointing his near fire slightly. He was walking fine as we cooled him off. Then we noticed that shoe was loose as I took out the studs. There wasn’t any heat, but it’s hard to tell on a hot,sweaty horse. I couldn’t decide if there was any swelling or not. On a turn I thought he was struggling slightly with that foot, so I bandaged both front legs before putting his travel boots on.

When we got home I couldn’t see any thing and Otis seemed comfortable on his foot. My suggestion was that galloping and jumping on a loose shoe, on fairly hard ground, with a stud, stressed the foot and leg because it wasn’t flush.

First thing Monday morning I rang the farrier (we’re making such a good impression on our new farrier; lost shoe and bringing his appointment forwards within five days) and Otis was reshod on Tuesday morning (how about that for service?!). But he had some puffiness on his mid cannon, about the size of my baby finger nail. It was very soft swelling, I half thought I was imagining it, and it went down with cold hosing.

By Thursday there was no swelling but still a lameness in trot, so I resigned myself to more cold hosing and field rest over the weekend. It’s a good job I had a DIY weekend planned in the garden.

But Otis still isn’t quite right. It’s annoying because there isn’t anything to see anymore. I spoke to a vet who’s a friend, who said that because it was such a soft swelling it was likely to be excess fluid from the joint caused by concussion, and some form of inflammation of the tendon sheath. Which is what I thought and studiously tried to ignore. If I had Otis’s leg ultrasound scanned it’s unlikely anything will show up, especially as the swelling has gone now. If he’s still unsound in the next ten to fourteen days then it may well be a vet visit, but for the time being I’m doing the right thing.

So, gutting as it was, I had to withdraw from Team Quest this weekend- it leaves me with one more venue at which to hopefully qualify for the native championships – and I’ve had to withdraw from my Riding Club showjumping team at Hickstead the following week. The last two months have been building up to Hickstead, so I’m disappointed, but actually now that I’ve confirmed my withdrawal I feel like there’s less pressure on Otis coming sound in the next forty eight hours and I can bring him back into work as slowly as he needs.

On a brighter note, I can use these two free weekends to get organised for the new bathroom, finish the patio, and maybe even dust the house, so I’ll be keeping busy which will hopefully make me more patient. And of course, playing with the kitten!