Buying A Horse

It`s that time of year when horses start to flood the market, parents realise they`d better start looking for their child`s next mount, and those who have retired their horses over the winter feel inspired to take up the reins again. But buying a horse is not so simple.

The first place I always think people should start, is by getting an idea of what horse they want; critically examine all different shapes and sizes, perhaps try out some friends` horses and get a feel for what is right for you; be it height, width, forwardsness, responsiveness, etc. Start to make a list of what you want from a horse; what traits are a must and what traits are a bonus.

Then you want to start reading some adverts; learn the lingo and how to interpret each advert. Contact owners and ask questions if necessary; ask a couple of close friends or your instructor for advice. You don`t want everyone giving their input because we all have our own personal likes and dislikes. Just choose some trusted people who know you and your riding well. It`s also helpful to have some eyes peeled for any word-of-mouth sales. Making a list of questions to ask owners is really helpful.

Draw up a short list of horses to view; take a knowledgeable friend, and don`t be afraid to ask questions, go for a second viewing, or do whatever you need to, to find out if the horse is suitable for you.

Now that you have an idea of your ideal horse, and what sacrifices you will make in buying a horse, it`s time to work on the budget.

Factors to consider when purchasing your horse

  • Livery yard – you may be better having more support or facilities from a yard while you are getting to know your new horse, but these come at a cost so you need to consider this.
  • Tack – some horses come with tack, but you want to ensure you have funds to get the saddle checked in the near future as it may not be the best fitting of saddles or the leatherwork in the best of conditions. Likewise, you may need to change the bit, or buy different stirrup irons. You should also be aware that saddles are fitted to both the horse and rider, so it is quite possible that the saddle that comes with your horse isn`t the best suited to you, anatomically.
  • Riding lessons – yes, you`ve purchased your own horse, but that doesn’t mean you can give up on the lessons just yet. An eye on the ground can give you hints and tips as you get to know your horse and build a relationship. After all, you`re better off nipping any issues in the bud than letting them evolve from a molehill into a mountain.
  • Vetting – whether you choose to have a five stage or a two stage vetting, there is still a cost implication to consider when calculating your budget.
  • Insurance – You need to consider whether you are going to self insure your horse for vet bills, or take out vet insurance. Then there is also public liability and third party insurance, which are often required by yards.
  • Horse – what is the lump sum you can afford to pay for your horses? Does this include tack or rugs?
  • Rugs – Although you don`t need to buy all your rugs at once, take into account the time of year you are purchasing the horse and budget your horse allowance over the next few months to take rug purchasing into account. Of course, some horses come with an extensive wardrobe, in which case it`s worth considering if your horse budget needs adjusting to take this into account.
  • Transport – You may have a generous friend who will collect your new horse for you, but if you are buying long distance, then you will need to consider how to bring your new purchase home.
  • Bits and bobs – you may already have some of these, but your horse will need a headcollar, leadrope, haynet, feed buckets, water buckets, grooming kit, and a whole host of paraphernalia. You want to focus on getting the essentials, and there are plenty of tack sales where you can get many things second hand, or even unused second hand items.
  • Feed – not only will you need to purchase feed for your horse, but you will also need to ensure you have vermin proof bins, and feed scoop and mixer. It`s worth speaking to the previous owner to find out what feed the horse is currently on, and continuing that for a few weeks before making any adjustments you feel necessary.
  • Dental, Farrier and Physio – whilst you don`t necessarily need to have your horse checked out immediately, depending on when their last appointment was, but you need to factor them into your budget.

There`s a lot to think about when purchasing a new horse, but by breaking down your budget and by taking your time to build a clear picture of what you want from a horse you should find the process simpler and stress-free.

Sitting On Wobbly Chairs

That perfect riding position has a poker straight upper body, with the shoulders directly above the hips, but unfortunately we aren’t all built with the ideal conformation and, much like our horses, we have to make do with what we’ve got.

Getting riders to sit up correctly though is easier said than done. Instructions such as “sit up tall” can lead to tension and raised shoulders, whereas directing someone to “put their shoulders back” can cause them to hollow their back in an effort to please you.

I heard a very good analogy for getting riders of all ability to sit up correctly, but to also help them engage their core.

Before you start attacking the upper body for not being upright, take a look at the seat and pelvis. Some people have naturally forward tilted pelvises, so they are more likely to hollow the lower back. Others tilt backwards, which causes the lower back to collapse.

Ideally we want the pelvis level; imagine there’s a bucket of water between your hip bones, and tilt your pelvis until it’s level and the water won’t slosh out. You can do this standing on the ground first, which may be easier, and then try and replicate this position in the saddle. You should then feel both your seat bones on the saddle. 

Then you should feel that your back goes up to the sky. And this is where the analogy comes in. Imagine you’re sitting on a dining room chair, one of those hard-backed ones, but it has a dodgy leg. So you sit very carefully, lightly, but holding yourself together within your tummy muscles so that your weight doesn’t accidentally go towards the dodgy leg and cause you to wobble around, causing a racket and drawing attention to yourself. Yep, we’ve all been there!

It’s not so much a matter of drawing yourself up tall, or bringing shoulders back, but more holding yourself together and controlling your weight distribution.

If the shoulders are still rounded and collapsed forwards, then you can imagine someone has put an ice cube down your back. This opens the front of your chest slightly and rolls your shoulders back, but stops you hollowing your back.

I had a go at being very conscious of sitting on a wobbly chair last weekend and found that my core muscles were definitely fatigued, but also I found I was more effective with my seat and not letting my shoulders roll forwards (which they are prone to doing) helped my hand position and I could ride up into the hand more easily.

Try the two analogies out, and let me know if you find them useful in correcting your position. 

Equine Herpes Virus

We all know how contagious strangles is, and there’s a growing movement, quite rightly, about reporting cases in the local community to try to reduce the spread of the disease. Hopefully the stigma associated with strangles is dissipating, but of course there is a new disease doing the rounds to get hot under the collar about. 

Equine Herpes Virus is not a new disease, but it is becoming more prevalent. There are several strains of EHV that affect domestic horses – EHV-1,-2,-3,-4 and -5. 

EHV-1 causes respiratory disease in young horses, abortion in pregnant mares, death of newborn foals, and paralysis in horses of all ages and types. 

EHV-2 also causes respiratory disease, but is linked to conjunctivitis and swollen submaxillary and parotid lymph nodes.

EHV-3 is a venereal disease that causes pox-like lesions on the penis of stallions and the vulva of mares. It is quite rare, rarely causes death or need treatment.

EHV-4 usually only causes low-grade respiratory disease but also occasionally causes abortion.

EHV-5 is a virus that is currently associated with unusual sporadic cases of debilitating lung scarring in adult horses.

EHV-2 and EHV-5 are found in most horses, but rarely cause disease. It’s been suggested that a horse carrying one of these strains of EHV predisposes them to other illnesses.

However, EHV-1 and EHV-4, which are both DNA viruses, cause more serious problems.

The neurological symptoms of EHV-1 are varied but include hind limb weakness and loss of coordination, which can progress to recumbency and paralysis. EHV-1 is also the cause of a recently identified syndrome, peracute vasculitis, which is fatal to adult horses.

EHV-4 rarely causes abortion or neurological disease, but the associated respiratory disease can be severe, although it is not fatal.

Unfortunately, once horses have been infected with a strain of EHV they carry the virus silently, a bit like humans with cold sores, reactivating at intervals throughout their life. This means that EHV-1 and EHV-4 are extremely widespread, and although most horses will have the virus many of them will not show signs of illness most of the time. However, periodically there are outbreaks of disease, like there is in the UK at the moment. This is because if the virus reactivates it goes on to multiply and possibly cause clinical illness in the horse. At this point the virus is spread through aerosolised droplets, which can infect other horses through inhalation or ingestion. Reactivation of latent virus can occur when the horse is stressed -for example during illness, transportation or weaning.

EHV abortion can occur from two weeks to several months following infection with the virus, reflecting either recent infection or re-activation in a carrier horse. Abortion usually occurs in late pregnancy (from eight months onwards) but can happen as early as four months. Respiratory disease caused by EHV is most common in weaned foals and yearlings, often in autumn and winter. However, older horses can succumb and are more likely than younger ones to transmit the virus without showing clinical signs of infection. It is the continual cycling of EHV respiratory disease in young horses and the periodic reactivation of latent EHV in older horses that maintains the risk of EHV abortion in pregnant mares and EHV neurological disease in horses of all types and ages.

There are no vaccines currently available that provide complete protection against equine herpesvirus. The vaccines that are available give some protection against respiratory disease and can help to reduce the spread of infective virus, and often studs require mares to be vaccinated against EHV. However, vaccination should be viewed as assistance to disease control alongside good equine management. 

To reduce the incidence of EHV outbreaks, sick animals should be quarantined from healthy horses and strict hygiene precautions established. Yards with ill horses should go onto lockdown and reduce the spread of the disease to other yards. Weanlings and young horses are more at risk from the reactivating virus should be isolated, especially as carried horses often don’t have any symptoms.

The first symptom of EHV is a rise in temperature, and then respiratory symptoms of nasal discharge and coughing appear. If it is the neurological strain, then signs of stiffness will appear. However, diagnosis of EHV can only be confirmed in the laboratory. 

Within each type of EHV there are many different strains circulating in the horse population, in much the same way there are numerous strains of the flu virus, and the reason no one vaccine is all encompassing. These strains can differ from each other by just a few amino acids, but the mutations can make the strain behave quite differently from other strains. This also makes it harder to diagnose EHV and this yards can be slow to put bio security measures into place, thus allowing the virus to spread.

In my research about EHV, I found this useful article about how to prevent the spread of the disease – Have a read here.

Communicating With Horses

Right. So, some people are going to think I’m a bit crazy. Off my rocker, so to speak. And I’ll probably lose any respect from the logical, scientific, and fact-loving readers. But last week Otis saw a Horse Communicator. 

Sort of like a psychic. Or a median. 

“What rubbish!” I can hear the cynics cry. Well, put it this way; as much as I love knowing the facts, figures, explanations, I still believe in fairies because if I said I didn’t, and one died, then I’d feel ever so guilty. It reminds me of when I asked a science teacher at school how was it possible to be religious and a scientist when the theories clash so frequently. Her answer, was that when you saw the amazing chemistry, evolution, and the way the world interlinks, it is impossible not to believe that one greater being is behind all of it. I’m starting to understand this perspective now. Maybe, I’m finally a grown up?

Back to Otis.  

There is a renowned Horse Communicator, who I’ve heard of many times, and he travels all over the country to see people and their horses. Friends of mine have had him and he’s told them things that the horses tell him that there is absolutely no way he could deduce it from standing opposite a horse. Such as, “she never wants to travel in a red lorry” when the mare in question was in an accident in a red lorry several years earlier.

So part of me believes that there is something in it. My parents have a Gypsy Woman (probably not a politically correct term now) who visits regularly and tells them things from their past that are correct, says things about the near future which seem to be scarily accurate (yes, I know you can influence the future…). One time she told my parents I had something to tell them. They asked me, and I denied it. My pride wouldn’t let me admit that I was desperately unhappy in my job and thinking of leaving. It took another six months for me to come clean. But that was a little freaky. Then she’s told things about their past, which no one could have told her. Mum always buys one of her wares in return, and she told Mum to give me the lace. I’m not sure why, but it’s quite happy on the guest bedside table!

I’m going off track. Let me tell you about Otis’s conversation.

This man arrived, looking slightly like Mr Magorium in Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Google it! Otis was in his stable, a bit stressed that it was a lovely spring day and Matt was in the field without him. The Communicator asked Otis’s name, age, and how long I’d owned him. Then he stood facing Otis, about three foot away from the door, looking.

Otis did a couple more circuits of the stable and then stood at the door, looking back. Every so often during their conversation, he would turn to snatch his hay. But he also gave huge yawns, of which Otis is not renowned for, and did the licking and chewing response of releasing tension.

The Communicator relayed everything that Otis said. And he had a lot to say! In brief, here are a few comments and my take on them.

There is soreness in his right shoulder, going halfway up, for over six months, on and off. It feels uncomfortable. Otis has been off work for six months with the left foot. Did the left foot cause the right shoulder to hurt by compensating? Something to investigate though, because if he is now compensating for the right shoulder, it won’t help the left foot situation.

There were a couple of other little areas of soreness so I’ll get them checked out with his next McTimoney session in April.

He does not want to go hunting. He thinks he will die. This is pretty dramatic, and I don’t think he’s well suited to hunting because he likes being at the front and doesn’t like big companies. But at least I know I’m not depriving him of the experience now!

He’s sensitive about deep mud after having an issue when he was 5 or 6 years old. This is weird because I can’t think of him having an issues, and I’m not a great lover of deep going. I can only think that at this time it was a wet winter and I was doing more hacking.

He doesn’t like travelling alone, and has a fear of hitting his head in the trailer. Unfortunately, due to his size, our car can only tow him on his own, so until that changes Otis is going to have to lump it. There’s plenty of head room in this trailer and he doesn’t have his head high whilst travelling, so the comment about hitting his head is a bit weird, but maybe the old trailer had less room, or a lorry he’s been in has been a bit lower?

He likes the smaller, grey mare. I know who that is, and she likes him too as she always takes herself over to his stable to see him, and they groom each other.

He was interested to know what my jumping expectations of him in the future were. He was pleased that I said whatever he was comfortable with because he worries about his hocks. Last year, I was struggling with jumping him as he just seemed to not want to go over the metre mark. I thought it was me having a psychological barrier, but now I would be happy to do any jumping with him at all! 

The noises behind his stable concern him. That’s the storage area, where people keep feed, rugs, and all their paraphernalia so can often be rustly and noisy. The Communicator didn’t go there, so wouldn’t have known what was behind, and without taking Otis for a walk back there I’m not sure how to solve the problem for him!

He gets concerned if his food doesn’t arrive on time. He doesn’t like it being late. He has an active digestive system. The majority of the time, and especially when he’s stabled, food is always on time, but when he’s out 24/7 I am later on weekends because I need some beauty sleep. So I’m afraid Otis, you will have to wait, just like the cats do, and have brunch instead of breakfast! It’s worth bearing in mind though, that his digestive system gets active when he’s anticipating food.

He does not like llamas or donkeys, they have a strange smell and he doesn’t understand them. Otis usually isn’t phased by anything out hacking, but I can remember when we met llamas once he was very freaked by them. I can’t remember meeting a donkey, but there is one who lives on the opposite hill to Otis, so perhaps that’s it.

The dark coloured horse winds Otis up. He makes Otis doubt himself, and is not a good influence. Here I asked if the dark horse had come back into Otis’s life, and the answer was yes – Matt! When Otis was younger, this dark horse put “the fear of God” into Otis. Which possibly explains why Otis is more jumpy and less well behaved when Matt is here.

He has very good hearing and doesn’t like people singing around him. Well I can’t sing and won’t sing, but I can’t think of anyone who regularly sings around the yard. Here, The Communicator put in his own explanation. He said that the shape of Otis’s ears means that his hearing is probably 20% better than other horses, and in the herd environment Otis would have been a lookout. I’ve just always thought Otis’s ears were large, but since this I’ve compared them to other horses, and they are big, but also more dished in shape – like a satellite. So good hearing actually makes logical sense. Another thing I realised since then, is that Otis’s ears are always flicking around, working hard and listening to everything.

When he was around six there was an issue with his saddle putting pressure at the back of the saddle area, which still worries him in case it comes back. He prefers lightweight riders and can hold himself quite tight in fear of the saddle hurting. This is one of my biggest nuances with Otis. Yes, the saddle didn’t fit and no, I’ve never used or recommmended that saddler since. It caused quite a lot of problems, and it’s a shame he still remembers it. But I will make sure I pay close attention to that area in regard to the fit of his saddle.

The smaller dark bay pony is very bossy towards him, with a grumpy, feisty character. At the time I didn’t know who it was, but now I’ve realised it’s his stable neighbour, who’s always got her ears back at him and squeals frequently!

Would like to do more dressage, but not too advanced. He doesn’t understand the need for flying changes, and is not confident doing them. I’m glad about this as I think I’m preferring the dressage route. Certainly at the moment, anyway. Anyone who knows Otis, knows that he just doesn’t do flying changes. He’s never done it in the field, he gets very stressed when trying to do them in the school, so I think it is just a concept he doesn’t like. Strange!

He has no idea why there is a need to see a vet. He worries that he does not know what they are going to do. He prefers lady vets. I wish he’d told me that before the last visit! But at least now I feel more confident in my decision to ignore vets for the moment and see how he copes with the workload and go from there. I hope by his preference to lady vets, he includes my vet friend!

Sugar isn’t good in his diet, they don’t help his brain to function. The sugar in the spring grass makes him feel acidic. Thankfully Otis’s diet is sugar free. Or at least, as sugar free as I can make it. Now we’re going into spring though, it’s worth investigating his complaint about feeling acidic.

His green checked rug is his favourite as it’s most comfortable, and the orange sheet is embarrassing. The horse in the corner takes the mickey out of him for wearing it. The green checked rug is my favourite because it reminds me of mint chocolate ice cream, but Otis has had it since he was 3! I often look at it and wonder if it should move on, but then again, it’s too nice for that. When Otis was being walked out and wearing his hi-vid sheet, we did go out with the horse he identified as teasing him. Again, strange how The Communicator identified the only horse who would have spent any time with Otis and the orange sheet.

He sometimes feels anxious and alarmed at where you have gone and would like you to reassure him by telling him when you’ll be back.  I guess this is when I bring him in and leave him in for a couple of hours until the farrier comes, or after I’ve taught a lesson.

Wants to go to the small grey car and get in it. I used to have a silver car, two silver cars actually, and I passed it between Otis’s stable and field, so often I would take Otis to the car and put my coat in, or get my tack out, or anything else, which I guess is where this statement has come from.

He would like to help mend things in the field. Otis is one of those horses who likes to be involved. He supervises poo picking and adjusting the electric fencing, so again this statement isn’t unbelievable when you consider his character.

The lady with curly hair and an orange coat is lovely. I think the coat is more yellow, but I know who she is and she always makes a fuss of Otis!

He finds fireworks alarming. In Wales there were very few fireworks, but the first year in Berkshire there were fireworks going off over the yard for weeks in November, and Otis hated it! I guess it doesn’t help having super sensitive hearing!

At this point, Otis decided he wanted to be asked questions. So I immediately asked about his left foreleg!

The ligament on the outside heel area pulls upwards, crosses over fetlock, up to the back of the knee, giving a tingling feeling. When he puts his foot down on the left side he feels it but doesn’t otherwise. The issue on his right side is causing him to put additional pressure on his left. This is interesting, but doesn’t really solve the problem of how to manage it, but I am now doing some research into tingling nerves, such as magnetic therapy.

He is happier with his shoes now, but when the heel spreads out more it will be better. The stable door was closed, so there’s no way The Communicator could have seen Otis’s shoes, or known that we are trying to give his heels as much support as possible and to encourage them to grow out more.

Otis said a lot more things than I’ve put here, but I fear you may get bored! Ultimately, The Communicator said some stuff that I didn’t expect, and I think I need to forget a no about his left foot, get his straightened out, build up his muscle and go from there. I think the other statements Otis said relate largely to me being aware of future situations, and treat him accordingly (such as the acidity during springtime), adjusting his routine or diet.

The Communicator did start talking about various herbs that you can buy so horses self-cleanse, but that’s another topic, and I think my best bet it to take the knowledge I have and give it to the relevant experts (such as the farrier) and go from there. I was however, surprised that my stoic little horse had so many gripes! I must learn to listen to his subtle hints… 

Do you believe? I wouldn’t say Otis was the most convincing case, but I think there are too many things that fit for it to be a con. Plus, with social media, the world is a lot smaller place which means word (good or bad) travels faster than ever, and the fact The Horse Communicator has a successful business and has had for many years, keeps my mind open to the paranormal.

Matt’s Dressage Camp

You may remember that when Matt returned to Wales in January he was warned that he would have to return to prepare for the winter championships. 

Well, that time has come.

Last Wednesday my parents brought him over. He knew exactly where he was as he walked off the trailer. He marched to his field and, barely saying hello to Otis, put his head down to the fresh grass. 

On Thursday morning I schooled him for twenty minutes, by which time he was a steaming ball of puff, before we led Otis out for forty minutes. All I wanted to achieve from this session was to assess him; how supple and how responsive was he? How fit did he feel?

He and Otis were very pleased to see each other, and they started where they’d left off with some mutual grooming!

After our ride and lead I put Otis into the field with Matt; they might as well make the most of being together! Besides, Matt didn’t need all that grass and it’s a good excuse to rest Otis’s paddock.
Friday was another schooling session, but this time I ran through the test, finding the weak points and areas to work on. From there, I can develop a plan.

Unfortunately, Matt seems to be on a permanent high off the spring grass and is incredibly tense for the first twenty minutes of being ridden, and prone to spook at any opportunity. I started giving them hay in the field to try to reduce the grass intake, which I think is helping.

The areas we need to work on are the free walk on a long rein, getting more stretch (we need relaxation for this though!), and the final trot to halt transition, as well as keeping him focused. 

On Saturday we started working on these areas, and I felt he was slightly more relaxed in the free walk. His strong, natural rhythm comes through as he relaxes, so overcoming this obstacle is a must!

Sunday was pretty miserable, so I lunged him in the Pessoa to remind him to stretch over his back and towards the contact. He gave some nice stretching by the end, despite the pouring rain and numerous distractions.

I figured Matt had better have Monday off, but on Tuesday the build up of spring grass and general well being meant our most tense, hurried, stressed session to date. I started to panic; there’s only 2 1/2 weeks until the big day! It was the progressive trot to halt transitions that were getting me down. He just stopped, front legs under him and hind legs way out behind, gazing across the fields to Otis! When I corrected him, he just swung his quarters. When I halted to dismount, however, he did a perfect square halt! Arghh!!

Wednesday was another lunge session, with raised poles to get a bit more movement into his back and encourage more stretching. After a lot of canter work, he did some lovely long and low work. 

Onto Thursday; we repeated last week’s routine of a short schooling session, running through the test a couple of times, before leading Otis out. It saves tacking Otis up, and I think they like the company, as well as giving Matt a break from the school. He relaxed into the work quicker, and the trot and canter felt much more calm, rhythmical and balanced. 

The plan for the next week is a dressage lesson with a local BD judge on Friday evening, and then a PYO class on Saturday afternoon to have a dry run of the test. Both involve a new environment so hopefully he’ll settle quickly and I can gauge how to plan the big day. The next week will be fine tuning the test, based on our feedback, and I’ll try and take him for a hack on Sunday to have a break.

There will be another update next week! 

Lessons From Horses

I remember hearing a lot when I was younger about the positive influences a horse has on the development of a young person`s character. We were probably trying to persuade our parents to buy us ponies at the time.

But what traits do we develop when we begin to care for horses?

Responsibility – I think this one is pretty obvious, when a horse is in your care you learn to check that they have everything they need. That they are warm, dry, healthy and happy.

Time management – Juggling school and looking after a horse teaches you to crack on with your jobs and maximising your horse time. I have noticed, that with the increase in health and safety parents are staying on the yard with their kids and because of pressures of their busy lives they do more and more of the jobs, which prevents kids learning key time management tactics, even as simple as “You have twenty minutes to groom and tack up ready for your lesson” With the focus being on time for the lesson!

Team work – When riding, you have to learn to work with your horse, to take his feelings and abilities into account; learn to reassure and reward him.

Respect – you learn to respect others; other horse owners, horses, and to listen to advice, others opinions.

Dedication – You learn to work hard at a project, attending to it every day; working hard to achieve your goals and to better yourself.

Money management – you learn to budget your pocket money; to spend your well earned cash on things for your horse, to limit your own clothes purchases so that you can afford to enter that competition, or to have an extra lesson.

Conviction and determination – controlling an animal ten times (if not more) your size requires sheer will and determinism sometimes. Learning to ride teaches you to really want to achieve. You learn to have a no nonsense attitude and keep your horse in line in a fair and consistent way. Horses can tell a lot from our body language, and will walk all over you if they think you are only half hearted about riding.

Control of emotions – horses are sensitive creatures, and extremes of emotion can upset their performance, so you learn to put a lid on your frustration when you eventually catch your horse after twenty minutes of them cantering around the field … Likewise, if you`ve had bad news, or fantastic news, you learn to put it aside so you can best focus on your horse and your performance together.

Selflessness – I think this is the most important trait we learn. You learn to put your horse before you. You go outside in the pouring rain to feed, or change rugs. You get up early on your weekend because your horse is waiting for breakfast. All in all, you learn to put the needs of others before yourself.

There are hundreds more characteristics that we develop, and that are enhanced, by horse ownership which I think makes us better people. Let me know which trait you think has been most influenced by horse ownership. I think for me, having and working with horses has taught me to control my emotions and keep a balanced, ambivalent disposition.

A Polework Exercise 

Last weekend I did a polework clinic for the riding club. Polework is becoming increasingly popular, and I have to say they are enjoyable lessons to teach. Plus, using the poles for two or three hours is far more satisfying than just the one lesson.

As I had a variety of horses and riders I decided to layer the exercises, so riders could opt to stay at the easier level if it suited their horse, or progress to slightly more challenging exercises.

Let me describe the layout, and by popular request I will do a diagram.

I had a jumping arena to use, so it was roughly 30m x 60m, giving me plenty of space and I left the outer track clear. At each end I laid out four poles on a 20m circle. Then down the three quarter line, in line with a pole on each circle, I did five trotting poles on one side and three canter poles on the other side. I put wings on alternate sides of the trot and canter poles, and put wings on the inside of each pole on the circle.

Automatically I had two levels of exercise; raised poles, or poles on the ground.

Each set of poles can be worked with independently, or linked together to add an extra level of difficulty.

The poles of the circle improve suppleness, ability, strength of the inside hind, and check the effectiveness of the rider’s outside aids. Riding to the outer edge of the circle makes a 20m circle, whilst riding closer to the middle is a 15m circle and more difficult for the horse. So within my lessons, the riders could adapt the one exercise to their ability by the size of the circle.

The poles on the circle can be raised to increase flexion of the inside hock, improve flexibility, suppleness and balance. I raised one circle, so I could accommodate both levels of horse.

Using the two circles you could ride a figure of eight going across the diagonal from circle to circle. This improves the horse’s ability to change their bend. You can also ride one circle in trot and one in canter, thus adding in a transition to further the exercise.

Now let’s look at the poles. I only raised the trotting poles as the horses had enough to think about without raising the canter poles. Once the horse is comfortable with the poles on their own you can start to have some fun.

The circles can be linked together via the three-quarter line poles to make a course.

These are the courses I used and the benefits:

  1. Trot the circle of raised poles, trot the raised trotting poles, canter the circle of ground poles. The elevated trot strides should improve the canter. You want to aim to get a clear transition, which should feel more active due to the increased engagement.
  2. Canter the circle of ground poles, trot the trotting poles, trot the circle of raised poles. For horses who run down into trot this course makes them and their ridersthink because they haven’t got time to waste in a sloppy trot otherwise the trot poles go everywhere. Downward transitions then become more balanced and clearer.
  3. Canter the circle of ground poles, canter the canter poles, trot the circle of raised poles. Again, you need a crisp, balanced transition into trot in order to negotiate the raised poles.
  4. Ride clockwise over the circle of raised poles in trot, change the rein across the diagonal, making a canter transition ready to ride anti-clockwise around the circle of ground poles before returning across the diagonal and trotting in preparation for the clockwise circle. You can progress to riding both circles in canter, and having both circles with raised poles. You’re looking to have clear transitions straight into a balanced gait, with no anticipation from the horse so that they negotiate the poles easily.
  5. Trot one of the circles (it will depend which rein you’re on) canter upon leaving the circle, over the canter poles, make a transition to trot before the next circle. Again, transitions need to be clear and the horse shouldn’t rush the canter poles.
  6. Canter one circle, trot upon leaving the circle, trot the trotting poles, canter the next circle. 
  7. Trot on circle, as you leave it ride a walk or halt transition. Ride back into trot ready for the trot poles. Ride another transition between the trot poles and next circle. The same can be done over the canter poles.

Putting all these exercises together keeps the horses on their toes; they can’t anticipate or rush because the poles will cause problems. They also have to work hard in staying balanced through the transitions, which helps improve the quality of the gaits, improve the rhythm and suppleness. 

Otis’s Rehab – Week 4

Week four of Otis’s rehab hasn’t been  very exciting.

I spoke to my farrier on Monday about hind shoes, and on Monday took Otis out for a walk, avoiding the gravel path. On Wednesday I did the same, and then on Thursday I rode Matt and led Otis, finishing with a hill.

Then on Friday Otis had his hinds fitted, and I’m pleased to say he felt much happier on Saturday. 

Now I can start to lengthen the roadwork because with hind shoes he won’t favour his front feet which should mean less pressure on his dodgy foot. Which also means I can put in more hillwork to build his hindquarters up to help stabilise his pelvis and also with better muscle tone and posture he won’t be so much on the forehand… again taking the pressure off his front feet.

I also emailed my vet last Sunday, and spoke to him on Friday about Otis. He agreed that hillwork and building some muscle up would help, so I’m to continue doing that. He suggested Devils Claw as an anti-inflammatory, which will be my next supplement to try if this one has no effect. He did say that turmeric is often more beneficial to joint issues, not soft tissue, which is a valid point.

In terms of getting my vet’s views on red light therapy, he hadn’t heard of it, but does have a laser machine that he uses. So I guess I’m on my own in that area. Incidentally someone suggested, in another conversation, a TENS machine, and therapeutic ultrasound, which are avenues to consider. 

There was no answer to what soft tissue was being affected, and no suggestion of an ultrasound or other diagnostic techniques.

My vet did seem to take away from the email that finding out what Otis is capable of doing was important to me, and he ended up saying that whilst eventing in July was highly unlikely, we could probably find activities to suit him. He suggested coming out to Otis again and doing a careful nerve block with the idea of performing a neuronectemy. As I’ve said before, I really don’t like this idea. Which leaves me with more unanswered questions. 

Where do I go from here? Do I get a second opinion? Do I find a less invasive treatment? Do I leave vets to themselves for a bit, build up some muscle in his hindquarters to sort out the pelvis issue, then reassess his level of soundness? Should I demand an ultrasound or MRI to see the extent of soft tissue damage, or to see what tissues will be affected? 

Who knows. If anyone is a vet then I’d value your opinion.

I’m beginning to think that because Otis isn’t insured by a company for vet bills, just by a stash of money I’ve saved for him over the years, that the vets are trying to minimise costs and effort, where in actual fact I’m probably a better customer than someone with an insurance company because I know exactly how much I can spend and can pay the bill tomorrow, yet no one has discussed budget with me when discussing Otis’s treatment. 

In the meantime, while I pontificate, here’s a video of Otis showing L’Oréal that he has the max factor!

Working on a Long Rein

When everyone starts and finishes their schooling session they work on a long rein. Or do they?

Working on a long rein is actually harder that it initially sounds and most people are unintentionally working on a loose rein.

There’s a reason dressage tests award double marks for a “free walk on a long rein” and that’s because it’s very important in the education of a horse, and also that it is quite tricky to master.

Why is it important in a horse’s education? Well, in a free walk on a long rein the horse should stretch out their neck, releasing their top line muscles. These are the muscles that are working hardest so need to be stretched and released of tension. It’s the same with the movements “allow the horse to stretch” in working trot or working canter. The judge wants to see that the horse is relaxed and confident enough in their way of going to stretch their bodies. It’s similar to giving and retaking the reins in that it highlights bad hands and the horse not being in self carriage because the horse won’t want to stretch, or won’t want to be picked back up afterwards.

What is a good stretch? Well, the horse should remain in balance, in the rhythm of the gait, cadence and stride length of the gait, and relaxed whilst stretching their neck forwards and down. Don’t forget that the head is the heaviest part of the body so carrying it further away from the centre of gravity and in a lower position is quite physically demanding. The horse should be obedient to the aids that the rider can pick up the reins to change their frame without the quality of the gait changing. 

Creating smooth, balanced transitions into and out of stretching work is half the battle of getting a good stretch, because a balanced horse will find it easier to change the frame of their body.

When teaching a free walk on a long rein I always emphasise that it is a long rein, not a loose one, and focus on my rider eeking the reins from their hand centimetre by centimetre. If the rein is given away too quickly the horse will fall onto the forehand, rush and lose their balance. All of which has to be corrected before retaking the reins. The first few times you ride on a long rein, you may only have let the rein out two centimetres, but it’s a start. For a horse who’s not used to the exercise then carrying their head just a bit further away from their body will be difficult enough, and still having a rein contact to support them will give them confidence. Then once they start to understand, you can let out a bit more rein. It’s important to walk before you run!

Otis found free walk on a long rein difficult initially, but by putting it into schooling sessions he soon got the hang of it and it was often one of our best marks in dressage tests because his nose would Hoover the ground as he stretched. Matt, unfortunately, finds it difficult, so the next couple of weeks are going to be spent putting free walk on a long rein into his schooling sessions so that he learns to stretch more and more each time. His walk doesn’t change between medium and free, but he just isn’t confident taking his neck out and down so therefore has t the confidence to let his stride open up. But as he can be quite tense and alert, it’s not really surprising that this move is a tricky concept for him. I have asked Otis to explain it to him in the field!

Problems that can occur when asking a horse to work on a long rein, be it in walk, trot or canter, is that they can rush. In which case the rein has been given away too quickly and has become loose so the horse is worried at the lack of contact. Giving the rein away more slowly, making sure there is always a contact, and keeping the upper body and seat half halting helps solve this problem. Only stretching as far as the horse is able without rushing will help build their confidence in their ability to carry themselves. A horse who rushes may be used to a heavier rein contact, and dropping the contact into a long rein will cause them to rush forwards to try and regain the contact. 

Some horses lose impulsion when given a longer rein. Again, I think it’s a lack of confidence. Due to them slowing down the rein sometimes goes from long to loose, which worsens the situation. Making sure the gait is really positive before starting to give the rein away, and using the seat and legs to continue driving forwards should help reduce the loss of energy. Only giving a small amount of rein away until the horse is able to maintain the quality of the gait before inching it out again should help keep them confident in the contact.

Working on a long rein is so important in improving a horse’s suppleness, balance and overall way of going, but I think riders often don’t give horses the best chance to do it well because they try to take giant steps, giving away more rein than the horse can take, and not practising it sufficiently. Doing it frequently, and only little stretches at a time, will enable your horse to lengthen their neck comfortably and be sure that you are still maintaining a contact to help guide them will build their confidence in this movement and ultimately it is being sure of themselves that allows them to stay balanced and relaxed whilst stretching.