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Equine Flu

Last week the UK Equestrian population was thrown into panic. British racing was shut down due to three cases of equine influenza in racehorses. A particularly nasty strain of flu too. It’s a subject that we need to take seriously, but we need to be careful not to create a mass hysteria.

Flu in horses is a highly contagious serious respiratory virus, which whilst not usually fatal itself, can lead to potentially life threatening secondary infections such as pneumonia. Flu, along with tetanus, is recommended by vets that horses be vaccinated against, and many competition bodies insist on it.

Signs of equine flu

  • A very high temperature of 39-41C (103-106F) which lasts for one to three days

  • A frequent harsh, dry cough that can last for several weeks

  • A clear, watery nasal discharge that may become thick and yellow or green

  • Enlarged glands under the lower jaw

  • Clear discharge from the eyes and redness around eyes

  • Depression and loss of appetite

  • Filling of the lower limbs

Equine flu is endemic, which means that there is always the odd case somewhere. Our problem at the moment is two fold. Firstly, the horses who were first identified to be suffering from flu were vaccinated. Which means that this strain of the virus is new, and particularly vigorous. Secondly, the fact that it was racehorses who first contracted the virus means there is a massive risk of the disease spreading nationally due to the number of horses attending each race meet and the distance of which they travelled, the number of humans and horses in which a racehorse comes into contact with on a daily basis.

British Racing did completely the right thing by shutting racing down, taking swabs of all horses who were at risk fixtures, quarantining yards and risk horses, and getting the virus under control. It is necessary to inform the wider equine community too, because the flu virus is airborne so there is a risk to local equines. The fact that racing was halted made national news, and unfortunately I did hear some misinformed newsreaders, who could have potentially caused panic amongst the general public. Really, they should have just warned the general public not to touch horses they meet out walking to help reduce the risk of the disease spreading – there was talk about equine flu being contagious to humans!

Now the virus strain has been identified as the Florida Clane 1 H3N8 strain, vets can begin to research whether horses have been vaccinated against this strain. Vaccination doesn’t mean that they are immune to all types of flu, but it does mean that they will have reduced symptoms if they do contract it. From my reading, it appears that this strain of flu has only been used in vaccines since September 2018. Together with the fact that vaccinations become less effective after six months, it is recommended that all vaccinated horses have a booster vaccination now. Unvaccinated horses are advised to have the initial vaccination course.

So as well as some vaccinated thoroughbreds contracting flu, there has been some isolated and seemingly random cases in non-thoroughbreds across the country. Part of me is curious: if the racehorses hadn’t had flu or meets been cancelled because of it, would the general equestrian public have heard about the stand-alone cases so soon? Perhaps locally, but I don’t think it would have been such big news until now, when there are more cases.

So what does this mean for us?

As horse owners, you need to stay abreast with the news, and be aware if there are any cases near to you. It is worth booking your horse in to have a booster vaccination. I’m lucky: Phoenix is due her booster anyway so was booked in for this week. I have brought Otis’s forward by a couple of months too, for peace of mind. Plus I can’t possibly forget their boosters next year if they and Matt (Mum’s brought his jabs forward a couple of weeks too) are due on the same day!

In terms of competing, or leaving the yard, advice varies. As far as I can see, if there is a case of flu in your county, or local area, than a total lockdown is advisable to reduce the risk of your horse contracting the disease. Otherwise, most vets are advising that you continue with your normal routine, albeit with care. Don’t share equipment between horses, don’t let horses touch noses out hacking or at competitions. Learn the symptoms of equine flu, and be vigilant. I guess I just think that if I don’t need to go out, then I won’t. However, if there’s something I really want to do (such as a clinic or competition) then I will risk assess it to decide if it’s worth going.

I think it’s also important to speak to any visitors to your yard: farrier, dentist, instructor, physio, etc. Check that they are following basic bio security steps, haven’t come into contact with infected horses or worked in a risk area. From a work perspective, I’m lucky that I work in quite a small area, so don’t have the worry of venturing near to any danger zones (yet!). I need to keep an eye on the news and hope it doesn’t spead any closer. I will continue with my usual hand sanitising procedure between yards, and add a boot dip as well as have a couple of changes of clothes in my car. Then if I do come into contact with a suspicious horse, I can completely change upon leaving that yard.

I think this flu outbreak will give everyone a bit of a kick up the bum with regards to bio security. Competitions and venues open for hire are now requesting to see passports and proof of vaccination within the last six months before allowing horses on site. To me, it’s always seemed silly that you arrive at a competition, unload, tack up, chat to the competitor next to you, and then go and present your passport. Surely, as with an airport, you should have to show your passport before entering.

With competitions getting more vigilant, hopefully more owners will vaccinate their horses if they’ve allowed them to lapse. I read that a shocking 60% of the equine population are unvaccinated. Below is an image which sums up why it is important that the majority of horses are vaccinated to protect them all from disease.

Along with competitions bucking their ideas up with bio security, yards should also be more conscientious over bringing new horses onto the property. Most yards I’ve been to have an isolation procedure on paper, which is used if a horse comes from a suspect area, but in general are very lax about integrating new animals. Vets recommend an isolation period of 21 days, which seems an awful long time! But at least after 21 days your horse is fit and healthy. Hopefully from now on yards will be stricter with their isolation procedure and take more caution with imported horses or those who have been in contact with those.

I do think that it’s important to maintain transparency. Strangles comes with a stigma, and we should be careful that equine flu doesn’t get the same taint. After all, no one holds a flu party, like parents hold chicken pox parties. It’s bad luck if your horse picks up the virus. So far I’ve seen that yards and businesses are being very honest when they have a case of Equine Flu. Which will hopefully help reduce the spread of the virus in the local area. Unfortunately though, the dreaded keyboard warriors have been at it again, and written many an unkind word on social media. Come on equestrians, we need to work together and support each other to stop the spread of Florida Clane 1!

Below are some useful websites to get all the latest updates on the flu outbreak:

https://www.aht.org.uk/disease-surveillance/equiflunet

https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/

https://m.facebook.com/Stranglessupport/

https://bef.co.uk/News-Detail.aspx?news=more-cases-of-equine-flu

High Winds

There’s so many topical subjects to blog about this weekend. But I’m going to steer clear of the can of worms which is equine ‘flu, and instead talk about the high winds which have been forecast for this weekend.

There was a lot of talk on an instructors forum earlier in the week about risk assessments and teaching in stormy weather. Regardless of whether you are a teacher, horse owner, or riding school client, there are things you should be aware of in windy weather.

Firstly, consider if it is actually safe to ride on a windy day. I’m a big believer in not being a fair weather rider, and getting horses used to all sorts of weather. But you have to stay safe. So it might be that you lunge instead of ride, or flat instead of jump. Or school instead of hacking. Or just do some pony pampering and ride tomorrow instead!

With my instructor hat on, I need to make sure the arena is safe. An indoor is great, but you do need to be aware of tree branches banging on the roof in stormy weather. In an outdoor arena, you want to be aware of external threats. It may be the plastic covering on the stack of hay bales near the arena is billowing around, or nearby trees are dropping branches. If the arena is big enough, you may decide to work at one end to reduce the hazards.

As much as you can, try and make the area safe. Put away jump stands so they don’t blow over in a sudden gust and spook the horse. Remove any flapping objects or weigh them down.

If you have to travel your horse to a venue, such as a clinic or competition, then you need to consider whether it’s safe to do so. Are the roads likely to be blocked by fallen trees, or flooded? Is your horse a good traveller, and are you confident towing a trailer or driving a lorry in windy weather? If you aren’t happy, then you are better off rearranging or cancelling your plans.

Each horse is individual, and every rider is individual, so as an instructor I need to talk to the rider. If the horse is young or of a spooky nature, I’d probably advise changing the lesson plan to potentially lunging or in hand work to be safe. If the rider is a novice, or nervous and I don’t think they will benefit from a lesson in the wind then I will chat to them too.

This is where riding school clients need to take note. If your lesson, on your own horse or otherwise still takes place on a windy day, then you need to be prepared, and accept a change to your lesson structure. It may be that you don’t ride your favourite horse because they are unpredictable in the wind. Or it may be that you have a lesson instead of a hack because it’s safer. If you were supposed to have a jump lesson, you may be end up doing pole work or flat work because there’s a risk the jumps may blow over. If you were hoping (yes, some riders like doing it) for a non stirrup lesson you may be working on other areas because it’s safer for you to keep your stirrups as there’s an increased chance of your horse spooking in the wind. Your instructor will do what they feel is best to keep you both safe.

Really, stormy weather doesn’t need a big panic, you just need to be careful and assess the weather forecast (it might be better to rearrange your ride from the morning to the afternoon when it’s calmer), adjust your riding plans to get the best out of you and your horse, and most importantly to stay safe. And if you really aren’t sure, chat to your instructor, even if you aren’t booked in for a lesson that day, to see what they advise as they know the pair of you and your capabilities well.

An Update From Phoenix

Phoenix has had a quiet month in January with one thing and another, but hopefully she’ll soon be back on track.

Just before New Year I had a fabulous lesson, where she was getting the idea of relaxing in trot immediately after canter, and things were all slotting into place. The following day I had a lovely hack and then she had a couple of days off while we went away.

That following week she was tense again to ride. I was disappointed, and felt we’d regressed in her training. Then at the weekend she bolted going into right canter. At first it was just a quickening and some tension, but the more transitions I did the worse she got.

Right canter has always been her weaker canter, and in retrospect throughout December I was finding that I was being put into position left after right canter.

Simultaneously, mounting had become more stressful, with her being tense, sometimes having her back up as I mounted, and jogging off. I felt she was beginning to make negative associations with the school and being ridden. On hacks, she was perfect, as usual.

It took me a week to try and get to the bottom of it. Was she being emotional? Was she struggling with the winter balance of feed and turnout? Was she getting too fit? Was she in pain anywhere? She wasn’t lame, but I did think she seemed restricted in her left hindleg. When she had her monthly massage, extra tightness in the muscles in her left hindquarter was noted.

I backed off the canter work, trying to improve her right bend. She’s a trier, and she really tried to give it to me. But something was hurting because every so often she’d bring her left hind forward and then stop, as if wincing. It was this point that I decided she needed some form of physio or chiropractic work.

Phoenix is a naturally uptight character, so I felt a physiotherapist would be most beneficial initially and once her muscles had been released, if she was still not quite right, a chiropractor would be more effective with less resistance from the tight muscles.

While I waited for her physio appointment, I did some ground work to keep her brain ticking over, and practiced mounting and just walking around. I wanted to focus on reducing her anxiety in the arena. Anxiety which stems from her expecting pain, I think, but hopefully by reminding her to stand during mounting and then just walking around she would be in a better frame of mind when I start working her again. Phoenix is a quick learner, and after a couple of sessions she felt her normal self around the mounting block.

The physio session was really interesting. Whilst not showing a response to pressure along her back, the physio denounced Phoenix to be very guarded. Her posture has changed in the last couple of weeks, and it took the physio quite a lot of work to release the deep muscles over her back and hindquarters, particularly the left. By the end of the session, Phoenix was flexing her back properly and had a much more relaxed demeanour. Her eyes had softened and she looked happier. I just felt guilty it had taken me so long to work out what the problem was.

She had a couple of days off, and I felt she seemed happier in herself, with a softer eye and with a better posture. I lunged her in the snow over the weekend (the joy of being barefoot!) and she looked considerably more comfortable in her action, with less tail swishing and less resistance to the right.

A week after physio, I got back on. Her back needed a break and chance to recover. I was a bit anxious about how she would behave under saddle. Mainly because I really wanted this to be the solution to her tension. The first trot she was coiled like a spring, but the more work we did the more she relaxed and felt like the old Phoenix. She just needed to work and realise it wouldn’t hurt.

The next day I took her for a hack, and she seemed perfectly happy. I’m so glad! She needs a couple more days of just walk and trot work, before introducing brief periods of canter.

She has a follow up appointment in a couple of weeks which I very much hope shows an improvement in her muscle tone.

I’m also organising for her saddles to be checked (the dressage one seems to be moving… which may explain why she was happier cantering on hacks when I was using my jump saddle. Duh!). She seems to be taking after Otis, the number of saddle checks she’s needed so far. Until then, I’ll stick to the jump saddle as she seems much happier.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the cause, or the root of the problem, and how I can prevent it reoccurring in future. If I’m honest, I think there’s been a need for physio for a while. Perhaps I should’ve done it before I started riding her. She’s naturally uptight anyway, so muscle tension isn’t immediately obvious because there’s an element of it all over. She has monthly massages, which worked on the same areas as the physio did but on a superficial level. Which highlights the fact equine massage is an excellent maintenance tool (otherwise I think I would’ve hit this problem earlier) but physio or chiropractic treatment is sometimes still required to correct misalignment or deep tissue problems. The increase in Phoenix’s workload in December meant that the underlying soreness went from slightly uncomfortable to painful for her. Combined with a change in the fit to her saddle, which exacerbated the soreness, meant that throughout January Phoenix has been trying to tell me very clearly that she’s not happy. I was just a bit deaf though, and it took me a while to see the wood for the trees. I’ll listen harder next time Phoenix, I promise!

Jumping Manners

Last week I jumped a horse for a client. He’s new to her, and as she hasn’t jumped for a long time, I was given the job of putting him through his paces.

This horse is a keen and experienced jumper, but he can be a bit bargy on the ground so I wanted to establish the rules whilst jumping so that his rider would be confident and in control when she begins jumping.

I constructed a grid of three jumps, with one canter stride between. Starting with poles on the ground, I used these as part of my warm up. I trotted over them in both directions. Predictably, he rushed and tried to canter through the grid. So I made him halt. And then walk the rest of the grid. After doing this a couple of times he trotted sweetly over the grid in a lovely balanced rhythm.

I feel this is important as a rider lacking confidence when jumping needs to be able choose the pace they approach in. They may choose to trot into a cross pole for the first couple of times, then progress to cantering over it. When the jump becomes bigger, or an upright, they may decide to trot into it the first time. To help give the rider confidence, they need to know they will approach the jump at their chosen pace.

After I’d trotted the poles in both directions, with the horse staying steady and rhythmical throughout, I did the same in canter. When a grid is set up, the distances between poles on the ground is often awkward for horses. Because they don’t have the jumps the distance between the poles is about one and a half canter strides instead of one. If you think about the way a horse jumps they take off and land further away from a jump than they would over a pole on the ground. So you either have to extend the canter to get one long stride, or collect it to get two strides between the poles. Keeping with the plan of improving control, and not letting the horse rush the jumps, I collected the canter for two strides, to which he obliged.

Next, I put up the third jump to a little cross and we trotted the grid a couple of times, until I felt the horse settle at my chosen tempo. Then we cantered it, getting two canter strides between the first and second pole. The more jumps we did, the less the horse tried to rush, and the more easily I could dictate our approach.

I built the grid up to three crosses, alternating our approach from both reins and in trot or canter to ensure that the horse stayed with me and didn’t take over on the approach. He still tried to take over half a dozen strides away from the first jump, but a little half halt on my part and he listened to me. A couple of strides before the jump, I allowed him to take over so that he met the fence at a good take off point. After all, I didn’t want to put him off jumping!

Over the next few weeks, I plan to do more pole work and grids, keeping the focus on maintaining the rhythm, improving his suppleness and balance. And teaching him to be polite and wait for his rider to choose the approach. He’s a keen jumper, so he will give his rider a lot of confidence when they start jumping, so long as she feels in control throughout. I think we’ll have lots of fun getting these two off the ground!

Demi Dressage

I’ve blogged about it before, but I get so frustrated with the lack of child friendly dressage tests. So many British Dressage and Pony Club tests have movements above a young rider’s comprehension. Then the judge’s feedback goes over their little heads, and I feel that they don’t really benefit in any way, shape or form. Which means, unfortunately that dressage is less popular amongst young riders (with the exception of that Scottish girl who scored 93% or something outrageous. See this week’s Horse and Hound for more details).

So when a friend approached me a few months ago with the idea of running online dressage competitions with tests written for children, and focusing on using a language that they understand and using appropriate school movements (for example, many children can canter, but are unable to canter a circle at E, or pick up canter over X). And of course, promoting fun, with feedback that they understand.

Understandably, I jumped at the chance to be involved, and so Demi Dressage was born. My involvement is fairly basic; I double check the tests as they are written, and then judge the entrants at the end of the month.

There are five levels, which I think covers children of all abilities, and provides them with the groundings to enter a prelim test at the top level. And yes, I have shamelessly copied the description of the levels from the website!

  • GREEN – for riders who are riding independently in walk, and starting to become confident in trot off the lead. Tests will mostly be in walk, potentially with some very very easy movements in trot, and may include some fun mounted exercises. School movements will be very simple. (Approx expected age 4-6 years – but all ages are welcome!)

  • YELLOW – for riders who are relatively competent in walk and trot but are not yet cantering on their own. Tests will be exclusively in walk and trot, they may include some fun mounted exercises or easy movements without stirrups. School movements will be simple to execute. (Approx. expected age 6-8 years – but younger or older entrants are very welcome! Depending on entries Yellow tests may be run in the same class as Yellow-Plus tests, and placings will be determined by percentage score. If there are enough entries, the tests will run as two separate classes with placings and rosettes for each.)

  • YELLOW-PLUS – these are Yellow tests that are slightly longer, with more trotting, for riders who are not confident to canter but are able to ride slightly more demanding school movements in walk and trot (Approx. expected age 7-10 years – but younger or older entrants are very welcome! Depending on entries Yellow-Plus tests may be run in the same class as Yellow tests, and placings will be determined by percentage score. If there are enough entries, the tests will run as two separate classes with placings and rosettes for each.)

  • BLUE – for riders who are competent in walk and trot, and learning to canter independently. Tests will predominantly be walk and trot with some very simple canter work. School movements will build on those introduced in the earlier levels, and possibly include some fun mounted exercises. (Approx expected age 7-11 years – but younger or older entrants are very welcome!)

  • RED – for older or more experienced riders getting close to progressing to BD Intro and Prelim level tests. Tests will feature walk, trot and canter, possibly some mounted exercises including work without stirrups, and school movements will start to become more complicated in line with those found in BD Prelim tests. (Approx expected age 10-13 years – but younger entrants are very welcome!)

For the Christmas competition we had a two year old on the lead rein doing the yellow test! I found it lovely to see the wide array of ponies and children entering, and all seeming to have fun. Two competitors who really stood out were brother and sister on their family pony. The sister rode off the lead rein, videoed by Mum and with the test called by Dad. The brother was led by Dad, had his sister calling for the first half of the test, and Mum videoing, with the baby strapped to her chest, and calling the second half of the test when sister got bored (Mum, I salute your multi-tasking abilities!). Anyway, it was really nice to see the competition as such a family affair.

Kids love getting rosettes, regardless of colour (I certainly remember the disappointment when I came home empty handed), so Demi Dressage feels it’s important that every competitor receives a rosette. Each class has rosettes to 6th place, every other child gets a special rosette, and there are extras each month for “Best Fancy Dress” or anything else which we feel needs applauding.

We had great fun judging the videos, making sure we were fair, provided positive and constructive comments, focused on where the children were in their riding, and gave feedback which the children understood. I tried to give each child something to focus on next time, as well as saying what I was impressed with. For example, “try to ride from letter to letter to help improve your accuracy marks”, or “practice your sitting trot to help with your canter transitions”. I was really pleased to hear back from one parent that she was very impressed with the feedback her children had received as it was exactly what they were working on at the time and not “dressage jargon”.

With the focus on making dressage fun for the kids, we’ve put in movements such as Around The World and Half Scissors, going over or between poles, and in March there’s going to be a special one-off Prix Caprilli competition. It will run slightly differently, with only three classes (lead rein, walk and trot, walk,trot and canter) and be open to under sixteens, instead of the usual age limit of thirteen. Rosettes will go to tenth place, and there are prizes to be won! Then in April there will be monthly competitions which will run as an accumulator series, and a champion awarded in September. With a sash! And prizes for all the runners up!

There’s another Demi Dressage competition coming up in February, timed to coincide with the school half terms, and I’m looking forward to judging this test! A lot of kids take a break from riding in the winter, so the test is nice and short to encourage them to get back into it even if it’s just for a week, and involves some fun elements such as Around The World, and dropping carrots on the snowman’s nose. Intrigued? Well borrow a pony and get entering! I would if I could …

So if you have a child, or know of one, who would enjoy this, please introduce them to Demi Dressage and spread the word for this fantastic fledgling of a business. Their Facebook page can be found here!

What’s What?

We all know that an instructor teaches, but have you ever thought of why they charge what they do, and the other hats that they wear?

Firstly, let’s look at the behind the scenes costs an instructor has.

Arena hire – if you go to their yard they need to include wear and tear, and maintenance costs for their arena. Some instructors have a separate fee for arena hire, as this can vary depending on the facilities hired or the number of riders using the facilities.

Petrol costs – if they come out to your yard, you may be saving on arena hire, but it’s amazing how quickly the mileage clocks up when you visit several yards. On your accounts you can claim £0.45 per mile, so if you imagine an instructor has travelled 10 miles to your lesson that costs them £9 in motor costs, because of course they have two journeys. Some instructors have an area or radius of X miles and if they have to travel beyond that they charge petrol money. Other instructors work in different areas on different days of the week, or try and book their work into the most economical blocks, saving on both travel time and travel costs.

Insurance – all instructors should be insured, whether it’s for teaching, or riding, or both. Even if you have your own insurance as a horse owner, as soon as you pay someone to teach you or ride your horse that insurance becomes invalid. Instructor insurance covers the instructor for any accident that happens to them whilst working, any injury to you or your horse under their supervision, and any damage to a third party or property whilst they are riding or teaching. As well as paying a monthly insurance premium, there are also compulsory courses for instructors to attend, such as annual CPD training days, first aid courses, DBS and safeguarding certificates. Of which all adds up.

PPE- horse riding equipment is expensive, as we all know, and being a self employed instructor you have to provide your own PPE, as well as suitable clothes to work in. This can become very expensive, so it’s no wonder so many equestrian professionals wait until there are holes in their boots before replacing them.

Of course there is then time spent, unpaid, preparing for lessons. For many regular clients, it may be thinking of an appropriate exercise from your repertoire, but often you have to spend a bit of time researching new exercises or planning your delivery of a new concept. But you may be investigating alternative tack or preparing a stable management lecture.

I think that pretty much sums up the hidden costs of an equitation instructor. But what about the various hats they don? How do they help you out of the saddle?

Firstly, an instructor is very often your first port of call to discuss anything and everything equine. I spend a surprising amount of time talking to clients, both during lessons, or over text, about things that are not related to their lessons at all.

I’m often asked about feeding. Is the feed the correct energy level for their horse. Should they have hay or haylage? Have I any experience of various supplements and which does their horse need? Has their horse gained weight?

I also get asked about field management; whether the horse should start living in at night, if they should come in during the day out of the sun, how to divide and rest their paddock. What bedding should they use, how to provide water so that their horse can’t tip it over.

Clients also ask me about tack. Does it look like it fits, would a different bit be better, is this the right style girth to buy. Then I’ll also be asked what type of clip they need, if they’ve got the right weight rug on, or do they need a fly rug.

Often I also find I am someone to tell about their week’s riding. Their horse’s behaviour on a hack, or their amazing schooling session, or the fun they had competing. Or perhaps they want to analyse a new behaviour they’ve come across in their horse and see if I can suggest a cause.

Then of course, we talk about the upcoming week. Queries about loading, what to work on before their competition, how to manage or balance their horse’s workload.

I guess you could say that whilst an instructor is primarily employed to educate horse and rider in equitation, they are also a bit of a life coach and agony aunt. Clients go to them for advice about everything equine, and it is the instructors duty to advise where they can, listen when needed, but also to be able to direct the owner to someone who specialises in their problem area. For example, I may be able to tell them that the saddle needs adjusting, and help them find a temporary solution to keep the horse comfortable, but the client needs to book a saddler to fit the saddle long term, and I often need to be able to suggest a couple of suitable professionals for them to contact.

You want to feel that you can contact your instructor “out of hours” so to speak. No, that does not mean late at night! It means you can speak to them outside of lesson times and they will help or support you. For example, I love getting texts from my clients who have been competing, telling me how they’ve got on and sending videos. I also regularly get texts from them telling me how fabulous their schooling session was, or thanking me for giving them the confidence to try new things. Or just telling me how much they appreciate and love their horse!

So yes, there are many hats that an instructor needs to be able to wear, and a plethora of information that they need to have at their fingertips. Remember that as they’re worth their weight in gold, and are most definitely working hard to earn that lesson fee, in ways which aren’t always immediately obvious. Value them!

Half A Hole

You know sometimes your stirrups are slightly uneven? Like one’s half a hole longer. So you shorten it. And then it’s too short. So you end up riding fully aware of the lack of levelness in your stirrups. And then blaming any small error, tension, or crookedness on the fact your stirrups aren’t quite right.

Well. I have a solution. Apart from switching your stirrup leathers regularly so that the shorter one is on the near side. It will stretch as you mount. I was taught this by a colleague in a riding school, where matching stirrup leathers are rarer than saffron!

Get your stirrups as even as you can, and then with the end of the leather, pass it behind the top leather. So that it sits just below the buckle. Then thread the end of the leather through the keeper.

This configuration lies flat against your inner thigh, so doesn’t cause any rubs, and is usually enough to shorten your stirrup length by half a hole. Thus making your stirrups level!

Snow Days

It’s finally hit us, the first snow of winter. Or slush really. It’s not as bad as last year’s Beast From The East, but maybe now is the time to get snow ready at the yard, and create contingency plans.

Firstly, getting some grit to the yard is paramount otherwise you’ll be taking up ice skating instead of horse riding! It’s worth discussing with all the liveries about putting it down; either to prevent it being swept away or to prevent horses or dogs snuffling it up.

Ideally, I’d have a water butt, pre-filled with either rainwater or tap water, so that even with the yard taps frozen, liveries still have access to water. This is particularly useful for the early morning risers. It might also be a good idea, if you are an early bird, to arrange with a stable neighbour who comes at a more civilised time, for them to fill your water buckets in your stable for the night.

If you don’t think your car is tough enough to negotiate the icy lanes to the yard and bad weather is forecast then it’s time to get prepared! Find out if any liveries with an AWD live near you who could give you a lift. Organise with friends so that you all only need do one journey to the yard a day, to reduce the risk of having an accident. Mix some feeds up in advance, and make up some haynets so that if you are stranded and need to call in any favours then it is far easier for friends to sort out your horse. Just be aware you May be looking after their horse while they swan off on their summer holidays! A few years ago I worked at a livery yard when heavy snow hit over lunchtime. I was inundated with calls and texts of panicked liveries trying to come up to put their horse to bed and becoming stuck on the roads. My job was made far easier by those who had prepared night nets and evening feeds when they’d been there in the morning.

Prepare yourself for your horse to have limited turn out and exercise, which may mean cutting back on their hard feeds, or utilising your yard’s walker, and being prepared for a fresh horse when the weather improves, so perhaps lunging them before you get on.

Try and make sure you have sufficient feed and bedding in stock. If the horses are staying in more you’ll use more bedding, and they’ll eat more forage in cold weather. Besides, the last thing you want to worry about is a trip to the tack shop in the snow and ice.

Give yourself more time. You don’t want to be rushing around the ice rink, or jamming on the car brakes at corners. And stay safe by turning your horses out individually instead of a pair, or getting a friend to lead one for you. This morning, for example, I knew once I was off the yard Phoenix and her giant field friend would be fine walking to the field as they’re barefoot and it’s a grass and gravel track so had some grip. However, I was concerned how I’d get Phoenix out because her neighbour was still in and he’s very grumpy in the mornings. I didn’t want him to lunge at either mare, they shoot backwards and slip over. So I asked a friend to lead Phoenix out in a big arc so that she was out of reach of Mr Grumpy. Then, I could easily take the two of them.

Keeping enough coats in your car, plus a torch, food and drink, is really useful in case you get stuck somewhere, but I’m sure the RAC recommend that anyway.

I don’t think there’s much more you can do to prepare yourself for snow days, but if everyone communicates and pulls together all the horses should be fed, watered and happy with no casualties, even if it’s just by the All Wheel Drivers. Who I’m sure will cash in their favours when the summer holidays come!

Newton’s Cradle

I think I’ve blogged this analogy before, but not for some kind and it is one I’m secretly quite proud of.

The engine of the horse is in the hindquarters, and when the energy is created correctly it flows from the hind legs up over the back and out through the front legs.

Now think of a Newton’s cradle. The energy is created from the ball that is lifted away from the others. As it falls and hits the other balls, energy is transferred through those balls and the end ball moves up and away from the rest of the balls. Yes I know it falls back down, but don’t think about that. The horse’s hind legs are like that first ball, and the front legs like the last one. They only move because of the energy created in the hindquarters that is passed through the body. Of course, the better a horse is using their back and working correctly, the more energy that reaches the forelimbs.

Does that make any sense at all?

I find that this analogy is at its most useful when working on shoulder in. So often, I see horses taking themselves across the arena leading with their inside shoulder in a leg yield fashion.

In left leg yield, the right hind steps forward and adducts towards the body to propel the horse sideways. This leg is the first ball in the Newton’s Cradle. Then left foreleg and shoulder abduct away from the body in the direction of movement as a result of energy from the right hind leg being passed through the body. Like the last ball in the Newton’s Cradle.

Depending on the gait you are riding leg yield in, the sequence of the legs will vary, but ultimately by thinking of those two legs in relation to the Newton’s Cradle the rest of leg yield will fall into place and the horse will move across in a straighter, more balanced leg yield.

You can add the rider’s aids into this analogy too, if necessary. Returning to left leg yield; the right leg can be thought of as the first ball on the Newton’s Cradle, instigating the leg yield. Energy travels from this leg aid through the right hind leg, through the barrel of the horse’s body, and out through the left foreleg and the left rein opening to give that leg space to move across akin to the last ball on the Newton’s Cradle.

Hopefully, this analogy helps you understand the correct way a horse generates energy and propels themselves forward, which will improve your horse’s way of going.