One of the aspects of teaching that you aren’t warned about when you take your exams is the advice-seeking. As a BHS assistant instructor you have your Stage III care, so are qualified to teach stable management, but everyone is different. And every yard is different. On a weekly basis I find that alongside my teaching or riding of horses I talk to clients about
- Feed – he’s put on weight/there’s too much grass in his field/how do I get him fitter?
- Shoes – usually I observe a loose shoe, or a set that need attention
- Rugs – my worst nightmare – what rug should I put her in today?
- Tack – a piece of wearing tack or something not quite fitting as it should
- Behaviour. This is the hardest because, unless I observe the behaviour it is very difficult to guess it’s cause, or route to solving it.
A few weeks ago I had an email from a young client who was very distressed because she couldn’t tie up her mare anymore. The mare is an Arab – many of you will be thinking “say no more” – and is a clever pony who knows every trick in the book.
However, I had to advise ways to sort this little problem out.
The mare has spooked at something one day, pulled back and galloped away. However, whenever she was tied up from then on she instantly pulled free.
First of all I suggested she had her poll and neck checked to make sure she hadn’t physically hurt herself.
Then came the issue of ensuring that the behaviour didn’t become learnt.
There were a couple of things I suggested:
- Move the tie up place temporarily, to the other end of the yard, so that the environment doesn’t put her on edge and trigger her to pull back.
- Tie her up in company. If she can see others tied up quietly she should be more likely to settle. On that note, make sure she isn’t left alone on the yard, by either people or horses.
- Tack up quickly! When she gets better at standing she can be groomed for longer. Practice tying up when she’s tired, after exercise.
- Put a haynet up to encourage her to stand quietly. Unfortunately spring is not the time for feed to be the best motivator, so I suggested a lick treat as an alternative.
- If she still isn’t tying up then have someone strong hold her, settling her with their voice, so that they can hold onto her if she does try to run away, providing some resistance on the lead rope, without causing her to jerk her neck on the string as it breaks. When she is standing quietly they can also verbally reward her. Obviously the handler needs gloves and a hat on.
- The next step on from holding the mare is to thread the rope through the string and the handler take more of a back seat.
- If she’s fidgeting a lot and pulling back still then this is a last resort, but I’ve seen it used effectively. Using a lunge line instead of a lead rope, thread the line through the metal ring. The handler can then stand out of reach of the fidgeting horse, who prances round, feeling some resistance against the ring. The idea of this is that the horse fights the ring on the wall and doesn’t win. Holding the lunge line means that it is safer for the handlers too, and they can release the line if the horse gets into trouble. It’s an old fashioned trick, and in theory not needed for most horses, but I think it’s worth remembering these tricks in case there’s ever a horse that it would help.
- You can go down the route of the plastic quick release ties, but I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan. If the horse has learnt to pull back as a game, which I strongly suspect this mare had, then the plastic encourages them to pull back even more as there’s less resistance. What’s wrong with a bit of small-bale string? Also, the plastic rings get easier to undo the more times they’re opened, thus rewarding pulling back. They have a use in some situations though, but I wouldn’t choose to use them with this mare.
The biggest factor in this situation was time and patience. If we believe the mare was frightened and now associates being tied up with being frightened, then it is a long process of forgetting the incident, calmly being held in a mimic of being tied up, tied up with just the rope threaded through, rewarded for standing, and not let alone until they have built up their confidence again. Eventually they will relearn the correct behaviour.
However if, like this mare, she got spooked, pulled back and galloped off, then decided that galloping off was a good addition to the daily routine, you need to squash this new behaviour ASAP, taking a tougher line of attack so that the behaviour didn’t become ingrained.
Managing behaviours is all about knowing your horse, and what methods work best with them. Do they respond well to a shove on the hindquarters to move over, or are they more of a delicate flower and need a push from the finger? Do they respond well to your voice, or does a tap on the chest get their attention?
I know the horses I work with pretty well, but when people ask me for advice on behaviours I’ve not seen, my best approach is to list various potential reasons for the behaviour, different approaches to preventing the behaviour, and then let the client make up their own mind, knowing their horse better than I do, when they’re next in that situation. After all, they might notice something they hadn’t thought of before.
Over the weekend I read and interesting article about an experiment on the prevention of Mud fever – See here.
There’s no scientific basis for the experiment, but I thought about it logically. Experts have said for years that continuously washing horses legs is a contributing factor to mud fever, and it is far better to let a horse stand in and then brush off the dry mud.
But what if the horse is standing in and their legs aren’t drying properly? Or if an owner has limited time to dry the legs properly – such as a heavily feathered horse, or they only coming in during the day. People advocate the use of towels, but I wonder how towels are dried and kept clean (numerous towels and a strict laundry cycle I guess). And also, does rubbing the legs to dry them rub dirt particles against sensitive, damp skin and cause minute wounds for the bacteria to enter?
This article repeats the importance of not over washing legs, but said if necessary then it should be done but the focus of care should be rewarming the legs. I can see the inverse correlation between warming the legs and the time taken for them to dry, but I thought the bacteria liked warm moist conditions?
Lots of questions have been thrown up, and it’s so hard to know what to do in muddy conditions. Usually I don’t worry about mud fever and Otis, but this winter is so wet that I’m beginning to wonder how much wet and mud his legs can handle. It would be interesting to see some more research done into the effects of keeping the legs warm, not just dry, perhaps using thermography. I have dug out the thermotex stable wraps I inherited a few years ago as the article did make me think that they would be helpful in drying his legs quickly, which will at least help me brush off mud and keep them cleaner so in that way the article has a valid point.
If anyone else has seen any more recent experiments with preventing mud fever, as I think prevention of the bacteria establishing themselves is the critical factor in beating mud fever.
For those of you who aren’t sure what the alliterative girth galls are, they are rubs around the girth area, usually caused by the tack.
This time of year is the prime time for horses to develop them; I’m forever noticing them when I clip horses. Horses which are clipped have no hair to protect them should a bit of skin get trapped in the girth and rub, and those who aren’t clipped get them because grains of dirt get embedded close to the skin and rub away. Also, these horses tend to have dried sweat there which can rub too.
As I said, girth galls can be caused by the delicate skin being pinched by the girth, or dirt rubbing between the girth and skin. This dirt can either be from the girth itself or stil on the horse as it hasn’t been brushed off.
To reduce the risk of girth galls developing for the former reason, many people stretch their horse’s forelegs forward once the girth is tightened and before mounting. This is also useful if your horse is quite wrinkly in the elbow area, or has a particularly fine coat. Smoothing out the skin under the girth reduces the chance of pinching. I have some clients who do this religiously before riding, so I assume that their horse is prone to developing galls. When Otis is freshly clipped I pull his legs forward for a few weeks as that’s the only time he’s ever shown signs or rubbing.
To prevent girth galls developing from dirt or sweat irritating the skin the only answer is cleanliness! Brush the girth area thoroughly, I like my plastic curry comb for getting the mud off, and remember to wash off any sweat around the girth area after. Cleaning the girth is also another useful task; since its been so muddy and wet I’ve been removing my girth after riding, then before I next ride I brush off the sand and grit. I prefer doing it when it’s dry as more is likely to come off.
Some people advocate girth sleeves, which can be beneficial for delicate skinned horses as they are softer than girths. However there are so many new materials for girths, compared to the traditional leather, string or cotton, that girths are more comfortable for the horse. Girth sleeves can be just as difficult to keep clean because grit and sweat gets buried in the sheepskin or fleece.
For horses prone to girth galls, an old remedy is to rub the area (obviously when there’s no broken skin) with surgical spirit, to harden the skin so it is less likely to get damaged.
Hopefully everyone keeps a close eye on their horse’s girth area when they groom anyway so will notice the beginnings of a gall and treat it before the skin becomes raw or open.
On a lighter note, I was scratching Otis’s girth and belly earlier and found his itchy spot – enjoy the video – Otis enjoying a scratch!
People of the horse world are renowned for being a little strange, so let’s get Christmas off to a good start by talking about our little quirks and hang ups. What do you guys do religiously, however small, in your daily stable routine? The weirder the better!
I’ll start us off.
An instructor I knew always insisted lead ropes were clipped so the clip was away from the chin. Something I still think of when clipping them on now!
Personally I alway hang bridles in a figure of eight and I hate seeing martingales and reins looped everywhere in a tack room. As you can imagine, Micklem bridles cause me no end of problems as I have to sacrifice the “8” shape.
I also have a thing about doing up flash straps after untacking so I don’t lose the strap, it worse still, the running keeper. Which brings me on to a common hang up – bridle straps not being in through their running keepers. I know that’s quite a common thing to niggle over.
So who’s got any idiosyncrasies to share?
Does anyone alway adjust the saddle before mounting, even if it’s in the correct place? You just undo your girth, pick it up and put it back down again. One friend always puts her saddle on before her bridle.
Or what about always knotting something up in a certain way?
Or always removing your saddle cloth in the tack room? One client I know always has to put the excess of her stirrup leather through the keeper, even if it’s barely long enough.
What about when mucking out? Do you have a little quirk in your procedure? Do you always have to fill your bucket to the brim even if your horse never drinks more than half?
Let us know in the comments your quirks and procedures that you always do, or obsess about when looking after your horse!
I seem to have done a lot of clipping so far this year; someone told me they thought it was the worst job of all, but I have to say that it`s quite satisfying. Yes hair flying into your eyes and mouth during a whirling dervish isn`t the best feeling in the world, but the sight of a clean, clipped horse makes it all worthwhile.
Now, however, everyone`s getting a bit carried away with motifs on the hindquarters. I was asked at the beginning of November by a young child if she could have a picture on her horse. His name is “Dripping in Diamonds”. Now that`s a hint and a half …
I`ve done the basic hearts on plenty of horses, but rarely attempted anything harder.
So I got my thinking cap on and did some googling for suitable pictures to copy, and the net result is:
I thought I`d better get a bit of practice in today, so with an ample bottomed horse I had a play. Can you work out the catchphrase?
A couple of years ago I blogged about clipping art – here – and I still don`t think that any amount of practice will enable me to clip a skull and crossbones!
I`ll just continue with my traditional clips. I`ve done loads of blanket clips this year; I`ve always liked them but all the lines make them tricky. By the time January comes I`ll have really got my eye in and be able to whizz off a blanket clip… and then the demand will cease until next September!
I was talking to a client earlier this week and we were discussing clipping, and the joys of getting the lines even and symmetrical. I spend ages trying to get the lines level, and ensuring that when you look from the front and behind the horse looks symmetrical. Once I feel happy with the lines I have to remind myself not to look too closely as I will over analyse every single curve or angle.
The clip I dread doing is the chaser clip. You can look from one side and it looks brilliant; smooth and flattering to the horse`s conformation. The other side looks just as good. And then you climb aboard. And shock horror! The right side is significantly higher than the left!
It happened once to me after I`d clipped and hogged a riding school horse. The next time I rode him I nearly died in horror when I saw the difference in the curves of each line of his side, accentuated by the hogged mane.
Either I refused to ride him until the clip had grown out, or I insisted on clipping him again sharpish.
Now I try to check any horses I clip by standing above them to check the view from the rider`s perspective.
The client I was talking to about this clipping then went on to say how she could just about pull manes. Another topic that I have several stories about!
The first, which I told her at the time, was when my teenage friend began pulling her pony`s mane yet only got the first couple of inches done before she went on holiday. She left her friend with instructions to continue pulling the mane until it was four inches long – about half it`s initial length. This friend continued from the bottom of the neck up, towards the poll. Unfortunately, by the time she got to the poll the mane was only one and a half inches long! So this friend called in the help of another friend, who did an emergency repair job.
I don`t think the owner of the pony was very impressed when she returned from her holidays to find her pony sporting a Mohican!
The other story that is usually brushed under the mat involves me.
My Mum always used to trim the wispy pieces at the base of my pony`s mane with scissors. Which one day, I decided to do too. However, I always wanted to be a hairdresser and had previous convictions of cutting my brother`s fringe and my own hair, so I got carried away and cut my pony`s mane into a beautifully ruler-straight line.
With great panic, I and my little friend called one of the older girls on the yard and begged her for help. With great skill, she managed to soften the edge, but it still didn`t look like it had been pulled properly.
A week or so later I was leading my pony in from the field and my instructor said to me “Partner`s mane looks very straight.”
“I used a solo comb.” I parroted, the line fed to me by my saviour mane-tidying-upper friend!
I hadn`t realised until last week, but I have to admit. I am a mud snob.
Until now I hadn`t really thought about it – I don`t agree with rugging horses unnecessarily so don`t count myself amongst the OCD owners who wrap their horses in pyjamas from fetlock to poll. However, Otis does suffer with sweet itch so wears a fly rug unless it`s raining, in which case I usually put the lightweight turnout on so that he isn`t wet should I be riding that afternoon. Llani has just followed suit, albeit in Otis`s hand-me-downs.
One non-fly days I often take rugs off, and after last week, I discovered that I am very lucky in that neither of them get down immediately to roll. Neither do they find the muddiest patch of paddock to roll. And even if they do roll, they don`t actually rub the mud in – it`s very superficial and usually comes off when they shake after. Although the boys get groomed daily it never usually takes more than ten minutes for them to be immaculate.
So imagine my horror when I went to ride the BFG a couple of weeks ago. He`s 17.2hh grey gelding – heart of gold, but absolutely no idea of his size … or how dirty he gets!
It took me quarter of an hour just to get the saddle area clean! Someone called to me, as I led him to the mounting block (which by the way is the biggest I`ve ever used and I still have to climb up to mount the BFG). Where was I? Oh yes, someone called to me: “Didn`t you have your stepladder to do his bum?”
I shook my head – the saddle doesn`t go there!
Grooming the caked mud off the BFG brought childhood memories flooding back; of scratching a plastic curry comb to break up caked on mud on our ponies` thick winter coats. Of the dust that gets under your finger nails, and in your mouth, turning your clothes brown. I could go on!
Anyway, I had my ride, and seriously considered requesting the BFG wore a rug when I was due to ride…
The week flew by with no more mud incidents … and then this happened!
And that was when I realised.
I am a mud snob!