Money Saving Expert

After a weekend of tidying up finances – car insurances, phone bills etc – I got thinking of how you can save money, or at least make your money go further, with horses. Who we all know think that we have orchards of money trees.

Here’s a few things that I’ve come up with.

  • Buy in bulk. Last year I bought a pallet of wood pellets in September, at a cheaper price, and kept them in my garage. I took up a few bags to store at the yard every couple of weeks. If I’d ordered a couple of pallets I’d have gotten a better deal. So it’s definitely worth buying bedding and feed in bulk, perhaps share an order with a friend or two in order to qualify for any discounts.
  • Share jobs with friends. Instead of paying livery services, get a rota with friends that you turn each other’s horses out, or dish out breakfasts, which means that as well as saving some money and time, you also save petrol and time in traveling to the yard.
  • Pick the correct livery deal for your lifestyle. If you need more help than favours you can ask, it may be better to be on a part livery yard rather than a DIY yard and paying for individual services. Also, it’s worth weighing up the distance between the yard and your house. If you’re on a part livery deal and only need to travel to the yard once a day then commuting an extra mile or two, to a yard that has a lower monthly charge, may be more cost effective than staying at a yard closer to home yet more expensive.
  • Don’t get too materialistic. It’s really easy to see a new rug, or saddle cloth, and think “oh he’d look nice in that”, or “that will match his boots” … how many saddle cloths do you really need? On a day to day basis, two per saddle is sufficient that you can wash one, or let it dry, and still have one to ride with. Of course, a competition saddle cloth is needed if you compete. In terms of rugs, it’s most cost effective to go with one make of rug and have a turnout rug, with a detachable neck, and liners to increase the thickness of the rug. Two turnouts is probably sensible in case one gets ripped, or it rains heavily. But if the liners are interchangeable between the rugs then you can easily make rugs as warm as necessary without having a huge wardrobe, thus keeping costs down.
  • Plan your purchases so that you know what you need and then you can buy off season, or take advantage of any sales. Like any sales, you do need to check that you are getting a deal.
  • Join forces with friends, and book dentist, physio, saddler appointments to get any discounts, or to save on call out fees.
  • Whilst talking of call out fees, think about when you are going to call the vet. Many vets have zone days, where you can have vaccinations and routine checkups with no call out fee. Apart from the obvious emergencies, sometimes you can end up in a predicament, “do I call the vet?” Or “does this wound need antibiotics?”. At this point, it’s worth speaking to other liveries, or ringing the vet. For example, if you’ve started treating a wound, but it doesn’t seem to be healing as quickly as you’d like, then ask if anyone else is having the vet that day or the following day and if so, it’s worth speaking to the vet to see if you can combine visits. Sometimes it isn’t, because of the welfare of the horse. Likewise if you need a follow up vet visit, a week after treatment for example, then tie in with someone who’s having the vet out in six or eight days time to just save the call out fees.
  • Don’t be afraid of looking for second hand equipment. Often people purchase bits and pieces, yet they don’t fit their horse or don’t suit them. Which means you can pick up quality items at reasonable costs.
  • Work out what jobs you can do yourself, and what jobs need doing professionally. For example, can you wash your saddle cloths and boots yourself by hand and save precious pennies. Some lightweight rugs, like fly rugs or coolers, can go in your washing machine (just pick a day that the other half isn’t around!)
  • Don’t go for the cheapest farrier, or scrimp of saddler visits because it’s far cheaper to prevent a problem than to correct one. Instead, look for the perks like a good manner with your horse or a quick call out time to replace a lost shoe.
  • Shop around for insurances, just as you’d check out the tack sales to make sure you’re getting value for money.
  • Lessons can be expensive, but necessary (of course I’m going to say that!) but riding club clinics are usually good value for money, and if you have a friend who has similar riding aims to you then semi private lessons can reduce your outgoings. Buying lessons in bulk sometimes gives you a discount. Either you get a free lesson, or each lesson is slightly discounted.

So whilst horses are an expensive hobby, there are definitely ways of making your money go further whilst still providing your horse with all their needs.

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No Hands!

One of my little clients has recently mastered her canter seat; instead of the usual bouncing that children do whilst cantering which makes you wish they did homing devices like that for adults.

It brought back a memory from when I was learning to ride, so I decided to recreate the exercise for this confident little rider.

When I was … eight, perhaps or maybe seven … I was learning to canter. My friend had just started learning to ride and we had been promised that she could very soon join my lesson. Which we were very excited about.

At this standard of riding, the canter exercises consisted of the ride lining up on the track at B and individually trotting to A, cantering at the following corner and trotting again at the next corner. Those just learning to canter were led by the older girls, others followed one of the older girls on a pony, and the rest of us did it independently. It was actually a good way of progressing whilst accommodating a variety of abilities and learning speeds.

I was cantering to the rear of the ride on my own, and I remember my instructor being slightly surprised at my sudden ability to sit to the canter. Or at least I assume it was my ability to stay in the saddle while cantering! I think it was partly due to the super smooth grey mare I was riding, who had the nicest most armchair canter.

After I’d cantered twice to the rear, my instructor asked me to take my stirrups away in canter. Which I did. The next time she asked me to keep my stirrups but put one hand out to the side while cantering. The next time, the other hand. Then I had to knot my reins and canter with both hands out to the side. Finally, she also took my stirrups away.

I remember enjoying the challenge and feeling quite important because I’d been singled out to do harder exercises. And also being very pleased with myself for managing it.

At the end of the lesson, I was told I could move up a group (where they did individual trot and canter circles!) but my friend wouldn’t be able to join me. Ever the ambitious, I ditched my friend!

Like my canter seat, the canter seat has clicked with my client, and I decided to test her balance in this week’s lesson. She’s not quite up for cantering without stirrups having only just started to look really secure in her sitting trot work, but I thought I’d take her reins away.

We did a few canters, taking away one hand then the other. Then I showed her how to knot her reins. She looked slightly aghast, concerned about how she’ll steer round the outside. I told her she was allowed to cut corners for this exercise.

It took a couple of times, because her lovely mare isn’t quite riding school programmed, to get canter and manage to get both hands off the reins. But she did it! With a massive grin on her face. In a rather fast canter. We’ll have fun developing this exercise with her!

Our Therapy

I was trying to think of a good lesson I’d done recently to blog about. Well, I like to think that they’re all good, but I was thinking more along the lines of an exercise or concept that I taught which might be of interest to readers.

Unfortunately for you lot I can’t think of a particularly special session. However, this afternoon I had one of those moments which makes me realise the therapeutic effects of horse riding and how we take it for granted.

One of my clients snapped her Achilles’ tendon in the summer and is having a slow rehab due to other complications, so while her mare has been kept ticking over by me and some friends, this lady is obviously getting out of the swing of things.

Being on crutches, for those of you lucky enough never to have used them, can cause all sorts of problems in other areas of your body. Your shoulders and arms stiffen up, you load your good leg leading to pelvic asymmetry and aches, your good knee takes the brunt of the hopping, and your balance goes. Add into it some muscles atrophy, shortened and uneven stride and a lack of confidence in your newly recovered limb, and you can end up feeling really sorry for yourself.

Which is why physio is so important afterwards; to get you using your body correctly again, and also to check the rest of you out for any niggles.

I won’t go into it, but this client has developed a problem in her foot which is likely to be long term and very painful. When I saw her last week she was very down about the prognosis and I’d say probably a bit depressed about the whole situation.

Anyway, she went off to a friend of a friend who specialises in this area (it’s definitely a case of who you know here) last week and came away feeling very positive. This physiotherapist suggested she rode her horse in walk because it was the best way of mobilising the pelvis and was non weight bearing. The physio was also very positive about the outcome.

After I’d lunged the mare today, we put the saddle on, crossed the stirrups over the withers, and using a very high mounting block, my client slid on.

Honestly, just walking around put the biggest smile on her face. Today was her third ride and already she’s feeling the difference. She feels more balanced, sat more centrally, has more movement in her injured leg, and can feel muscles waking up and starting to work correctly. On the ground you can see a difference in her walking (or limping) too, as well as having the more positive and can-do attitude.

We were talking about the RDA, half in jest about being led around and not really “riding”, but also about the freedom and independence it gives disabled people. On another note, have you seen the inspiring video of Angelika Trabert which was doing the rounds on social media last weekend? If she can ride with no legs, there’s no excuse for us mere mortals!

I talked last week about the exercise ball being really useful to find your balance, core and centre of gravity. It’s very similar to sitting astride a horse, but my client couldn’t use an exercise ball because it requires her to have her injured foot to help balance. Which means that horse riding is actually a better form of exercise for her. From on top of her horse she can stretch her legs forwards and back, bring the knees away from the saddle, and do other balancing exercises.

We also talked about the physical therapy benefits, particularly the ones my client was beginning to feel. I can remember hearing a story about a woman who had debilitating MS but after a few sessions of riding she could walk again. It seemed like magic at the time, but I’m sure it was the mobilising effect of the horse’s movement and the desire to get better to feel this independence again.

Of course, there’s the psychological versus physiological debate, but surely if you’re happier with life – e.g. being able to enjoy your horse, or experiencing pain free independence – then you will feel more able to try prescribed physical exercises so will notice more of an improvement in your mobility.

Either way, I thought it was great to see the positive effects on someone in rehab, both psychologically and physically, and it’s a really good advert for horses being used for therapy. After all, we know how much better we feel after a ride or cuddle with our horse.

Grass Reins

What are everyone’s thoughts on grass reins? Or daisy reins, or any other pony restraints? Which are competition-legal, and how should they be fitted?

Recently I saw a blog post on the BHS APC group, discussing grass reins, which got me thinking.

A child’s safety and confidence is paramount when teaching, so within reason, ponies should have tack that prevents misbehaviour. However, the purpose of grass reins, or daisy reins, is to increase the child’s control over the pony, not to force it into an outline or hinder the pony when they are working well.

In the first session on the first day of Pony Club Camp, I’m sure it was within the first five minutes, I requested some form of grass reins for a pony. We were riding on grass, and he kept nosediving for the grass. His rider looked nervous and sat leaning forwards, so every time the pony’s head went down she was almost unseated. I felt that it was counter productive for her to be struggling to hold his head up all week, and that a gadget would be the best support for my rider. The next session, the pony was wearing a daisy rein, and didn’t even attempt to put his head down. It was almost as though the mere presence of the daisy rein was enough to deter him, and my rider gained confidence through the week.

I was surprised to see, on the equipment list of a different pony club, that grass reins were listed underneath bridle and saddle. Are they really that common, and are they seen as an essential piece of equipment?

I’m all for using grass reins or daisy reins (side reins are sometimes seen too, but I think they’re becoming less popular because they sit at ankle height for many small children so there’s a risk of them getting their foot caught in a fall) if necessary, but I do like to see them only used when necessary. Perhaps only at rallies, or in group lessons, or on grass, when the pony is more inclined to be cheeky. I also like them fitted so that they don’t interfere with the pony’s way of going when he’s behaving. For example, the grass reins are slack until the pony snatches his head, either to graze, to try to unseat the rider, or to evade the wobbly hands. I hate seeing ponies with their heads tied in, particularly show ponies, and I think that sometimes having gadgets too restrictive causes other behavioural problems, such as the pony not going forwards or shaking their head.

Can you use grass reins for jumping? This was the question posed by one instructor. It seemed the general consensus, which I agree with, is that if the reins are fitted correctly, i.e. not restricting the pony’s head then they can be used for jumping because the height that kids who require grass reins should be jumping is not much more than raised trotting poles and the ponies don’t jump as such, rather make an exaggerated stride over them. I will add, that if a child is ready to start jumping bigger then their position should be secure enough that their hands don’t cause the pony to snatch on the reins (like many do when their mouths are used for balancing on) and their upper body secure enough that it isn’t pulled forward when the pony snatches, or they are strong enough in their core to prevent a pony from putting his head down to graze. So if a child is jumping more than a few inches whilst still wearing grass reins, either the grass reins need removing or the basics revised with the rider on the flat.

Another instructor asked what form or daisy reins or grass reins were permitted in competitions. Affiliated, none except for Pony Club mounted games, where the are fitted from the D-ring, through the bit ring, over the poll, and through the bit ring to the D ring on the opposite side. I guess in unaffiliated competitions it is at the judges discretion. You won’t see any gadgets in the show ring (the warm up is a different matter!) and probably not the dressage arena, but I think if I was judging kids on grass I’d permit correctly fitted daisy reins purely for safety reasons. In the showjumping arena, again the judge may permit it in the lead rein or mini classes for the reason that the ponies aren’t really jumping, and if it keeps a child safer then it can only be a good thing. After all, you want to encourage the little riders.

When fitting grass reins, you can either fit them so that they connect each side of the bit via the poll, as in the mounted games rules, or under the chin. I think I prefer going under the chin because a pony is more likely to snatch their head downwards, and putting pressure on the poll with the grass reins will accentuate that. However, when used with a single jointed bit, the nutcracker action may become too severe for some ponies. Which is why it’s worth experimenting with different types of gadgets, because there are hundreds of variations from the classic daisy rein or webbing grass rein, and their fitting options, to make sure that they only come into effect when the pony’s behaviour is deviating from acceptable, and that the pony doesn’t react in an untoward way to their action, nor is the fitting of the rest of the tack hindered – for example, I once saw a rotund pony wearing a daisy rein and crupper. The daisy rein caused the saddle to pitch forwards, so the crupper was needed to counteract this!

Starting Groundwork

I bought a book about schooling in hand a couple of weeks ago; the reason behind it is obvious now, and last week I started putting the theory to the test.

With the mare I lunged, who can be a bit stuffy and reluctant to use her hind legs efficiently, I warmed her up on the lunge in side reins, establishing the rhythm and getting her to trot with impulsion.

After a canter to help improve the impulsion and length of stride, I brought her back to walk and began playing with the inhand work.

Initially I just worked on getting the mare to halt and walk on when asked. It’s a simple concept, but it’s worth checking that you and the horse have a mutual understanding to begin with. It took a couple of goes for her to instantly stop when I stopped, and to wait until I walked on.

Next up, was some turn on the forehand. Once the mare was standing still, I stood near her near shoulders facing her quarters. I flexed her neck towards me with my left hand, and with the right hand tapped her left hind leg, just above the fetlock, lightly with the schooling whip whilst saying “round”. She lifted that leg in response to the tap and brought it slightly under her tummy.

Placing her hindleg under her body caused her to bring her right hind forwards and out, so swinging her quarters around her forehand. We’ve done this movement under saddle, so the mare is familiar with the procedure, but I felt it was important to work on things that she was confident with so that she could transition smoothly between work under saddle and work in hand.

As soon as I had a quarter turn on the forehand, we walked straight on and I patted her. We repeated the exercise a couple more times until she moved evenly and with bigger, more confident steps. Then I sent her out on the lunge in trot. The turn on the forehand had an instant effect, because the inside hind leg was more active in this trot.

After repeating turn on the forehand on the other rein, I kept her trotting on the lunge whilst spiralling her in and out. In a similar way to the turn on the forehand, the inside hind leg had to adduct to the body on the leg yield out, so improving the suppleness and strength of it.

With the mare looking a lot looser and working over her back, I decided to take a look at the rein back in hand. We do it under saddle, but this mare isn’t always very giving over her back as she steps back, so it would be interesting to see her rein back from the ground.

Because of her resistance to the rein back, I wanted to remove any rein aids. The lunge line was attached to the centre ring of the cavesson, so using that to help push her back will cause her to step back crookedly. Instead, I deviated from the book, and placed the schooling whip horizontally across her chest. Rocking the whip gently, so it pushed first her left shoulder then her right shoulder, so easily encouraging her to take symmetrical steps backwards. My right hand could tilt the whip so my left hand could keep the head straight. Because of the lack of pressure on her head, she relaxed into the movement and started shifting her weight onto her hindquarters and lifting her back as she went.

A quick trot on the lunge to find the forwards gear, and we tried again, this time she was more responsive to the pressure on her shoulders and took bigger strides backwards.

I wanted to progress to leg yielding against the wall, but when I started leading her, positioning myself by her shoulder, facing the quarters, left hand near the left side of her head and right holding the schooling whip, the mare rushed her walk and got tense. Obviously walking like this was strange to her, so I settled for just practicing the walk and halt transitions against the wall, with my body in the new position. When she accepts this and relaxes I’ll introduce the lateral work.

To finish the session, I did some walk on a small circle on the lunge, asking with the lunge whip for her haunches to move out on a bigger circle almost a shoulder in on the circle. So continuing the theme of the inside hind leg moving forwards and under the body. The side reins supported her shoulders so she couldn’t fall out through the outside shoulder. A few strides of this and then we had this fab, bouncy trot – she looked like she was floating! Again, I repeated this on the other rein before finishing our session.

I felt we’d covered a lot of different things, but as the movements are all in her repertoire, albeit under saddle, there wasn’t too much new information for her to process, just the concept of me standing on the ground. I could see how the in hand work improved her suppleness, which will help her ridden work.

And once I’ve read the next chapter, I’ll have a play at those exercises. You’ll have to wait for the next installment.

A Long Overdue Update on Matt

Matt’s story has all been very quiet since he fractured his stifle and had a trip to hospital, but last week he had his second lot of X-rays so I thought you might like to hear how he’s getting on.

I think I said in my original post – Which you can read here – that Matt was never very good at being stabled, particularly if his neighbours have been turned out and it’s a nice day. Middle of winter with all his mates in and he’s perfectly content.

Mum got organised whilst Matt was in hospital and ordered a calming feed, which seemed to have every calming herb under the sun in it. Matt’s been on this since he arrived home, and after a couple of days did start to settle down. Now he either got used to his new routine or the feed for into his system – who knows! Anyway, we’re sticking with the feed because it’s not worth taking the risk of him becoming stressed again.

Like I said, it took him a couple of days to settle into the routine, but he was still quite fragile, and easily upset when he saw other horses. He’s been in his usual stable, which is at the end of a barn, so he can’t see a huge amount. Textbook guidelines for box resting horses say that horses will be happiest in a quiet corner of the yard where they have activity to observe. However I think this is a case of knowing the horse, and doing what’s best for them. Matt doesn’t like seeing horses leaving him, so putting him out on the yard where he sees them coming in and out from the field will only cause him to box walk frantically, so I think the right decision was made to stop him seeing too much.

Obviously without visual stimulation to occupy him, there’s a higher risk of stable vices developing but Mum and her friends have been quite ingenuous in providing in-stable entertainment for Matt. Thankfully he’s never been prone to getting overweight, so he can have ad lib hay to graze through the day. Carrots have been hidden in his hay to encourage him to forage and eat. Matt also seems to like hazel twigs hung up, and soon strips them of all their leaves.

Between his long grooming sessions, clicker training, hanging likits and treat balls, his days are surprisingly busy. He also has a constant companion now because another horse is on box rest, which is also helping to settle both geldings.

Six weeks after his injury, Matt had more X-rays. This was to check the healing progress, and to see if he can start being walked out in week eight.

There was good news and bad news. Firstly, the fracture is healing well. Unfortunately, the fracture was worse than the original X-rays showed. Due to the large haematoma over the fracture site initially, the X-ray showed some faint lines spreading from the fracture. The vet wasn’t sure if they were diffractions from the haematoma, but on last week’s X-rays it’s clear that they were hairline fractures. This means that Matt’s box rest has been extended by a month, and he will have more X-rays in four weeks time, to see if he can start being walked in hand at twelve weeks. It’s a shame, but it could be worse and now the box rest routine is established it’s straightforward to extend it.

The first X-ray is from the time of the injury, and was taken at the surgery with the large X-ray plate on the outside of his leg, and the second image was taken six weeks post injury, but with the plate held between his legs as the portable X-ray machine was used at the yard. Hopefully you can see the fracture site clearly.

Matt has also had his shoes carefully removed because the fracture is stable enough that his leg can be flexed enough for the farrier to remove his shoes but he will stay barefoot now until he is ready to go out.