Old And New

Whilst watching some reruns of QI I learnt that there is such a thing as a “half life of a fact”. Which is the belief that what is now a fact will be disproved and considered to be untrue within twenty years. This is because science and technology are always advancing so experiments will be more accurate and take smaller measurements. Take for example, the commonly known recent change in space science. Pluto is no longer classified as a planet, but is now a dwarf planet. This is because scientists can now study Pluto and the surrounding Kuiper Belt in more detail, which lead to the discovery of several similar sized objects and the term “planet” was redefined in 2006, meaning that Pluto is no longer a planet.

Which means the rhyme we learnt at school is wrong.

Moving onto my original reason for writing this blog. My Mum left me some equine books that she had when she was a child. Now that I’m spending quite a lot of time sat down feeding and cuddling Mallory, I’ve had chance to flick through the first of the books, wondering how much has changed. This book was published in 1972.

The first thing which jumped out at me was an example of a receipt which valued a 15hh, sound, vice-free, quiet to ride six year old at £300. Yes, I know it’s not an actual horse, but it would be a fairly accurate guesstimate and just goes to show the effect of inflation. The book was published after decimalisation so that isn’t a complication in the issue. Nowadays you’d be looking at £3000 for a similar stamp of horse. And if a horse was for sale for £300 you’d be asking what’s wrong with it!

In all honesty, the chapter about teeth and ageing horses was as accurate (although we know it to be an inaccurate art) as the way the BHS still teach today. Of course I’d say that our knowledge of the horse’s mouth has improved ten fold, but the lay man’s method of ageing hasn’t changed.

The next chapter is all about stables and fittings. Now, I know that our expectations of stables has changed because we now have purpose built facilities and equestrians are generally more affluent (at least before they purchase a horse). But I didn’t expect to read the sentence “asbestos is good (as a roofing material) from the point of view of reducing fire risks and extremes of temperature, but it cracks easily.” And is carcinogenic, but that link wasn’t discovered until the 1980s.

However, the general consensus about the building materials, stable size and minimising stable fittings, still rings true today. The book favours stables made from brick, stone or concrete, ideally with a slate or tiled roof. It emphasises the importance of ventilation without being draughty, and considering drainage carefully. Having as few a fittings as possible that the horse can injure themselves on is discussed, as well as the hygiene implications of different mangers. The book dislikes hay racks because of the risk of seeds falling into a horse’s eye. Of course now we know the respiratory impact of using hay racks which further supports the book’s standpoint.

There’s also a chapter on stable routines, which is similar to what I’d expect in the army. It would be impossible to maintain this routine with a full time job – I think the book assumes you have a full time groom. Furthermore, the book doesn’t reflect the natural lifestyle of the horse (in the suggested routine the horse was stabled permanently) and nowadays horse owners place a lot more value on the psychological welfare of horses; for example, maximising turnout and providing company.

Perhaps one area in which a horse’s stable has really changed is the bedding. In the 1970s straw was the only recommended option, with peat a close second. However advances in sawmills and an increased demand by the equine industry means that shavings are now dust free, absorbent and of high quality, compared to the shavings described in the book – “shavings are not very absorbent … large chips of wood may be found in them … at best a poor substitute.” We are spoiled for choice with the variety of shavings, wood pellets, straw, paper, or flax to name a few.

There’s also a big change in the contents of our grooming kits. Nowadays you can get brushes of every colour for every part of the body, and various shampoos, whiteners and detanglers to help keep our horses in tip top condition. In the ’70s there was only the dandy brush, body brush and water brush (not forgetting the infamous and vicious metal curry comb) and you relied on a wisp and good old elbow grease to put a shine on your horse’s coat.

Believe it or not, I’m not even halfway through the book – I’ve not reached the breed pictures marking the midpoint of the book. However, as far as I can see, the basic aims and regimes of horse care hasn’t changed much, and although increased knowledge and science and technology has led to some changes in the way we care for our horse (don’t mention feeding and nutrition as I haven’t reached that chapter yet but I know it’s changed) the general knowledge and reasoning behind horse care was the same in the 1970s as it is now.

I will leave it here because little person needs putting to bed, but expect another comparison post in the near future. In the meantime, a question for the older riders among you. What do you think are the biggest changes in horse care between when you were a child and now?

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3 thoughts on “Old And New

  1. Alison March 30, 2018 / 10:50 am

    I’m probably older than most, and there are so many changes compared with the 70s! Lots of rug choices now, with Velcro and easy-to-use clips. In those days most people didn’t clip their horse and left them naked all year round. If you did need a rug you had a choice of jute (like sacking) or a New Zealand rug, which was waterproof. If your horse needed more warmth you put a blanket underneath. Not a horse blanket. A proper blanket from a bed! We all learned how to fold it in the accepted way so the horse didn’t trip over it, as part of our Pony Club tests.

    The horses we rode weren’t shod and never saw the farrier. They self-trimmed. They never saw a dentist or physio either. And you know, we didn’t have half the back problems we do now. I’m not sure if that’s because we rode hardy natives or because we didn’t try to get them on the bit so never pulled their heads in in a misguided attempt to make them look pretty.

    You were allowed to ride in the farmer’s fields as long as you went round the edge, which we all did. Except at harvest time, when we galloped over the stubble and jumped the straw bales.

    You were allowed to ride bareback on the roads to get your horse to and from the fields.

    We rode in hacking jackets and beige jods all the time, even for hacks, although this being the 70s we wore a roll neck jumper rather than a shirt and tie.

    The horses were fed hay, oats and bran. That was it. No fancy ready mixed feeds or supplements. Pony nuts did exist but were expensive.

    Tack was cleaned with a bar of saddle soap that you spat on to soften it. And saddle cloths/numnahs weren’t used so you had to clean the whole saddle thoroughly.

    There were no clever shampoos or sprays to make grooming easier, and plaits had to be sewn because plaiting bands didn’t exist.

    Here’s something controversial, which is my personal observation – you didn’t get nearly as much bad behaviour, because the horses were broken in by real horsemen/women who knew what they were doing and didn’t rush it.

    The school was a rectangle in the field, marked with oil cans painted white.

    What don’t I miss about that time? Riding in a hacking jacket in the rain. Having to clean a thick-coated horse which had been out in the field without a rug. Chilblains from scrubbing feed bowls in cold water. Cleaning tack with saddle soap. Beige jods that showed every mark. Things are definitely easier now!

    • therubbercurrycomb April 5, 2018 / 9:22 am

      I do wonder why we now have all the back problems – is it a decrease in the quality of riding horses? Riders being too heavy for their horse, or not fit enough, or over horsing themselves? Is it the fact we have more sporty horses? Or the fact we push horses to their physical limits – jumping bigger and faster, or riding them in an outline when physiologically they struggle?
      I agree about the behaviour. Also I think horses were kept more in herds so could let out horse behaviours on other horses not their humans. And older horses will teach youngsters to mind their manners. And horses weren’t over fed and over rugged or mollycoddled so they have excess energy? Or perhaps owners saw horses as horses and not as substitute children?

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