White Line Disease

One of my client’s poor pony is suffering from white line disease. We think it’s been a long time brewing because each time the pony has been trimmed by the farrier he’s been footsore for a few days. Anyway, what seemed to be an abscess a couple of months ago didn’t clear up and then the vet diagnosed white line disease. A new farrier later, and he’s making progress. Unfortunately, due to the rate of growth in the hoof, any problems with the hoof wall takes months to recover.

I don’t know much about white line disease, so I’ve done some reading up on it. When you pick up the foot, you can see the white line where there sole meets the outer hoof wall. Damage to this area allows fungus and bacteria to get between the sole and hoof wall, which causes them to separate. Infection then spreads up the hoof towards the coronet band, destroying the hoof wall and making the horse very lame. White line disease usually affects the toe and quarters of the hoof. As the hoof deteriorates it takes on a chalky, crumbly, soft, white texture.

There are numerous different types of fungi which can be involved in white line disease, which makes treatment harder, especially as some spores cannot be eradicated, which means that some types of white line disease cannot he treated, only managed.

Because the hoof wall is made of dead cells, like our finger nails, the damaged area cannot regrow as skin would around a wound. Instead new, healthy hoof has to grow down from the coronet band which can take up to six months. Which is why you can see ridges on hoof walls following a change in diet or health.

White line disease sets in if the hoof wall is weakened, or if the hoof wall starts to separate from the laminae due to poor trimming and balancing of the foot. It begins with small cavities in the hoof wall, or seedy toe, which a good farrier should pick up on and take appropriate steps to prevent the disease spreading.

Farriers will shoe horses with white line disease with bevelled shoes to bring the breakover point further under the foot which takes the pressure off the toe area, and supports the compromised area. Shod horses are more likely to develop white line disease because of the mechanical pressure of the metal shoe against the hoof wall can literally tear the hoof wall away from the foot.

Treatment of white line disease involves removing the infected hoof wall, and then keeping the area as clean as possible. Horses usually need box rest, especially if lame, and to keep the foot as clean as possible, using an iodine or alternative solution. Once healing is established and the ground conditions are favourable – dry and mud free – the horse can begin light work because movement improves circulation and increase hoof growth.

There is a risk of laminitis developing as a secondary infection if a lot of the hoof wall is debrided and the bones of the hoof are less supposed so the laminae becomes detached. By supporting the bars and frog of the shoe you can reduce the risk of laminitis developing.

Caught early, white line disease is easily managed, but in more severe cases special shoes, boots or cast are needed for several months in order to provide enough support to the structure of the hoof while the healthy hoof grows down. Farriers measure the lesion upon treatment so that the next time they trim the foot they can establish if the rate of hoof growth is exceeding the tearing of the hoof wall. If this is the case then the hoof will recover as long as it’s kept free from further infection by keeping it disinfected, dry and open to the air to discourage the fungi from thriving.

You can try to prevent the onset of white line disease by feeding biotin containing supplements to improve the quality of the hoof wall, and having the hooves trimmed and well-balanced regularly. The farrier should keep an eye on old nail holes, old abscess sites and quarter cracks. Other than that, good hoof hygiene and care is paramount at preventing white line disease, and catching it early. Horses kept in a more artificial environment – stabled with less turnout – and those in extreme conditions (very wet or very arid) are often more prone to developing white line disease.


The Two Loop Serpentine

There’s a movement that comes up frequently in both prelim and novice dressage tests which I really like. I like how is seems comparatively straightforward, but in order to score well you need to perfect several elements. I also like how it can be used to develop horse and rider in terms of rhythm, suppleness and balance.

It’s effectively a two loop serpentine, but is described in tests as “C half twenty metre circle right to X. X half twenty metre circle left to A.” Or starting at A, or on the left rein.

At prelim level, the movement is carried out in working trot. The judge is looking for the circles to be of an even size, so checking suppleness. For the trot to stay in a consistent rhythm, and for the change of bend to be smooth and balanced.

Initially when I use this exercise with riders, I get them to spend several strides over X changing the bend. A common mistake is that people lurch from the right circle to the left circle at X, which inevitably means the second circle lacks quality. By ensuring that the change of bend is balanced over a few straight strides we improve the suppleness of the horse, and the rider learns to prepare and execute the change of bend fluently, as well as riding accurately over X. Then we reduce the number of straight strides over X as the horse becomes more balanced and understands the exercise until the change of bend is done in literally two strides or less, and the horse passes over X as so often riders miss it because they haven’t ridden an accurate first half circle.

The next step in this exercise is when a test asks for one horses length in walk over X. This means that you have to factor in a transition before and after the change of bend, thus further testing the horse’s balance and suppleness. One horse’s length is 3-5 strides of walk, and the transitions need to be clear so that the walk is a definite four beats. It’s common for the horse to jog in anticipation of trotting again so the judge will mark lower for a loss of clarity in the walk.

Again, when introducing the walk steps to the movement I break it up. We go back to having quite a long straight stretch over X, and initially aim for half a dozen walk strides. This enables the rider to prepare each transition, and to separate each element. Coming off the half circle, they ride the downwards transition, and then change the bend, then ride the upward transition before going onto the second half circle. It’s key to keep the horse in front of the leg, so as soon as the horse is staying balanced into walk with a smooth change of bend, we reduce the number of walk steps. By slowly condensing the movement the horse and rider will be more able to ride it succinctly and fluidly. When practising this movement for a test I’ll quite often vary the number of walk steps so that the horse doesn’t anticipate the upward transition and tense up.

At Novice level, canter is introduced to this movement. In order to change the rein trot is required over X. Here, it is more noticeable if the rider doesn’t establish the new bend because the horse risks striking off onto the wrong lead.

In a similar way to introducing the walk transition, I get my rider to break down the elements and take their time changing the bend and preparing each transition. As the horse’s balance and rider’s preparation improves we reduce the number of trot strides, still focusing on the rhythm of the trot in case the horse tenses or rushes. Eventually, the transitions and change of bend happen almost simultaneously. Only needing one horse’s length of trot over X means that the rider has to be accurate in their transition: there’s no point riding the downward transition too early so you either have more trot strides or you pick up the new canter lead before X. Neither of which are looked favourably on by judges.

So what appears to be quite a simple movement actually requires a lot of preparation and accuracy from the rider. From the horse, they need to be responsive to the aids, supple and balanced through the changes of bend and transition. I think it’s quite a useful movement for assessing a horse’s way of going as well as to check the rider’s understanding of the different aspects of the exercise.

Outgrowing Ponies

It’s inevitable with kids really. They grow. And whilst it’s easy to buy new trousers, and give the outgrown pair to charity, the same cannot be said about ponies.

This is where learning in a riding school has it’s advantages. You get used to riding a variety of horses and can easily be put on one the next size up. However if you loan, own or share your own then the transition can be made all the harder.

One of my clients has been looking a bit leggy on her share pony for the last six months. Far from being too heavy, her legs just resemble Puddleglum’s (Narnia reference for anyone who’s childhood is far forgotten). I mentioned a few months ago about have to consider upgrading from her veteran school master. He’s lovely and a real confidence giver, but with his age and near perfect manners there’s a limit to what she can learn from him now.

I want her to be challenged more, so she isn’t complacent about her riding and learns to think about the horse and begins to influence and improve the way the horse goes rather than just directing them. We’re doing the theory, but it’s hard to put it into practice when her pony is limited by his good manners and expertise.

I suggested she asked around her yard to see if anyone would be willing to let her have a lesson on their horse so that she got a feel for riding taller, thinner, wider, faster, slower horses which means that she’s in a better position to find a share horse and to transition successfully.

But it’s very hard to find the right horse to try. Going from your ultimate schoolmaster, you need a bigger (but not too big) horse, who will tolerate a slightly heavier leg aid and not take the mickey if she makes a mistake or isn’t clear enough in her aids. Yet can be geed up and give her something to think about in her riding.

With me stopping work in a couple of weeks, I thought we’d better get the plan put into motion. One of my friends keeps her Connemara at that yard, so I asked her if he would be suitable to try, if she was willing to offer him, or if she could suggest a horse.

She told me a bit about him and offered him for a lesson. He’s six or seven, can be cheeky over jumps but on the flat works fairly quietly, although can have a bit of a spook. And is a hand bigger than my client’s pony, so not too much of a leap up. I decided that he was our best option, and with my rider getting increasingly nervous about riding an unknown horse, I knew we had to just get it over and done with, before she could mull over the idea.

First off, my client realised that she needed to be a bit more awake on the ground – no more daydreaming as she leads in from the field because this Connemara will stop for a cheeky snack of grass. Once tacked up, she mounted in the school.

She had gone mute, with nerves, so I got her to walk round the edge of the arena and to tell me her thoughts of him so far: how his size compared to her pony’s, how the walk felt, could she feel any tension in his neck, was he focusing on her or the dog walker on the far side of the field? As she started thinking and talking, she relaxed and so did the Connemara. After all, he was probably wondering who on Earth we were and where his Mum was!

We then started looking at his controls.

I used the analogy of cars to my rider, even though she can’t drive I think she can still appreciate the theory. Her pony is like a corsa. This horse is an upgrade … perhaps a golf or something (can you tell cars aren’t my strong point?). Some horses can be Ferraris. I told my rider that she wouldn’t need as strong an aid on this pony, but as we didn’t know the precise level of squeeze, it would be best to apply a Ferrari light aid, and if nothing happened then progress to a BMW level aid, and so forth until she got the response she wanted. It’s like learning to balance the clutch and accelerator on a new car.

In the walk we did some transitions to halt and back into walk, before some changes of rein and circles so that she could get the feel for him and felt more confident.

Progressing into the trot, I reminded her about the importance of preparation – her biggest complacency with her schoolmaster is that she’ll kick for trot then half a dozen strides later organise her reins. Once she was organised we went through the lightest aid, which didn’t get a response, to a firmer squeeze which did propel them into a steady trot.

I let her trot around a couple of times to get the feel for him, before getting her to assess and describe the trot in relation to her pony. This horse was bouncier, bigger striding and more energetic. Once she’d ridden some circles I got her to ride some serpentines, which highlighted to her how she needs to prepare a little earlier because he’s younger, slightly greener, and a bigger moving animal.

Then I addressed the fact that this horse was easily distracted. So far, I’d overcome the issue by telling her to ride a transition or school movement. I drew my rider’s attention to how the ears were pointing, and any turning to the outside as the horse looked off into the distance. Then I told her to try to be more aware of his body language, and if she felt he had lost focus, then she should draw him back into the arena by asking him to do something, such as a transition or circle so that he had to think about what she wanted him to do. I then got her to do some independent riding – choosing her own movements and changes of rein – to check that she was starting to think about the horse and how he was going.

They got the hang of the trot fairly quickly. I didn’t do too much about the quality of the trot and how to improve it, but I did make her aware of the fact that a younger horse needs reminding more frequently than a schoolmaster of the tempo, rhythm and not cutting corners, so she needed to stay on the ball about that too.

Towards the end of the lesson I suggested we tried a canter. Again, I checked she was preparing, and used the light aids until he reacted, although she was getting a feel for him now and almost immediately got canter. In the canter, this horse did try to fall in on the left rein, but after reminding my rider that he wasn’t remote control and she wasn’t a passenger, she managed to used her inside leg and outside rein to keep him going large. They had a couple of sloppy downward transitions when they fell into trot, which was largely to do with the fact that the horse needed a little more riding in the canter to maintain his balance and rhythm which my rider hadn’t quite mastered. It wasn’t bad though, and she did start to feel when he was about to fall into trot, so corrected him a couple of times.

The right rein was more interesting. Basically, the horse heard something in the distance and just cantered a bit faster, which caused my rider to clamp a bit with her legs, which didn’t decrease the speed. However, she remained calm and reacted to my instructions about dropping the heel, relaxing her calves, sitting up and half halting. Obviously I made her have another canter, which went much more smoothly and the important part was that she understood why he had cantered a bit faster and the effect she had on him and what to do next time.

All in all, it was a very useful lesson. My rider has come away with an awareness of how she needs to improve in order to upgrade from her corsa; she had a good experience so hopefully now feels more confident about trying another horse, and will hopefully get another couple of offers from other liveries there. The downside? She’s fallen in love with the Connemara!

In the meantime, I need to find another couple of horses for her to try before I get too fat to go to work.


Being A Green Equestrian

Thanks to David Attenborough and his Blue Planet TV programme about, well the planet, we are all suddenly far more conscious of how much plastic we use, what we throw away and the effects it has on the environment.

A friend suggested that I wrote a blog all about being environmentally friendly with horses as she was finding it very difficult to be “green”.

If I’m honest, it’s not something I’d really thought about, but now I have considered it for a few days I’ve realised that actually horse owners do generate a lot of plastic waste.

Let’s start with feed. The majority of feed comes in plastic sacks. Firstly, what do you do with your empty bags? You can reuse them for bin bags at the yard, for collecting manure for the garden perhaps. We used to use an old feed bag to collect the string from bales, and to gather up the loose hay and straw from the granary floor to use as bedding and hay in the field towards the end of the winter when the store was being depleted. How many yards recycle? I mean, do they have separate bins for plastic and paper? I know one yard which has separate bins, but this does take up a lot of space on the yard and I’m not sure how easy it is to recycle such large quantities with the council and tip taxes.

Some feed companies use paper bags, but you are limited to the type of feed you can use paper bags for. It would be interesting to know too, as the inner lining of the paper bags is coated in something, whether the paper bags are 100% recyclable or not.

One feed company in the UK, Chestnut Feeds, offer a bulk bin service, which is a system suited to bigger yards or those with multiple horses. Full bins are delivered to you, and empty ones collected to be cleaned and refilled by the company. Whilst this set up wouldn’t suit one horse owners, or those with good doers, it does cut down on plastic bag usage. Perhaps other feed companies should explore this idea, especially with everyone so plastic conscious at the moment.

Feed supplements usually come in hard plastic tubs. A couple of years ago I had to collect used ones for the Chauffeur, who used them to organise his shed – it must be the most organised man cave in the UK! Some companies provide “refill bags” which cuts down on the hard plastic being thrown away.

The next biggest producer of plastic waste is bedding. Or more precisely, non-straw bedding. These tend to come in vacuum packed plastic wrapping which we throw away immediately. How can we cut down on the use of plastic in this area? The obvious answer is to use straw, but it’s not always the most logistical to use and horses with dust allergies should avoid it. I guess manufacturers have already established the most economical size of bale, in terms of weight guidelines, dimensions, cost and storage. Is there any scope for large yards to buy wood pellets or shavings in reusable bags or bins? If I’m honest, I’m a bit stumped in this area. I’m sure an innovator could come up with an answer that would at least encourage recycling or reduce the plastic waste.

Haylage is another guilty party. Sometimes the quantity of plastic wrapping around a bale is extortionate, but there’s no obvious way of reusing the plastic around the yard.

Apart from these uses of plastic, there is the general plastic packaging on items in the tack shops, but hopefully with an increased awareness of the effect of plastic and new regulations under discussion we should see a reduction in that area. Already we can buy things like grooming brushes, stud kits etc without any packaging so hopefully we’ll see naked haynets for sale soon rather than being wrapped in plastic.

I think equestrians otherwise are quite good at recycling equipment, using it until it is defunct, and generally hoarding it “just in case”. Think of those holey haynets that you’ve repaired with balling twine. Or the rugs which are more patch than rug. Or the worn reins which would do in an emergency if your horse snapped his current ones (although why we need five pairs of “what if” reins, who knows!). And what about that Trigger’s Broom on the yard, which has had more new heads than we’ve had hot dinners on time, and has some vetwrap covering the crack in the handle. Or the numerous odd overreach boots, on standby for when one breaks or is discarded in the field.

There’s always people selling second hand tack and rugs on eBay and Facebook, which proves that even once we’re finished with something then someone else will happily continue to utilise them.

Even our clothes have long, hard lives. I have various nice hoodies which once they’ve become worn – or I’ve bleached the sleeves whilst being a domestic goddess – they get demoted to yard clothes. Then the yard clothes are used until the hole at the cuff has extended to completely remove the cuff, and my socks are more hole than material. How many of you wear your wellies until water and mud flow freely in through the holes, soaking your feet up to your ankles?

In answer to my friend’s question, in terms of plastic usage us equestrians are pretty wasteful and it would be good to see yards incorporating recycling bins to their waste disposal policy, and for manufacturers to consider methods to reduce the amount of plastic generated. However, in terms of getting our money’s worth and using our other equipment and accessories, or recycling them to other users, we are pretty good at keeping our waste to a minimum.

If anyone has any suggestions for cutting down plastic waste, please share. And perhaps we can work with feed and bedding companies to find a solution to the plastic problem.


Long in the Back

Kids can often ask the most random questions, or come up with the oddest statements. There’s actually been a lot of thought behind them, but the logic can take you by surprise. Which is partly why I like teaching kids and teenagers. It keeps me on my toes.

A few weeks ago one of my young clients stated, halfway through her lesson, “that horse has got a really long back”. She pointed to another livery working at the other end of the school.

Now, it’s very easy to quote your own opinion and air your views, but I don’t think that’s the right approach to encourage intelligent learning or the ability to analyse and develop own ideas and beliefs.

Also, I don’t want the horse’s owner to feel that I’m insulting their horse in any shape or form!

So I tried to provide a balanced argument for whether long backs are good or bad, and then I left it to my rider to decide whether the horse in question actually does have a long back or whether it’s a bit of an illusion with the tack.

  • Mares usually have longer backs than stallions or geldings, to better enable them to bear foals.
  • Horses with longer backs are often seen as being weaker because the muscles supporting the vertebrae are longer. Horses with long backs are associated with having weak loins.
  • More time is needed to be spent developing and maintaining the topline of a horse with a long back.
  • Horses with longer backs can find it hard to engage their hind legs and collect because the hindquarters is further away from the forehand and so the back muscles and abdominals need to be stronger.
  • Horses with shorter backs can often be more agile and change direction quickly and easily, for example on the polo field or when barrel racing.
  • A longer back is more flexible than a shorter back.
  • Shorter backed horses can develop spinal arthritis if their back becomes too stiff and rigid, which will affect their performance by their stride being shortened and becoming inelastic.
  • A horse who is shorter in the back will struggle to flex their spine over jumps and so will jump with a flat technique rather than a rounded bascule.
  • Horses with short backs can be more liable to overreaching or forging because the hind legs are closer to the forelegs so are more likely to over step. On the other hand, long backed horses can be speedy cutters when working at speed.
  • Horses with long backs usually find it easier to perform flying changes, and give a more comfortable ride because there is less movement in the back.

There are pros and cons to excessively long or short backs, but ultimately some disciplines will favour backs that sit towards one end of the scale or the other, and when a rider, owner, or trainer studies a horse they should take into account the back conformation and adjust their training time frame and exercises to make the most of the horse’s body, and reduce the risk of injury. For example, if someone came to me with a long backed horse who they wanted to do general riding club activities with, then I would tailor lessons and help the owner to work on developing and then maintains core strength through lunging, polework and other school exercises so that both horse and rider can enjoy a long, active partnership.


Low, Deep and Round

It was good to see this statement from the BHS bigwigs about the importance of seeing the full picture before castigating riders.

Yes I know, rolkur is an issue and should not be permitted or encouraged in anyway. But so often you see photos of professionals, dressage riders in particular, being slated because the horse is behind the vertical or tight in the neck.

We’ve all had those horrendous photos taken, where you’re making a face, or look fat because it’s the wrong angle or whatever other sensitive issue you may have. A photo is a moment in time and can just as easily show off a horse at their worst, than at their best. I just wish the keyboard warriors would firstly accept that professionals competing at a high standard, such as Olympia, deserve some respect and are probably significantly better horsemen than the said warriors. Also, keyboard warriors should look at the whole situation and use their own brain to analyse whether the horse is being incorrectly ridden, or if the photo captured them at the wrong moment.

The media can also be to blame. A negative photo that is sensationalised sells magazines far more than a standard photo of good riding.

I remember being told that the head and neck are the last thing to fall into place when training a horse. I think I blogged recently about it … Not so much about the subject itself, but rather how the frame of a horse will alter through training.

Anyway, I always teach my clients about riding to the steady contact and working on what the hind legs and body are doing, rather than the head. Then the head takes care of itself. Sometimes I’ll say that the horse is dropping behind the vertical, or their poll is getting too low, but we then correct them by putting in some impulsion, or correcting the hand carriage. Whatever needs to be done to help the horse regain self carriage.

I have a couple of clients who, with a photo taken at the wrong moment would have a horse behind the vertical. And it’s most definitely not from them being restrictive with their hands and riding badly. One pony gets tense and finds it hard to maintain a consistent contact, so tucks his nose back, looking behind the bit and tight in the neck. Once he’s found the contact, his rider just squeezes the legs to encourage him to step out towards the contact and then he lengthens his neck and corrects his head.

Another horse often goes poll low, and that’s where she lacks impulsion and is conformationally built a bit on the forehand. As soon as she starts to drop down and onto the forehand we ride some transitions and input impulsion to activate her hindquarters so she comes up off the forehand, creating a much prettier and more correct picture.

The youngster I’m working with at the moment spends most of his time above the bridle, but we are focusing on rhythm to the trot, steering and suppling him, and ensuring he holds a steady and even rein contact. His head carriage, whilst more accepted than being behind the vertical, will improve as he establishes his balance and learns to maintain it.

The weak horse in the blog I’ve linked to, is now much stronger, and is starting to carry herself better, and is learning to stretch in the trot, and free walk on a long rein, so presents a far more correct frame, but when she gets tired, or loses her balance she still has moments of dropping behind the vertical as she momentarily balances on her rider’s hand before carrying herself again.

I think it’s so important for coaches to understand, and to explain to riders the importance or the studying the whole package of riding, and how the horse’s stage of training and physical appearance will affect their ability to carry their nose on the vertical with their poll at the highest point, before judging others and when planning their own training and improvement.


Developing Straightness

One pony I`ve been teaching with lacks straightness. I`ve been working on the flat with his rider to develop her awareness of his tendency to curl to the left and drift through the right shoulder. She`s been working hard on ensuring her right rein is supporting the right shoulder, and not being too mobile or slack that he can push through it. We`ve also just started doing some leg yield so that she can straighten him up this way and get him more receptive to the right leg. This crookedness comes through in their jumping, which I noticed last lesson so wanted to address this week.

We started with a simple cross pole and approached from both canter leads. Last time he drifted right through the grid regardless of the canter lead he was on, but it was more severe from the left rein. Interestingly, with the cross they stayed pretty straight before, over and after the jump. I think this is because the centre of the cross guided them to the middle, and as it was also well within his comfort zone he could manage to jump it without twisting. So I made the fence into an upright of about 80cm. At this point, he suddenly started drifting on the approach and as he folding his front legs over the jump, he took them to the right, so dropping his left shoulder a bit. My rider could feel the  crookedness now.

At this point I suggested that she had his back checked after Christmas because whilst he was managing his daily routine, now that she was jumping a bit bigger and working him that much harder on the flat, we needed to make sure he was comfortable so that we got the best out of him, and he didn`t resort to naughty behaviour because of pain. Ensuring he`s physiologically aligned will also limit the chance of injury because he will not be over stressing an area of his body.

I wanted to work on the straightness of the three phases – approach, bascule and getaway – but in order to help both pony and rider they needed a visual guide.  Slowly, I built in some tramlines to guide their eyes. I began with two poles perpendicular to the fence, a stride after landing. Initially, the poles were very wide, and once the pony had jumped the fence without backing off to oogle at the poles, I rolled them in a bit. Then I added similar tramlines in the stride before the fence, rolling them in as he got used to them.

Because the pony tends to drift over the fence as well as on the approach and getaway, it`s important that the poles are close enough to the jump to influence the line he takes, yet not too close that he risks landing on them. Whilst my rider still had to work on keeping her pony straight on the approach, the tramlines gave her a good guide and she could keep him straight for them. Then the tramlines took care of his straightness on take off, in the air, and on landing, The getaway poles gave my rider chance to regroup and continue riding straight rather than having to correct the drift.

After a few times jumping the jump from both reins the pony was really starting to use himself well. He was folding his legs up to his chest, not to the side, which caused him to bascule more and where he was straight on take off he was pinging efficiently over the fence.

I added in another fence, with multiple jumping efforts the pony would be more likely to drift.  I didn`t put tramlines on the approach to the first fence, leaving it to my rider to channel him straight. From the left rein, she found she really had to work hard to bring his right shoulder around the turn and she almost had to leg yield him to the left out of the corner to get him straight. From the right rein she just had to maintain the diagonal aids of left rein and right leg to prevent the drifting on the approach.

When my rider managed to set her pony up so he met the first jump straight, he then basculed properly, and straight with his forelimbs, before landing and taking a lovely canter stride to meet the second fence nicely. Another straight bascule, and then a straight getaway.

Can you remember Pythagoras` Theorem? About the square of the hypotenuse of a triangle being the sum of the square of the other two sides? Where this pony drifts over fences, he then rides a diagonal line through combinations. This line is the hypotenuse, and because it is longer than the perpendicular path between the fences, it becomes a longer distance for him to navigate so he will either struggle to make the distance with the correct number of strides and take a long jump over the second element, or he will chip in and jump the second fence very short and steep. In this double, the pony found the distance perfect because he was taking the most efficient line between them, and that meant that he could give a much cleaner, more efficient pop over each jump.

Together with having a physio session, I hope that this straightness work helps this pony learn to use his body in the most efficient way, develops muscle symmetry, and enables him to tackle bigger and more complex jumping questions with ease. For my rider, she now has the feeling of being straight at all times when jumping so is better able to correct her pony when he starts to drift, and she will also pick up on the crookedness earlier. Her work on the flat will help hugely too because they will both get used to working straight.

It`s a shame I didn’t video the pair before and after, because the difference was incredible, and very obvious from my position at the end of the school facing the exercise. But I was too busy teaching to multi-task!


Kids And Ponies

I have this funniest little boy to teach at the moment, but I thought I’d share some of the anecdotes from our lessons. He’s enjoying himself, and does make me smile as he rides.

This boy has been recently diagnosed as autistic. Which is partly why he’s starting riding; to give him a focus and help him learn to empathise with others. The fact that he’s autistic doesn’t affect what I will teach him, (in fact, I haven’t noticed any difference in his behaviour from other five year olds) but it can affect the explanations I will use, or the way I plan the lesson, so it’s useful to know. It doesn’t strike me as a disability in any way, but it’s important for me to know so that I can tailor my approach to get the best out of my little rider so that he enjoys his lessons.

Before our first lesson, I was introduced to his share pony who was “so lovely she has a heart on her bottom” as he hugged her clipped haunches. The pony is an angel, a quiet school mistress who is ideal to learn the ropes with.

I started in walk, putting him at ease, and then started gauging how confident my rider was. He struck me as being very cautious – holding on tightly and being worried about falling off. So I made a game out of it.

“Can you put one hand on your head while I count to ten?” He readily tried this, and I hoped the numerical aspect would appeal to him. We’ve progressed to both hands on his head, and picking a number to count to – hopefully a bigger number each time. Today, he told me the number ten. So I counted to nine, and then eleven and after I reached thirty I said “ten”. To which my rider sighed with relief and took his hands off his head, pleased that he had won the game. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll fall for that trick though!

With my little rider more secure in the saddle we moved on to steering. Which has been very amusing to bystanders.

Keeping it simple, he had to say “walk on” to his pony and give a little kick with both legs. Which he managed, using a very clear voice.

Then to halt, he had to say “stand” and bring both hands back to his tummy gently. We practiced these two, and he was getting quite confident about doing the two transitions and giving the correct aids.

So I moved on to turning left and right. I explained that to turn right he had to look right and bring his right hand back to his tummy whilst giving a little kick. And vice versa to go left. I kept it simple so that he could understand it as we can build on the aids once he’s got the basics.

However, my instructions have now turned into “turn right!” Cried loudly to his pony accompanied by a steering wheel style turn with the hands. Each time we turned left or right there was a loud instruction, much to the amusement of any liveries sharing the school and an excellent impression of a rally driver going through a chicane.

At the moment I’m still working on my rider differentiating between the different aids for left, right, start and stop because he gets a bit muddled when we mix up the transitions and turns. But we’ll keep plugging away at it, practising each one individually until he’s sussed the aids and then hopefully I can start to make things more interesting.

In between our steering practice, we’ve also been trotting on the lunge. I led him for a couple of weeks until I was sure he wasn’t going to wobble, and then I popped the pony on the lunge. Sitting trot whilst holding on to the saddle is pretty much established, and this week I was pleased to see him getting his rising trot for a couple of strides at a time. We’ll carry on building this up until the rising is established, and then we can start letting go with the hands.

This week we had a superman moment. One of those moments when you aren’t quite sure what happened or how you got there. We’d trotted on the lunge, and were now walking. I started approaching the pony, gathering up the lead, who stood still. Suddenly, my little rider was lying forwards up his pony’s neck with his legs up over her back with a very surprised expression on his face! I helped him back into the saddle, and he was still confused how he had flipped forward into a superman pose. Me too – I guess it was a loss of concentration and muscle use. But I’ll need to keep an eye on him in future lessons and be ready to catch!

There are mirrors on one side of the school, and I quite often catch him admiring himself and his pony in the mirrors, so perhaps he was looking at the mirror when he mimicked superman.

My plan for future lessons is all about improving balance, getting him removing and replacing his feet in his stirrups, standing up out of his stirrups, holding his hands out to the side, touching his pony’s ears and tail, Round the World, and as many other exercises that I can think of. Trotting on the lunge for longer periods, building up the rising, and carrying on with practising the steering until he gets his little head around the different aids for left and right.

He’s definitely a character to teach, who will test my ability to explain the various aspects of riding, but I’m sure we will have plenty of laughs along the way!


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.


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!