It’s been creeping up on me for a while; I’ve caught myself thinking “I want to do that with my next horse” or “I’d like a horse good at that”.
But about a month ago I watched Otis in the field and resigned myself to the fact that he won’t come sound. Maybe he’ll be a happy hacker, but really I needed to face facts. The main thing though, is that he’s happy in his field with his buddies and I can afford to keep him there indefinitely. He’s not suffering, just a bit limpy, and otherwise in good health. I then broached the subject that next year I would like to get another horse. It’s all very well riding other people’s horses, but when you’ve experienced the bond with your own, and enjoy the satisfaction of training and competing, it’s not the same. I know I’ve lost some motivation through not having my own horse or reason to improve my ability. Yes, next year we’ll have our own two-legged project, but I like to keep busy and I know that not having my own horse will cause me to go insane. Thankfully, my lovely husband readily agreed to my light at the end of the tunnel.
I allowed myself a couple of hacks to think about what I want and need from a horse. I was quite specific.
- A native or hardy breed, or part bred.
- Height wasn’t really an issue; I’m lucky enough that I can ride anything between 14.2hh and 16.2hh, but I’d prefer to stay below 16hh.
- I enjoy training a horse, so I wanted something I could take further. But not a real youngster as I wouldn’t have the time to devote to backing a baby. It would also be nice to have a horse who has already been shown the basics, perhaps five or six, that I could quite quickly start taking out to clinics or little competitions.
- They needed to be trainable. I enjoy learning and training, so need a horse who does likewise. Whether their forte is jumping or dressage, I didn’t mind.
- Temperament is paramount now. I want something which can have a week off yet still behave. One that I can tie up on the yard, leave to check on the baby, and not worry they will cause havoc. Likewise, in the future the horse needs to be sensible so I can juggle a child with them. I know full well that horses can be unpredictable but certain temperaments are more reliable than others.
- I want them to be reliable. My free time will be limited and I want to know I can ride and enjoy my ride, not battle hormones or a bad mood.
- I’d like them to be sensible to hack because when we get a pony I’m going to want to ride and lead: whether my child is riding or I’m exercising the pony.
Even as I thought of my list, I knew I was setting a rather stringent criteria and would be lucky to find anything which remotely fitted the bill.
Anyway, we weren’t looking yet so I filed my list away at the back of my brain.
Only a couple of days later I came across this advert on Facebook. Let me tell you the vital stats:
- 6 years old.
- Welsh Section D – more to the point, a half sister to Otis.
- Backed as a five year old and sold to a lady who had a friend ride her lightly – mainly hacking – from June 2016 to May 2017. Since then she’s been lunged and led out on hacks a couple of times a week.
- Being sold because of owner’s ill health, and the fact she’s currently wasted.
On face value, most of my boxes were ticked. Just six months too early. I was really intrigued, but had an argument with myself as to whether I was being sentimental with the Otis link, or whether it was worth investigating further because of the other factors. My Mum told me that I should look, because otherwise I’d always wonder “what if” and upon seeing her she may be immediately unsuitable. I did a bit of research on the internet and social media, and actually found the original advert from April 2016, which I remembered seeing at the time and commenting “oh she looks nice”.
With the one condition that I don’t ride her (the whole six nearly seven months pregnant thing) I went with a friend to see her.
The mare was nicely put together with clean, straight limbs (although the photos below make her look splay legged!), a more traditional stamp of Welsh than my Welsh Warmblood Otis, and stood quietly while I examined her. I was told that she could be quite nervous, and when her owner bought her she was difficult to catch. I wouldn’t say she was really nervous from what I saw, but she was definitely cautious of new people. She wasn’t jumpy, just intrigued by things. I was also told that she wasn’t mareish – my first important question.
We watched her being lunged. She can be a bit fresh initially, but it was nothing compared to what I’m used to. She had a lovely movement, and after ten minutes she looked very relaxed and calm, so I asked my friend if she fancied sitting on.
This was my big question. Because if I’m not allowed to ride until the spring then if she was sensible after eight months of not being ridden then there wouldn’t be a problem in April. The owner thought the mare would be fine, and my friend is more than capable.
Starting off on the lunge, my friend had a walk and trot, went over some trotting poles. The mare hasn’t really done any jumping but poles don’t cause a problem. She looked very balanced in trot, and hasn’t done much canter work. Then we took her out around the village on her own. She was perfect with the cars and cyclists, more interested in what was going on in the driveways, and she looked very relaxed. Really, we couldn’t have asked any more of her.
Over the next week I battled with myself as to whether this mare really ticked all the boxes, if I trusted my friend’s judgement of her under saddle. Was I being sentimental because she was related to Otis, or did I believe his lovely temperament ran in the paternal side of his family? Was the price right, and worth me keeping her over the winter. Could I justify paying more livery fees when I was about to go on maternity leave? What would I do with her over the winter – would getting to know her, doing some lunging to introduce jumping and cantering keep us both occupied? She was a mare, a chestnut one no less. My last mare was a grey called Filly when I was ten! This was unknown territory.
After doing some budgeting and working out finances, I decided to go for it. I needed a basic livery yard which ultimately provided grass livery, ad lib hay in the field, and would be able to check her when I’m otherwise occupied in March. Timing is never right in life, and it did seem like it was meant to be – as far as I can tell, she meets my criteria; the price was within budget and she was local.
Yesterday, we went to pick her up. She had never travelled in a trailer, but loaded slowly but surely, and remained very calm all the journey. We turned her out into the small herd of mares, and within ten minutes she was grazing happily.
Today, she was very content in the field and let me catch her after sniffing me thoroughly.
I gave her a quick groom, getting to know her and checked for any injuries from her field initiation. She was alert to the surroundings, but stood fairly still. Then I put the bridle on and took her to the arena. The surface was a bit crusty with frost but I wanted a “before video” and to introduce her to the arena. She was very good – the video for your perusal is Here – and you can see that she moves very nicely, although my lunging leaves a bit to be desired. We’ll have a look at canter next week when the ground is better and she’s more settled. You’ll see in the video on the right rein, that she stops and turns in to be. Behind, just out of shot, someone had come round the corner with a saddle which she stopped to look at. Overall, she was a bit tense and lacked focus, but given the fact she’s at a new yard and with a new owner, I don’t think she did anything wrong, and if that’s going to be the extent of her behaviour at new places then I’m more than happy.
From what I can tell so far, I think we’ll be slow to build a relationship because I still feel like I’m cheating on Otis, and she is an introvert. But I also think we’ll get on well and have lots of fun together.
Oh yes, I haven’t told you her name. She came with the name Dolly, but I’ve known lots of Dolly’s, and I didn’t really feel that it suited her. After some thought, I came up with Phoenix. For her fiery colour, and for new beginnings.
After all, it is the end of an era and the beginning of another.
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.
One of the horses I ride has moved yards, and I’ve had the fun of exploring the local area. This sounds a bit weird, but I do so much hacking around one village, the postman always stops to chat (usually when it’s raining) and tells me about his holiday to Majorca. A change of scenery is always welcome!
Anyway, the first time I went to the new yard I kept a close look out on my journey for bridleway signs or woods with potential tracks. That day we went left out of the yard to a large field with a bridleway around the edge. It’s actually a really nice track that is fairly flat so it will be a good work out when I get to know the ground conditions because we can get some long trots and canters to get her fit. I think I can go further afield from this track, but I want to get to know the area first.
The next time I went right out of the yard, and did a predominately road hack. Keeping the active walk, with a bit of terrain, made her work surprisingly hard, and I came across a few byway and bridleway signs en route. I’m always checking my watch when exploring new territory so I can gauge distances and begin to put routes together and know an approximate duration. I’d like to say I use a compass to keep my bearings, but I’m not that Famous Five, and have a fairly good sense of direction. Plus Google maps on my phone …
After I’ve got my bearings around the immediate area I get out the Ordnance Survey map to see if there are any other tracks that I’ve missed, or ones just beyond the boundary I’ve explored. Then I feel more confident going further afield.
It seems the routes I’ve found so far haven’t been used recently. I had to duck under some pretty low branches, squeeze between the hedges and brambles. Regular use soon pushes back the undergrowth, so hopefully the routes will get easier.
Last week I found an overgrown bridleway which started off overlooking the road and fields before turning into a valley. It felt a bit like Gandalf and Shadowfax traversing Middle Earth as we explored this track. Then we found a fallen tree and couldn’t get past so had to turn around.
We then went the other way along the bridle way until I found a hole in the hedge leading to a large field. It was irresistible, so we headed out and went for a trot and canter around the edge. I think I was accidentally on a footpath – judging by the arrows I could see. At the top of the field I found a bench. It struck me as a bit odd. A wooden bench at the top of a field. But then I clocked the view. And I could totally understand why a bench was there. It was beautiful. The valley dropped away in front of me, hedges lining the view. It must have been someone’s favourite spot to sit back and enjoy the British countryside. Unfortunately the mare was too fidgety for me to take a photo – next time! I think it will actually look more picturesque in a few weeks when the leaves turn orange.
We continued around the edge of the field, definitely on a footpath by now, but I kept close to the hedge so we didn’t damage the crop. Then we squeezed through another gap in the hedge back onto the bridleway and went home the way we came.
It was a really nice hack, and now I know where to go and what the ground is like we can have more trots or canters en route and perhaps venture further along the bridleway.
While I was riding, I was thinking of our hacks at home. Maybe it was the lack of mobile phones, or indeed their signal, but we had names for all our hacks. The Wildings, which was a bridleway through a stream and surrounded by old trees. Wern Ddu, which circumnavigated the local golf course. The West, which went through fields and past the drive of the said house before going back along the lanes. The Pink House, which went past a pink house which has been painted white for the last decade. Bryn-Y-Gwenin, which went through a nearby village. Crow fields… which I was never quite sure how it got it’s name. When we left the yard we told others which hack we were doing, so they knew how long we’d be out and where we’d be if they needed to come and find us. None of the hacks I go on now have names. We just use vague directions – such as going to the woods, or round the village. At each location there are several routes.
Having a new area to explore makes me realise how lucky I am to get to explore so many parts of the UK on horseback and how we take our countryside, and the byways and bridleways, for granted.
What's the number one rule of feeding? Which one do you place the most importance on?
For me, it has to be that horses should be fed little and often. It applies to horses of all sizes and workload, and can lead to a whole host of health issues if they do not have food moving through their digestive tract.
Horses have evolved to graze for a minimum of sixteen hours a day, therefore they are trickle eaters. Having small amounts of fibre at each stage of their gut helps regulate peristalsis which reduces the likelihood of colic, prevents stomach acid splashing up the lining of their stomach acid, causing ulcers, and means that they are most efficient at digesting their food and extracting the nutrients.
Even obese or laminitis horses require almost constant access to fibre. However, they should have fibre with very little nutritional value, such as soaked hay or straw. Unfortunately, too many people starve laminitis horses, which can lead to them developing stomach ulcers.
I also feel that there is a psychological benefit to a horse or pony having a semi-full tummy all the time. You know how ratty you and I get when we're late home and dinner is subsequently late. And we can reason why we're hungry, and when our next meal will be. Horses can't, so it stands to reason that when they are hungry they are more likely to bicker between themselves, and to be less tolerant of us – nipping whilst being tacked up, fidgeting whilst being groomed, for example. I think a lot of bad behaviour on the ground stems from horses being uncomfortable in their digestive system. Sometimes they're a bit gassy and bloated, but more often than not they're hungry. If they were to develop stomach ulcers, this also leads to negative reactions when their girth area is touched, which some people believe is naughtiness.
Horses and ponies who are starved for periods of time, or had their grazing restricted with a grazing muzzle for example, have been shown to gorge themselves, managing to take in as much grass in the short time they are unrestricted than the longer period that their intake is limited. Which is why it is recommended that ponies who need a muzzle wear it in the paddock during the day, but are stabled with a quota of soaked hay overnight, to prevent the gorging behaviour.
My reason for bringing up this subject is that last week I was involved in taking a young client to Pony Club Camp, which gave me a parental insight into the week.
I was disappointed to learn that the ponies did not need a haynet during the day. They were to be tied up in the barn; ridden for a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon, with a two hour lunch break in between. During this week the ponies would be working far harder than in their usual day to day lives, but their anatomy is not designed for them to go without food from 9am until 4.30pm. Yes, there is a risk of bickering in the pony lines with food, but surely if every pony had a small haynet and were tied at a correct length of lead rein, far enough apart, there would be less of a problem than when they're hungry and irritable. I would have also thought that they would perform better in the afternoon session because they were happier and had more energy.
Each evening, the pony I was involved with went out into his paddock and gorged, so he was bloated the next morning. This can't be good for his digestive system!
I felt it to be quite ironic that the children are taught correct pony management, and there is both a mini and a big badge all about the rules of feeding. At some point the children are going to realise that they aren't following the rules of feeding, and will question it. This leads to a mental internal battle, and unfortunately a lack of respect for their instructors and mentors. Which is a shame.
I think it's a case of "do as I say, and not as I do", which I don't think is the right attitude for any educational environment, and one that I certainly didn't appreciate when growing up.
Today was a big day for Otis. He moved from his individual paddock, of medium size and of fairly flat ground, to a small herd of retired geldings in a large field on a gentle hill. As the vet recommended turning him away for a few months to allow the sidebone to completely settle down I made a big decision.
I didn`t think it was very fair on Otis to be turned away in his individual paddock. He`d be isolated and I would feel it necessary to bring him in and groom him a few times a week to break up his days and provide some stimulation for him. Which would mean that I would be more aware of his level of soundness and be more tempted to bring him back into work when he was sound. Furthermore in his individual paddock he’d need poo-picking, feed and hay every day. Which, as selfish as it sounds, is a chore when you get very little back in terms of riding. Plus my summer is looking pretty hectic so I needed to work out how to best balance things out.
Then I was talking to a friend who has his retired gelding (who used to be Otis’s field mate a couple of years ago) in a small herd and it came to me. If Otis was to spend a few months there it would be a far more natural environment with social stimulation for him. The field is more interesting and I hope the gentle slope will keep him fit and there’s high hedges for shelter, and plenty of grazing for him. The deal there is that the horses are checked twice a day and fed a small hard feed each morning by the yard, and they maintain the field. Which means that whilst I’m struggling with the feeling that I’ve abandoned Otis, this arrangement has taken the pressure off me for the summer and means I’m not tempted to bring him back into work for a while. Which is the best thing for both of us at the moment. Then I can just go and see Otis a couple of times a week, give him some attention and fuss, and enjoy being around him without the frustrations of him not being rideable. Then hopefully in the autumn he will be ready to come back into work.
What are everyone’s thoughts on turning horses away?
I’ve always thought that it can either be good or bad for horses. I don’t always like the sudden change for horses, particularly eventers, who go from a full on competition schedule to being left in the field twenty four-seven. It just strikes me as going from one extreme to the other. However, for some horses it can be very beneficial to their approach to work.
If you’ve struggled to establish a rapport or the ground rules with a horse, perhaps one who has had a bad start to life or is very nervous or boisterous, then turning them away may not be the best idea as you can take a few steps back in their training and confidence levels. In which case you’d be better off keeping their routine but reducing their workload: perhaps fewer sessions a week, more hacks than schooling, or some ground work/desensitisation work instead of physical exercise. So you are continuing their education lightly and maintaining your relationship with them. Then perhaps when they are a bit more mature mentally, they would benefit from a short, complete break.
I do think that it’s important to have the right facilities to turn a horse away, especially a youngster who needs to hierarchy of a herd to make them toe the line. Large fields with a variety of terrain, forages, well matched groups, which will provide the most natural environment for them and allow them to just be horses are very important. Some yards can’t cater for this, in which case it may be worth doing what I’ve done and moving him; or keeping the basic daily routine of coming in the same and reducing the workload so they don’t get too bored and get into mischief because of lack of stimulation.
Why do people turn horses away?
The traditional sense of turning horses away is during the winter they are three – so they’ve been backed, begun their education, and then are allowed to reflect on their learning whilst also maturing.
Alternatively, competition or hunt horses are roughed off in the off season so that they can physically and mentally recover from the season.
For most amateur rider owners, their horses are in light work, so there isn’t necessarily the need to turn them away for long periods. If their workload is varied – hacking, dressage, jumping – then they are unlikely to become stale. In which case giving them easy weeks every so often, where they have the week off or just hack for a few days, can be just as beneficial for the horse, and means yours or their routine isn’t disrupted too much.
Earlier I mentioned that hunters are often roughed off to allow them to recover physically from the season. Time does seem to be the best healer, and I’ve come to the conclusion that when vets are involved in treating a horse for an injury they often neglect to suggest field rest. They prescribe box rest and then introduction to gentle work, increasing the work load over a couple of months until the horse is back in full work. Obviously you can’t go straight from box rest to complete turn out, but it would be nice to hear vets prescribe a slow transition (depending on the time of year) from box rest to field rest and then a few months of total field rest to allow the horse to recover completely before bringing them back into work. If I could go back in time, after Otis’s box rest I would have increased his time in the field without walk work. As it was November I’d have kept him stabled at night until February or March, and then turned him out completely for a couple of months before bringing him back into work. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Regardless of your facilities and opinion on turning horses away, I think they can all have mini breaks – like a half term holiday – to let them recharge, and if you can provide a stimulating, natural environment for them to have a longer break then they can also benefit from this. The worst scenario I feel, is a horse being turned away and is out all the time but with no company or space to roam. I hope Otis settles into this new routine and enjoys his time in a herd. Certainly when I left him he was wrapped up in a mutual grooming session.
It never rains, but it pours. At least it did for me last week. Otis had his MRI, which I told you about last weekend – Which you can read here – but simultaneously Matt was having a big adventure of his own.
Mum went to catch him on Saturday afternoon to feed him and give him some TLC. He was grazing in the field quietly, away from the others. Mum put his headcollar on and asked him to walk on. He wouldn’t move. She got a bit angry as he is sometimes can be stubborn about coming in. But he still wouldn’t walk.
In the event, with one of the girls practically pushing Matt, they got him down the field and onto the yard. He was dragging his hind leg, which had a small wound on the stifle.
Mum cleaned it up and rang the vet. She duly turned up and examined the puncture wound, after sedating Matt of course as he didn’t like it very much! The vet was concerned about an infection as the wound was close to the joint, and the stifle is a very shallow joint, so the vet arranged for Matt to be admitted to the local equine hospital that evening.
Leaving a sedated Matt in the closest stable, loaded with painkillers, Mum drove home to collect non-horsey Dad and the trailer. By the time they got back the sedation had worn off and Matt was less than impressed at being in with no friends. You may remember from the winter that he doesn’t like being left in without company. He danced around and refused to load until Mum got the yard owner out in her pyjamas to say a couple of stern words to him.
So it was 8.30-9pm when they got to the, thankfully, local horse-pital. Matt was sedated again, and X-rayed. This was when they found the fracture.
I think it’s the top of the tibia that is fractured, it’s non-weight bearing and it isn’t the patella. I’ve asked to see the x-rays so will share once I do.
After the X-ray, the area was ultrasounded. This was looking for oxygen bubbles in the stifle joint, which are indicative of an infection. Thankfully he got the all clear in this area, so was put into his stable and hooked up to a drip and an intensive course of antibiotics started. This was to hopefully nip any infection in the bud and if there wasn’t yet an infection it was a preventive measure. He was dosed up on painkillers and left.
On Sunday, the vets were pleased to say that there didn’t look to be a joint infection, which meant Matt didn’t need to go to the nearest university hospital.
With Mum and Dad about to go on their annual holiday, it was all systems go to organise Matt’s care. Thankfully, Mum has some lovely friends who offered to look after Matt on his box rest while she was away.
Matt had to stay in hospital for five days: three days of intravenous antibiotics and two days of oral antibiotics. On Monday his painkillers were reduced as he was getting very agitated at being kept in and was box walking. I think they hoped that feeling a bit of pain would encourage him to stay still.
Last Thursday, Mum’s friend collected Matt and took him home. Mum had ordered a mixture of calming feeds and supplements contains chamomile, valerian, vervain and magnesium. All of which are known for their calming effect. Matt was still keen to eat, so had been having ad lib hay to try and occupy him, carrots hidden in haynets. He’s also had some cow parsley, hazel and willow branches to strip, and a likit toy is on it’s way.
The first couple of days Matt expected to go out, but since the weekend he seems happier in this new routine so hopefully the effect of the calmer, plenty of forage and toys will keep him occupied.
He’s to stay on box rest for eight weeks, with another X-ray in six weeks time. Then limited exercise will ensue, with the aim of full turn out in twelve weeks time. Mum asked about picking up his feet, and the vet said his feet could be hoof picked if he’d let you, but keep the foot close to the ground to minimise the movement of the fracture. He can’t see the farrier until after his next X-ray because the fracture will open up in the next couple of weeks before closing and healing.
Someone told me over Christmas that they’d read in a horse behaviour book that horses don’t have an agenda; they act on instinct and don’t try to show you up or let you down. I beg to differ.
Yesterday I went to catch one of the horses I ride; she is in a small herd in a large field, but yesterday she happened to be near the gate – about fifty yards from it. As I walked along to the track she stood, ears pricked, watching me intensely. I called her name, but didn’t get a response. Not that I expected one!
As I untied the rope around the gate, she turned and cantered to the far end of the field without a backwards glance.
I groaned. I might be here for a while if she didn’t want to come in! So I made my way slowly across the frozen, treacherous field. The whole time, the mare stood watching me, with an innocent butter wouldn’t melt look on her face. And she let me walk straight up to her to clip her lead rope on before following me across the field angelically!
Now you can’t tell me that this mare didn’t know what she was doing when she ran away from me! She obviously wanted to be caught, as she let me walk straight up to her, but she also wanted me to walk across the field!