Preparation is the Key

I’ve been revisiting these three exercises recently. In particular, I’ve used exercise two with a horse who tends to drift out on a canter transition.
I cantered the 20m circle, making the trot transition just before the centre line and trotting the 10m circle on the opposite rein. This meant that as I rejoined the 20m circle she was in counter flexion. As I straightened her into the 20m circle I asked for canter. The strike off was much better because she had to push straight forwards with the hindlegs, whereas before as the inside hind came under she drifted diagonally out. The fact is just changed the bend also meant that I had a really supportive outside rein, which almost blocked her drifting out through that shoulder.
We did end up doing the whole exercise in canter, with trot changes of lead over the centre line which sharpened her up to the aids and tested her balance because she had to keep her weight fairly evenly over each leg in order to change her bend and sequence of legs quickly and easily.
I’ve got exercise three in mind for another horse I’m riding to do this week, and will probably spiral in on that circle in canter to improve her suppleness.

The Rubber Curry Comb

I`ve been doing some research and reading, and have got some new schoolwork exercises to play around with in my lessons – so watch out everyone!

I`ll list the exercises here briefly, but the main point I want to make in this post is the importance of preparation.

Exercise 1 – Stay on a twenty metre circle. Ride a ten metre circle within the bigger circle, so that the larger circle acts as a tangent to the smaller circle. The exercise becomes harder when small circles are ridden more frequently, and you can also ride a downwards transition immediately before the small circle, and an upwards transition upon finishing.

Exercise 2 – Stay on a twenty metre circle in the centre of the school. As you cross the centre line, ride a ten metre circle in the opposite direction before rejoining the large circle. To make this exercise harder, ride…

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Head Injuries

I had a nice head injury this week to first aid. Not mine – one of the horses.

I went to get him in and he mooched over as normal, but as I slipped his head collar on I noticed a wound on his forehead.

So I took him up to the yard and rang his owner to find out where her first aid kit was and then had a closer inspection.

Thankfully it was only a superficial wound; the hair had come off in a round patch, but the skin hadn’t broken. So I cleaned the graze and surrounding hair with hibiscrub and cotton wool to make sure there wasn’t any mud or grime to get into it, and also to make sure I hadn’t missed a deeper wound under the hair. All seemed well, so I put some purple spray on the area and left it for nature to take it’s course.

Everyone has different thoughts on first aid – do you dry out the wound, smear it in cream, leave it to breathe, or cover it up? I think at some point you’re told to do any one of those things, and it all depends on the type of wound. I prefer the letting it breathe and dry out if possible, but obviously if it’s going to get muddy or dirty then best to try to prevent an infection entering.

I think the cleaning stage is pretty much the same for everyone. Dilute hibiscrub in warm water is the most popular way. But did you know that hibiscrub actually destroys skin tissue so needs to be very dilute – so the water is barely tinged pink. Many people use too strong a mixture. For this reason too, I also don’t like over cleaning with hibiscrub. The other options are salt water or saline solution. What I like about salt water and hibiscrub solution is that you can make up as much or as little as you need, whereas saline solution often has to be used within a certain amount of time of opening.

Once a wound is cleaned there are a couple more options. Wound powder, which is an antibacterial fine powder is mostly known to help a wound dry out. Which I guess is best with wounds with a lot of fluid, perhaps where blood is involved. However, wound powder can be tricky to apply because it blows around in any wind and doesn’t always stick to a wound, especially if it’s on the side or facing the ground. The other problem I’ve seen is that the nozzle or container gets damp which I’d imagine would reduce the effectiveness of the powder, as well as making it difficult to apply. With this head wound, I didn’t feel wound powder would stick to the site of injury and I was also concerned about it blowing into his eyes as I applied it, and shaking a bottle around his head.

Sudocrem, or the equivalent equine versions, are often the go to ointment. Ointments get a bad name because whilst they seal the injury and prevent bacteria entering, they also don’t allow them to breathe which hinders the healing process. But then if an injury is likely to get dirty (during turn out perhaps) it is better to put some form of ointment plus bandage over it. If I needed to use ointment on a wound I’d ensure it was scrupulously cleaned, but also that it had some time to dry and air between cleaning and applying the cream, or between applications of the cream to ensure the healing process isn’t hindered. You can also get gels, such as Aloe Vera which have soothing properties. I find this really useful on bites or stings which horses will then scratch. I’ve actually just put some on Otis’s neck where he’s rubbed a fly bite.

Purple spray, or iodine spray, is the other main contestant for treating a wound. It’s an antibacterial solution and has the benefit that you can spray it upside down (for any sarcoids around the sheath) and it doesn’t form a seal on the wound like ointment, so allows it to breathe. You just need to be aware that some horses don’t like the hiss of the spray. Personally, purple spray tends to be my go to for minor scrapes or grazes.

Do horse’s get concussion? That was one of my thoughts when I was treating this horse. It depends on how they get a head wound, whether it’s by banging their head on a hard object or not. I’m fairly sure this horse rubbed his forehead on something abrasive in the field, as opposed to a direct hit. Their skulls are harder than ours, which you’d know if you’ve ever banged heads with a horse – but that’s another story – which I’d have thought would mean they’d be less likely to get concussion. I remember hearing about a horse who was being difficult to load and reared and fell over backwards, hitting her head. She starting fitting like she was epileptic, but when the vet came to treat her various injuries her withers had gone down inside her barrel, which must’ve impacted the spinal cord, and the injury to her head showed if not the skull, done grey matter too. Which I guess goes to show that they can get some form of concussion or headache from an injury. So if your horse comes in with a wound on his head it’s worth giving him a few hours of quiet time to let them recover from any headache they may have. Unfortunately they can’t tell us if it hurts, so it comes down to knowing your horse and when he’s withdrawn in himself.

An Otis Update

As promised, here is the Otis update.

He’s had a happy summer in a huge field of good quality grass. The vet came out at the beginning of September to see how he’s progressing. In walk, Otis looked really good but there was still a limp in trot, which didn’t please the vet.

He had a look at Otis’s feet, and whilst he’s been shod very well with the eggbar shoes, his heels haven’t grown out as much as anticipated. When his contracted heels grow out there should be less pressure around the sidebone, which hopefully means he’ll become sound. Obviously, hooves take a long time to grow so it’s a matter of patience, and best supporting them.

The vet recommended a type of shoes called Flip Flops, which are half metal and half plastic. They don’t provide support to the heel like the egg bar shoes, but the plastic heels mimic the ground and encourage more blood flow to the hoof because the frog and heel are expanding and contracting with each stride.

So I rang my ever patient farrier and asked him for advice and further information. He said, which had already sprung to my mind, that if the flip flop shoe is mimicking the ground, why not put Otis on the actual ground and take his shoes off? Then the ground , which is no longer rock hard, will cause the expansion and contraction of his feet thus increasing blood flow and hopefully the heels to grow out.

I agreed wholeheartedly. I think the flip flop shoes would benefit a horse who has poor horn quality so can’t go barefoot, but as Otis has strong hooves and the time of year is right, why not just go barefoot. When he saw the farrier this morning, the farrier told me that Otis’s hind feet are looking a better shape for being barefoot all summer. He also has plenty of hoof growth so must be on a healthy diet too, which is always reassuring. We took photos of his front feet with rulers, so we can measure the (hopeful) improvement in his heels.

In other news, Otis decided last week that fly season was over and he didn’t need his fly rug on. Which has allowed his coat to get even thicker, so he has a good winter coat and fat covering going into the winter. I’d like him to stay rugless if possible, but obviously he’s used to being rugged in previous years so if he needs a rug I’ll put it on.

I had thought that if he needed to be brought back into work around now then I would, but obviously he can’t but looking at him, I think he’d be too wide for me at the moment with my stretchy pelvic ligaments, so he’s got until April to sort his feet out and then we’ll go from there.

A Matt Update

I thought you were well overdue a Matt update. Particularly as I went to see him a fortnight ago. Don’t worry, Otis fans, there will be an update on him at the weekend.

Last time I updated you, in August, he had just had his second x-ray. The X-ray showed that his stifle was healing well, but the fracture was worse than initially thought so poor Matt’s box rest was extended by four weeks.

After a total of twelve weeks box rest, at the beginning of September, he had a third X-ray, which thankfully showed that the fracture has healed. Which means it’s onto phase two.

The X-ray showed that the bones were smooth, with no callouses from the healing process, but because the stifle is a very complicated joint, where numerous bones need to glide over each other, plus the fact that the new bone on the fracture site is less dense and strong than the rest of his skeleton, means that exercise needs to be introduced very slowly.

The vet instructed that Matt needs to be led out for 30-60 strides every day. He can be grazed in hand, and can be walked out twice a day so long as he remains sound.

Now there are two problems here. One, how far is 60 strides? The answer is not very far! It’s the distance from Matt’s stable to the yard gate and back again. Which means that there is very little grass for him to nibble at en route.

Secondly, leading Matt out is like leading a ticking bomb. I don’t know how suicide bombers stand the suspense. He walks quietly enough, but then jumps a mile at absolutely nothing. Or suddenly stands bolt upright. Or bucks. Which means that his walks need to be done when the yard is quiet.

Armed with his lunging bridle and stallion chain, Mum’s yard owner led him out the first time. Predictably, he wasn’t interested in grazing the meagre grass by the fence, and was more interested in the horses up the field. He did a bit of jumping around in anticipation, but the walk was over and done without a hitch.

The next day, Matt seemed a bit sore and stiff when he walked out. But whether that’s to do with the exercise and his body not being used to it, or the cavorting around, he was definitely a bit subdued.

When I was visiting Matt I was given the responsibility of walking him out, but he still didn’t seem very interested in grazing, so it was a short reprieve from his box rest. I did suggest to Mum, that to help break up his routine that she placed a bucket of dried grass (which he loves) or a lickit at the end of his walk so that he is more inclined to relax outside of his stable, and hopefully he’ll get used to the idea of spending time grazing. Then when the distance of his walk increases he’ll be quicker to settle to graze on the nicer grass.

Matt’s walks will get longer over the next couple of months, and then I guess it will be time to introduce limited turn out, once the stifle joint is functioning efficiently and the bone has matured.

In the meantime, it’s back to the stable, with his variety of treat balls, willow branches, jolly ball, and stretches using clicker training.

The Wild Horses of Kefalonia

Last week we were on holiday in Kefalonia. Now, my lovely husband decided to organise a surprise for me. However, he forgot two vital components.

1) it is impossible to keep secrets from me. I knew he was planning to propose at least a week before he actually did it. I’m also the person who took one look at all my carefully wrapped presents that he’d bought, and guessed them all instantly. Now he just tells me.

2) he’s rubbish at keeping secrets. When he was planning his proposal he kept asking me if I thought a particular place was romantic. Which may have led to point number one, if I hadn’t already guessed by the fact he spent eight hours shopping and only bought a pair of swim shorts. When he has other secrets he just dances around singing excitedly.

Anyway, I digress. In a nutshell, I had guessed the surprise before he even told me that he had a surprise.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a mission this surprise, with a small success rate.

We were going to drive up to Kefalonia’s National Park to try and see the wild horses. Unfortunately though, the day we were going to drive up Mount Ainos was the foggiest morning, and after getting halfway up and being engulfed in cloud we decided to turn around and go back to the beach.

I did spot some horse droppings on the way home, so I had proof that they existed.

I had done some research about these wild horses, although there is very little online about them. But I thought I’d share it with you anyway.

There was a tradition amongst the locals in Kefalonia to keep there horses running free on the mountains. I guess in a similar fashion to the Exmoor or New Forest ponies. This kept keeping and feeding costs down. However, during and after the Second World War the horses were abandoned and have since become feral. The horses are hardy, very similar to the Pindos breed – which you can read up about here.

There used to be numerous herds of horses on Mount Ainos, but their numbers have decreased drastically over the last few years and now there is only one herd, of some fifteen individuals. There are concerns about the Ainos horses becoming extinct, particularly as they are believed to have evolved to become a separate breed to the Pindos pony, and may have different genetic material, which could make them invaluable for improving the quality of the recently degenerating Pindos breed. Which reminded me of the Carneddau pony, that is genetically different to the Welsh Section A.

There are plenty of accounts online by people who have hiked successfully to the monastery on Mount Ainos and spotted the wild horses, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be for us. It will be interesting to know if anything is done to help prevent the horses from becoming extinct, and if research is done to find out more about their genes, and whether they are a breed in their own right.

Meanwhile, here are another couple of shots of the stunning scenery we saw whilst touring the island.

Holiday Preparations

We’re going on holiday this weekend, so the blog will probably be a bit quiet next week, but it’s amazing how much preparation and how long you spend getting the pets and animals ready for their carers. Probably more time than you spend packing!

With the cats, it’s making sure there’s enough cat food and litter. Is it all stored in the same place and easy to find, or will the food fall out the cupboard as the door is opened. Has the cat sitter been round to see where everything is? Have you made a note of feed rations, with contact numbers in case of emergency. Is the cat basket out the loft for such an emergency? Has anything in the house been left so it can be knocked over, or should that clean shirt be left there in case it becomes their bed for the week? It’s fairly straightforward, really, well except when they try to pack themselves!

But the to-do list with horses is far longer. So I thought I’d compile a list for anyone else planning a holiday.

  • Who’s in charge? Have they been briefed and introduced to your horse?
  • Is everything written down clearly for them?
  • Emergency contacts – vet, farrier, you, a back up number for you. Just in case.
  • Do they know where your first aid box is and any usual treatments you follow: e.g. He often gets a runny eye so a used, cooled tea bag is put over to reduce the swelling.
  • Hard feeds: depending on how long you’re away for, or how complicated the bucket feed is, you may choose to make up each feed into a plastic bag. In which case, you need to set time aside to do it, have somewhere dry to store them, and possibly do an extra feed or two in case you get delayed.
  • Haynets. Again, you may want to fill a few days worth, to ease your horse-sitter’s workload, so time and storage need to be allocated. Otherwise you need to ensure there’s enough hay: either bought in or in your allocated area.
  • Stable. This depends totally on the time of year, but I like to have the stable ready in case of an emergency even if my horse is living out at that time. In the winter, it’s considerate to do a very thorough muck out the day before you leave, putting in sufficient fresh bedding, and making sure there is plenty available for the horse-sitter.
  • Rugs. This is always a nightmare! During the summer and winter the weather is usually stabilised, so you can leave the horse with their usual rug, and leave an alternative in case the weather changes drastically. However, autumn and spring are harder to forecast. The weather changes on an hourly basis, and whatever rug you put on will be wrong by someone – be it the weather gods sending blazing sunshine instead of the forecast heavy rain, or the over ruggers telling you you need a thicker rug, or the under ruggers telling you your horse will be too hot. Try to pick a horse sitter who knows how you rug, and understands if your horse tends to run warm or if his arthritic hocks need a bit of warmth to prevent him seizing up.
  • Tidy up. This sounds silly, but I like to put all my things away tidily before going away, so nothing goes walkabouts, and it’s much preferable arriving home to an organised grooming kit, tack or feed room. It’s a bit anal, but that’s why I was outside tidying up the garden tonight and will clean the house tomorrow!

So yes, there always seems to be so much to organise for horses when you go away, and then you also have the inevitable unknown factor that horses are famous for. For Mum, it was Matt fracturing his stifle three days before she went on holiday. For another friend who’s going travelling in a months time, her mare has decided to do a tendon. Even the best laid plans have to be rapidly rethought in these sorts of situations, and it’s when you appreciate the network of support around you. Once you manage to get away, you can sit back and relax … well, after your daily equine update of course!

Non-Athletic Careers

Most of us have horses for the purpose of riding; be it hacking, jumping, eventing, dressage, racing, playing polo or mounted games. Driving is another area we use them for. It’s a very athletic lifestyle, but unfortunately there are a large number of horses who aren’t able to have athletic careers. Maybe they’ve been neglected so are too weak to take a rider, or their conformation means they are limited, or they’ve picked up an injury during their lives. Or perhaps they just don’t have a particularly trainable brain.

This led me to wondering what non-athletic jobs a horse could have. After all, there must be something!

The first non-athletic reason that springs to mind is of course, companionship. Many older horses, or outgrown ponies are kept on by their owners to provide company for their younger/bigger/faster replacements. These horses often live a very happy, contended lifestyle, living out most of the time but being stabled during the worst of the weather, supplied with hay and rugged when necessary, visited by the dentist, farrier and vet as and when needed. Another aspect of this companionship is when competition horses suffer from separation anxiety and need their companion (often a Shetland) to accompany them to competitions. Obviously this is a far more exciting life than just staying in the field, but often these companions make all the difference to the competition horse’s performance.

There’s been a big move recently, and a lot of research done, into the positive effects of autistic children being around animals. The Riding For the Disabled charity has been around for years and hundreds of people have seen and felt the psychological and physical benefits of being with horses. One recent piece of research found an improvement in the social behaviour of autistic children who rode or handled horses on a weekly basis.

Obviously Riding for the Disabled involves riding, but there’s been a recent move towards Therapy Centres. These are for disabled people, or those suffering from depression, loss, or other psychological problems. Sessions involve grooming, and bonding with a horse or pony, leading them around, or being around the horses in their stable and field. After all, how many of us feel better after a tough day just by going and having a cuddle with your horse?

So a kind, gentle natured horse who cannot be ridden for whatever reason, could have a very fulfilling life at a Therapy Centre, letting troubled people spend time with them and heal. I had a quick look online and there are a few small businesses who have herds of horses and specialise in unridden sessions to help clients overcome their problems and rebuild their confidence.

I then got a bit stumped for other ideas, but I heard of a lady’s horse who had various ailments and after lengthy investigation and treatment needed to be retired, so she gifted him to an equine hospital as a blood donor. When you think about it, it’s logical really, for hospitals to have small herds of horses, usually geldings, on site so that in an emergency they can be caught (one criteria is that the horses are easy to catch) and blood taken from them and given directly to the patient. I guess this would appeal to many owners in that difficult situation of having a healthy, unrideable horse. The donor herds live out except for very bad weather, and are under the close eye of a team of vets, so are going to be well looked after.

That’s a very useful non-athletic job for geldings. But what about mares? Well a lot of people say “oh I can always breed from her”. Well, not really because the UK doesn’t need to increase the equine population and if a mare has an untrainable character then it’s unwise to breed from her anyway. Some injuries/illnesses or conformational faults can be inherited or make carrying a foal hazardous to the mare. For example, if a mare has chronic forelimb lameness (perhaps only two tenths lame so doesn’t prevent her from being retired) then this will be exacerbated when she is carrying a foal and heavier, therefore it’s not very ethical to put her through that. Some maternal mares could be used as “nannies” and could help orphaned foals, or they could help keep herds of weanlings or youngsters in check until they are taken to be backed. After all, recent studies have shown that it is very much the dominant mare which leads a wild herd to water, grazing, shelter.

Horses who can’t be ridden definitely become limited in the purpose that they can be kept for: which can make it difficult for some people to justify keeping them, but if they’re happy living out in a herd, and comfortable in whatever ails them, then there are huge numbers of retirement establishments around the UK, but it’s equally interesting to see what other options are available for them, be it helping improve the quality of life of troubled humans such as therapy horses, or assisting in the care of other equines, such as being a blood donor.