Increasing Knowledge

I remember reading an article by a BHS instructor which said that teaching Riding Club members was often more rewarding to teach than professionals because they are more receptive to different views and are well read in their areas of interest: be it dressage, a past injury of their horse, or join up.

When I was younger I remember we followed our instructor and yard owner’s instructions blindly. Probably mostly to do with the fact that we were kids. But if she told us to increase our hard feeds, or that our pony needed the farrier next week, or that we should put a martingale on, then we did it. She was usually right, but it didn’t lead to a huge amount of understanding. For example, why did she think our pony needed more feed? Or that they needed a martingale.

Now however, amateur horse owners keep their horses on a far more individual basis. They organise field maintenance, decide when to bring their horses in for the winter (all our ponies had to be living in by the first weekend of December but the ones which started to drop weight started living in earlier), and feed rations. As well as organising the farrier and dentist themselves – we had a farrier who came weekly and our ponies were done when we were told they needed doing.

As a result, horse owners now need to be more well read, and know how frequently to check teeth or shoes, and signs to look for that means the feed ration is too much or too little. This gives them more control over their horse’s lifestyle though.

However, information is more available to horse owners. Magazines, social media, the internet, books, webinars and DVDs all mean that information is at our finger tips. We are also more likely to see new products earlier, which can lead to owners following the fads.

It’s understandable that horse owners want to learn, because they have a vested interest in equines, and this is their hobby. And I like that attitude, it makes these people easier to teach. The ability for amateur horse owners to research new products, ring up feed companies for advice, and read reviews or celebrity interviews means that by the time an instructor is asked their opinion, the owner has already decided on the answer.

I have some clients who do some research, and then ask me for my opinion. Whilst others are more confident in their convictions. I think there’s a balance: horses haven’t read the textbook so whilst on paper it would appear that (A) is the answer, in actual fact (B) is a better option. And your instructor or yard owner may have experience of similar horses or have some “outside the box” suggestions which may work. So it’s useful to keep your instructor or yard manager on board with your horse’s management. Additionally, an experienced horse person may notice the earlier signs of weight loss, lameness, behaviour problems, or illness than a one horse owner will, so it’s important for them to feel that they can approach you with a concern if they’ve noticed a change in your horse.

From an instructor’s point of view, the fact that your clients are more knowledgeable and keen to learn puts a bit of pressure on you to continually enhance your own knowledge and continue to learn. Which ultimately can only be good for the industry because instructors strive to improve their performance and quality of lessons. Last week a client of mine had the physio to her mare, and was advised to use either a bungee or a chambon. So she asked me what my opinions were on either of the two gadgets and if I could help her fit and use one. Now, I’ve not used either gadget frequently, but I had to double check my knowledge so I could formulate a balanced, knowledgeable answer for this client.

Teaching is not just a test of your knowledge of schooling and riding, but you are invariably asked about all aspects of horse care, and I do like the challenge involved with advising owners on all sorts of topics, and also being kept on my toes with new developments within the sport.

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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.

Riding the Outside Shoulder Around

I’ve done some work with several clients this week about riding the outside shoulder around turns.

If a rider, like many novices and children, uses the inside rein to turn their horse then the horse will give too much bend through their neck, which opens up the outside shoulder. So when the inside hind leg comes under, instead of acting on the centre of the horse’s body and propelling them forwards, the inside hindleg works across the horse’s body, throwing their weight diagonally, out through the outside shoulder. This means that the horse moves less efficiently and has less power because energy isn’t flowing through the horse’s body back to front.

To the untrained eye, a horse giving an exaggerated neck bend can seem to be more supple than a horse who is slightly straighter through the body but engaging his hindquarters, yet the latter is working more efficiently and correctly.

Often, I believe, this trait comes from riders over using their inside rein, and horses being asked to ride too small a circle or too tight a turn before they are physically strong and balanced enough, so in order to negotiate the turn they fall through the outside shoulder as they go round.

Firstly, let’s look at how to prevent a horse falling out on turns and circles. The aids are the outside leg pushing the barrel around, and the outside rein maintaining the contact and preventing the neck from flexing. For a horse who is inclined to fall out, this rein has to be prepared to support the shoulder as the horse tries to fall out, then tries to work out how he should be moving. Often, this is where it goes wrong because the rider is not convinced enough in their application of the aids or strong enough in their core, that when the horse gets heavy in the outside hand they lengthen the arm to relieve the pressure. Which means the horse continues to fall through the outside shoulder. The inside rein on the turn opens, to tell the horse where they should be going. Think of this rein as an indicator, not an instigator. It is only suggesting to the horse which direction they need to go, not causing the movement itself. The inside leg prevents the horse falling in and also acts as the accelerator, keeping the impulsion of the gait. The rider’s body turns in the direction of movement, being careful not to throw the outside hand forward. The inside seat bone is loaded fractionally, and the outside shoulder and hip go forward.

So that’s how you should ride a turn. Be honest, do you always abide by these aids, or do you sometimes panic and think you aren’t going to make the turn so grab the inside rein? Or do you forget about the outside of your body? It’s very easily done, particularly when a horse tries to fall through the outside shoulder due to habit/old injury/previous poor schooling/evasion.

What exercises can be done to teach the rider to bring the outside shoulder around on turns, or to teach the horse to engage their inside hind leg through turns?

Firstly, I’ll often ask a rider to think about what’s going on underneath and behind them on circles while they warm up, this builds an awareness of the parts of the horse which are out of sight. Then they will more easily feel any improvement.

I like to use squares too, whether it’s just riding E-B or creating a square around the letter X. I’ll ask my rider to imagine that their horse is a plank of wood for a moment, and round each corner they are going to keep them as straight as possible. This stops them using so much inside rein and gets them using the outside aids. Once they are managing this and aren’t likely to fall back into old habits, we start introducing a bit of bend and softening the square into a circle. However, I get them to focus on creating a bend in the body, not the neck first – that comes naturally – so my rider thinks about the feel underneath them and uses the leg and seat to get a slight curve along the horse’s spine. Finally, I tell them to just allow the neck to bend in the direction of movement, which usually means that the horse gives just enough bend and the rider hasn’t lost the outside shoulder.

So this gets a rider feeling the difference between a uniform bend through the body, and a horse falling out through the outside shoulder. Hopefully they then apply the same aids on all circles and turns.

Now let’s look at the horse. Some horses are naturally crooked, so seem to bend easily in one direction and not so much in the other. One mare I teach sits in quarters right. We’ve done a lot of work building her rider’s awareness for the slight bend, and worked on improving the mare’s suppleness. In the trot my rider is getting more effective at using her outside aids and their circles are much improved, but the crookedness shows up most in the canter. Especially on the right rein. Both horse and rider have slight counter flexion, which added to the quarters sitting right means that circles tend to be more of an impression of a motorbike. So we’ve worked on my rider correcting her position and degree of turn, and then we asked the mare to look slightly to the outside in the canter before moving on to squarish circles, keeping the outside bend. To do this my rider had to keep her outside rein and exaggerate her outside leg. However, the mare soon started to move around the school with her outside shoulder coming round. After doing this a few times my rider could really feel the improvement in the canter – it was more active and where the mare was straighter it looked like the hindlegs were propelling her along better. Returning to usual circles in canter, my rider managed to prevent the mare curling her neck and falling through the outside shoulder whilst having a bit of inside bend. Now she was riding from her inside leg into her outside rein, which means she has much more control over the horse’s positioning through turns.

I’ve done similar work with another client, who’s cob falls out on right turns. This is more important for her with her jumping because when the cob drifts out through his left shoulder he loses power, which means he chips in or is more likely to know the fence down. As soon as his rider rode a square turn, off her outside aids and with slight counter flexion, they maintained the quality of the canter to the fence and met it on a much better stride. Next week, I’m planning on doing some more work on this right turn before fences to really establish my rider’s aids, and her horse’s technique and balance through the corner.

Other exercises I like to use with a horse who is reluctant to bring their outside shoulder around on turns are; shoulder in, shoulder in on turns, haunches out on turns, turn on the forehand. Anything really that gets them listening to the outside rein, encourages them to bring the inside hindleg under and towards the centre of their body and helps improve their general straightness.

Horse and Country TV did a useful video about the importance of bringing the outside shoulder round on turns, and you can see from my screen shots below, the difference between the first one (riding off the inside rein) and the second one (riding from the outside aids). If you can, see if you can find the full length video masterclass.

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.

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!

Tug Of War

If a horse is strong; be it in the field, school, on the ground, jumping or cantering, a rider or handler’s natural reaction is to pull the reins or hold on tighter. This creates a static pull and unfortunately isn’t that effective.

For this post, we’re ignoring the rest of the aids and body language, because I feel that this area is often most misunderstood by novice riders.

Imagine you are trying to push someone over who’s bigger than you. If you just lean your body weight against them then they will adjust their centre of gravity and lean against you, thus making them more stable and harder to push over. This is exactly what happens if you pull statically on your reins, or the lead rein if you’re on the ground. The horse will lean against you akin to a tug of war. Because they are so much heavier (ten times is the suggested ratio) gravity works in their favour and ultimately you will lose.

Going back to pushing someone over. Tactically, it is much better to give a series of smaller pushes, so unbalancing them and preventing them securing their centre of gravity against you. Now back to the horse scenario. A series of squeezes/jerks/tugs, whatever you wish to call them, is more effective at directing the horse and monitoring their speed.

Think of it as a give and take, or squeeze and release. You maintain the contact, be it lead rope or reins, but use your hand to apply pressure, then as the horse responds (however marginal) you relax the fingers. Don’t push hands forward because that will allow the horse to rush again. The release rewards the horse for his slight reaction, and reapplying the pressure repeatedly stops them leaning against you and means that they maintain respect for the aids.

From a driving perspective, you want to imagine you’re slowing decreasing your speed. So from 60mph, to 55, to 50 and so on. If you squeeze the rein yet drop the contact between squeezes it’s like alternating between the brake and accelerator. Some horses, like when you’re driving downhill, need frequent taps on the brake (half halts) to stop them rushing out their rhythm.

It’s a hard thing to get your head around, especially when faced with a horse who doesn’t want to stop cantering across the field, because it’s an automatic reaction when self preservation kicks in, but ask your horse to steady in small increments with a series of half halts rather than trying to win a tug of war and bring them to an emergency halt. Practice in the school, in a simulated environment so that you feel more confident out hacking and in open spaces, as well as training your brain.

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.