Lameness Diagnosis?

It’s incredibly frustrating when your horse “isn’t quite right”, which is what one of my clients is going through at the moment. There are a couple of avenues that we are exploring, but this takes time.

You end up talking about this mystery not-quite-rightness to anyone who will listen, and invariably you run of the mill suggestions, which of course you considered on Day One. But hopefully one day, someone will make a suggestion that you haven’t thought of and you can investigate its potential.

This happened to me last November. I was tacking up a client’s horse when another livery whom I knew from sight was riding in the arena next to me. I wasn’t paying particular attention except for the fact she seemed to be faffing. Trotting, then walking, then changing the rein and trotting again. So I asked if she was okay.

The rider launched into this story about how her horse had been slightly lame on and off all summer and she’d had the vet, physio, saddler, dentist and no one could shed any light on the problem.

The horse was fractionally lame, and the rider really noticed it as a reluctance to go downhill with pottery steps. After four or five days, the horse was fine for another few weeks.

I asked when was she shod. I wasn’t about to slate her farrier; as far as I could tell the mare was shod well. She had been shod the week before, and had been slightly lame last weekend.

With a bit of deduction, we worked out that the farrier had been on Wednesday, and the mare had next been ridden on the Saturday. Which suggested to me that the lameness could be due to the farrier or her feet.

My only real suggestion was that the farrier was taking the mare’s hooves a little too short for her liking so the shoes felt uncomfortable for a few days. Looking at the feet, the toes didn’t look too short, or that they’d been dumped, but I know that some horses have more sensitive feet – thinner hoof wall, sensitive laminae closer to the edge of the hoof, etc. Tight shoes could cause short strides and a reluctance to go forwards. I wasn’t sure if it would cause a reluctance down hills.

The lady went off with this suggestion and looked in her diary. Each lameness period coincided with new shoes. So she rang her farrier and talked to him.

The next time I saw her she updated me on her investigations, and said the farrier had taken on board her thoughts about the shoes and they were going to put the mare onto a seven weekly shoe cycle, and leave her with slightly longer toes.

Since then, the mare has been sound: full of energy, jumping confidently, and winning competitions.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert in horse lameness or farriery. I based my suggestion on the fact that I’ve previously seen a horse shod badly (the toes were dumped and the shoe was too small for the foot) who became reluctant to go forwards and became pottery in her stride. This is why it can be so useful to talk to others about your horse’s not-quite-rightness. They may have seen a similar situation and be able to point you in the right direction so that with the help of the right professional your horse becomes sound.

Feeding Succulents

One of the rules of feeding is to feed something succulent to your horse daily, and the most thought of options are apples and carrots.

As a bit of a domestic goddess now, well only once or twice a week when I batch cook and freeze baby sized portions of food, I’ve generated lots of vegetable peelings. Add into the equation that a lot of baby recipes say “half a beetroot” or “one and a half bananas” and the fact I don’t want to pile on the pounds by finishing off all her leftovers, we have some food leftovers.

Whilst sweeping the carrot peelings and tips into a bag for Phoenix, I suddenly wondered if she could have the beetroot left overs. Yes, I know they eat sugar beet which is a relative, but still I thought I’d better check.

A quick ask of Google, and I found a list of equine friendly fruit and vegetables. Some I knew (Otis is partial to a banana), and some I didn’t know about.

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Banana (can be fed with the peel)
  • Blackberry
  • Coconut
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange
  • Peaches
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Plum
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon
  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Parsnip
  • Swede
  • Turnip

With this knowledge, I proceeded to add the remnants of the celery stalks to Phoenix’s bag.

The only safety issue with all these different vegetables is making sure that they don’t pose choking hazards. It’s a bit like having a baby around really. When I was young, it was drilled into us to cut carrots lengthways, not into discs, as it is less of a choking hazard. Unfortunately, it’s a rule that often gets forgotten, as many times I’ve seen well-meaning, naive riding school clients feeding their favourite horse some carrots cut into discs. I was particularly worried about the beetroot, so I roughly chopped that up before adding it to Phoenix’s bucket. Then I have halved the tips of the carrots and cut the celery into chunky sticks ready for tomorrow.

I wonder what Phoenix made of the beetroot she had in her dinner tonight…

Equi-Spa

At the end of the summer I was approached by an American company, Equi-Spa, asking if I’d trial and review some of their grooming products.

Always up for trying new things, I had a look on their website to see why they differed from other grooming products before accepting their offer and very quickly a parcel arrived in the post for Phoenix.

In the box we’re three sprays: Orchid Oil Gloss, Peppermint Summer Protection, and Fairy Tails Spray.

I’m a great believer in elbow grease for keeping a shine on coats, so always use the body brush enthusiastically. However, I had felt in August the Phoenix’s coat wasn’t shining as I’d like. Her summer coat was fading and been bleached by our intense summer, and the first symptoms of a winter coat were appearing, which always makes coats look dull. If a product can help improve coats during the change, then they must be worth investing in.

First of all, I used the Peppermint Summer Protection. This is a pest repellent which uses only natural plant extracts. Having a baby in the vicinity, I don’t like using fly sprays full of chemicals, so this appealed to me. In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you the effectiveness of it as a fly spray at the moment: we weren’t particularly bothered by flies when I used it, but we are getting towards the end of fly season and don’t have those irritating zooming little black flies at the moment, which do irritate Phoenix. The spray does smell pepperminty and fresh, which can only be a good thing. The biggest impact I found from using the spray regularly, was the improvement to her coat. The spray leaves a residue which makes the coat slightly slippery (so I avoided over using it on the saddle area, just in case) which means dirt doesn’t stick to her, so she comes in cleaner and any mud is easily flicked off. Which is great for September, when the showers, warm weather, and coat change lead to plenty of rolling. Phoenix’s coat also developed a lovely shine to it, which many people complimented me on.

I really liked the spray bottle as by twisting the nozzle you could adjust the mistiness of the spray, meaning you waste less. However, the spray is quite loud and if you have a diva like Phoenix who dislikes sprays (you’d have thought she’d have gotten used to it by now, having been sprayed daily since April) it can be fun and games applying it. I did think it was worth the dancing though, as her coat looks and feels great even though she’s between coats.

The other two sprays (which arrived with black tape around to prevent leakage during transport, which I felt was a great just-in-case idea and doesn’t reflect the quality of the sprays in any way) are both mane and tail sprays. Again, the spray bottles are good quality and have a locking device so they don’t accidentally go off in your grooming kit. I also liked the tall, narrow bottle shape so it’s easier to keep them upright in your grooming kit. They stream the liquid out instead of spraying, so Phoenix was a fan, and I felt wastage was minimised.

The Fairy Tails spray is a non-toxic detangler –

Formulated with botanical extracts, pure essential oils, minerals and amino acids to detangle, manage and enhance manes and tails naturally!

– and I felt that a few squirts through the tail was all that was needed to make brushing it easy. Perhaps I should be trying this on my notoriously tangled hair? Phoenix doesn’t have the thick, lustrous mane associated with Welsh Cobs so whilst brushing it through is fairly quick I like to minimise what I pull out, especially when she’s already got a short patch from last winter’s rug and some more missing from an altercation with a hawthorn hedge. This spray does mean my brush flies through, and I’m hoping it means any hawthorn branches do too! There’s no smell with this spray, and the effects do seem to last. So many detanglers claim to last for weeks, but in my experience they need to be reapplied every day.

The second tail spray smells divine! It’s the Orchid Oil Gloss detangler, and again is non toxic.

Formulated with premium coconut and orchid oil extract, pure essential oils, minerals and amino acids to detangle, manage and enhance manes and tails naturally!

I felt this spray was superior to the other, as it really gave Phoenix’s tail a shine. Chestnut tails are a lovely mix of colours – highlights many ladies lust after – but they do lack the shine of a black tail.

The Orchid Oil Gloss also stayed in the tail for a few days which meant that brushing through her tail took moments.

All in all, I was impressed with the quality of all three products and the positive effect they had on Phoenix’s coat at a time of year when it is not looking it’s best as she prepares for winter. I look forward to continuing to use the detanglers over the next couple of months and hopefully see the improvement in her mane as it grows out, although looking back at the photos I think it needs a bit of a tidy up. Like owner, like horse! I’ll probably use the peppermint spray infrequently over the winter to condition her coat, but it will be good to further trial it in the spring when the flies reappear. I particularly like the fact the sprays are all natural and chemical-free, which can only benefit Phoenix, me and the environment. As well as the grooming products I tried there are some for hoof protection, udder/sheath cleaning, muscle care, sweet itch relief, and skin/coat care. They’re all natural products and look to complement each other in the care of working horses.

If you want to find out more about Equi-Spa and their various products then here is their website – www.equispa.com – with an online shop, and there are also links to lots of welfare and management articles too, which make for interesting reading.

Treats

Everyone who has horses buys treats of some description. Be it to bribe them into a trailer, or to persuade them to leave their field mates. For me, I use treats for Phoenix’s various carrot stretches and to disguise Otis’s sweet itch tablets.

Anyway, this means that I ended up in the tack shop the other week looking at rows and rows of various treats. And honestly, it’s mind boggling.

And expensive.

Let’s take a look, and compare the prices.

Spillers horse treats – £6.29 per kilo.

Global herbs treats – £10.79 for a three kilo bag. That’s £3.60 per kilo. Half the price of the Spillers ones!

NAF treats – £7.29 per kilo. These are by far the most expensive on the market.

Equine America treats (these have coconut in and get a suspicious sniff when first offered) – £7.95 for four kilos. At £1.99 per kilo they are almost four times cheaper than the NAF ones.

This is where it gets interesting. A tub of Baileys Tasty Treats is £9.29 for five kilos. That’s a reasonable £1.86 per kilo. If you’re going to buy a tub of treats, this is probably the best value for money.

That is, until you realise that these treats are identical to the 20 kilo bags of Baileys Fibre Plus nuggets. Which can be purchased for £10.25.

That’s fifty pence per kilo!

Obviously we bought the twenty kilo bag and decanted them into several Quality Street tins so that they didn’t lose their freshness.

I was horrified at the daylight robbery in the tack shop. We equestrians really need to consider how much we spend on treats. Horses don’t care if their treats come in colourful packets or not. We’ll consider the sugar levels, obesity and negative effects on behaviour of various treats another day. A horse treat only needs to be bland and with a low calorific value. Really, the pure fibre approach of Baileys tasty treats is perfect and I’m yet to meet a horse who’s turned their nose up at them. But what is wrong, is the extortionate price difference between a “treat” and a “feed”. Also, consider the environmental impact of a paper bag (which can be used to store potatoes over winter) carrying twenty kilos of treats, compared to the equivalent twenty plastic bags of alternative treats. By being attracted to the pretty packaging and falling for the marketing ploys we’re all being taken for a ride.

Coping With The Heat

How is everyone managing during Britain’s 2018 heatwave? We’ve been doing horses and any outdoor jobs in the morning and evening; hiding from the heat during the day because it’s too hot for anyone, let alone babies.

In general, horses in the UK seem to find it difficult to adapt to the heat. Partly because it’s so infrequent and comes along suddenly, and partly because a lot of horses are colder blooded, native types with thick, dense fur.

So with the hot weather, comes a few routine changes. I for one have been riding later in the evening. In my pre-baby life, I’d have been up with the larks riding in the cool. Schooling sessions become shorter or non existent. I did a lesson yesterday morning which consisted of about fifteen minutes in trot, split over the lesson, and the rest in walk. It was a good opportunity to practice lateral work without stirrups and nit pick on my rider’s aids. Hacks become much more appealing, don’t they? Any woods provide some shade and there’s usually more of a cool breeze. I read last week that horses feel the heat more than we do so it’s important to consider them when deciding to ride.

Some people prefer to have their horses stabled during the day in summer, and turned out overnight when it’s cooler and there are less flies about. For me, it depends on the horse and their field. People underestimate the shade that trees provide. I found this out a couple of weeks ago at a wake. The back garden of the house we were at had several large trees on one side and a sunny patio on the other. Sitting on the grass under the trees I was lovely and cool while those sat at the patio table with a parasol up were still boiling hot. So if your horse’s field has trees to provide shade and they aren’t bothered by the flies I would personally prefer them to stay out where they can move around and benefit from any breeze (which also deters the flying pests) that’s about. It’s also worth considering your stables. Wooden ones can become ovens whilst stone barns stay lovely and cool.

Wash them off liberally. Yes they may not have worked up a sweat walking around the woods, but they’ll still be grateful for a shower. There is the age old argument about how to cool off horses properly. The way I see it, the majority of the time horse owners aren’t dealing with a horse on the verge of hyperthermia and heat exhaustion (this week excepted) so hosing them and allowing the cooling process of evaporation to cool them down is sufficient. This week though, you may want to opt for continuous hosing and sweat scraping to bring down their core body temperature quicker.

Then of course is ensuring they’re hydrated. Horses will drink more in hot weather, much like us humans, so making sure they have plenty of clean water available is paramount. Ideally the water wants to be cool so that it is more appealing to the horse and refreshing. Standing water buckets need to be in the shade, but be aware of flies congregating around them. Self filling troughs are very often cooler despite being in the full sun because they’re continuously topped up with cold water from the underground pipes as the horses drink.

When a horse starts to get dehydrated they also stop wanting a drink, which obviously compounds the problem. What’s the evolutionary benefit to this, I wonder? It’s far better to never let them get thirsty in the first place. Adding salt to their diets, in feeds or with a lick, encourages them to drink. It may also be worth having a feed such as Allen and Page’s Fast Fibre which has very little calorific value but needs soaking for ten minutes before feeding. Adding that to their bucket feed, or even substituting that for part of their hay ration will help keep them hydrated. Some horses like their bucket feed to be sloshy so that’s a good way of giving them more water. You can add electrolytes to their feed too which aids hydration.

With this intense heat we’re having, there’s also the risk of sunburn. For both humans and equines! I heard a few weeks ago about a horse who had been clipped. I think he was a predominantly white coloured. But over the next couple of days his back got sunburnt due to the coat no longer protecting his pink skin. That’s a good reason to use a quality UV-proof fly rug, only half clip or indeed not clip at all! The UV-proof fly masks with nose nets are great at protecting white noses, and using factor 50 suncream helps prevent sunburn – don’t forget to use it on yourself too! I’d also be wary of white legs, particularly on fine coated horses as these could also suffer from sunburn.

Finally, check they aren’t overheating in any rugs. A lot of fly rugs are very breathable and thin, but sweet itch rugs tend to be of a thicker material. It might be worth using a lightweight fly rug on a sweet itch horse during the day, and sacrificing it if they start a scratching session and them staying cooler rather than them getting too hot in a sweet itch rug.

It is also worth reading up on the signs of equine heatstroke and be prepared to call the vet if you think your horse is suffering from it. Here are the symptoms:

-Weakness

-Increased temperature

-High respiratory and heart rate

-Lethargy

-Dehydration

-Dry mucous membranes in the mouth – they should be pink and have a slimy feel to them. To check the mucous membranes, press your finger on the gums and they should turn white with pressure. Once you have released your finger they should return to a normal pink colour.

The Number One Rule of Feeding

What's the number one rule of feeding? Which one do you place the most importance on?

For me, it has to be that horses should be fed little and often. It applies to horses of all sizes and workload, and can lead to a whole host of health issues if they do not have food moving through their digestive tract.

Horses have evolved to graze for a minimum of sixteen hours a day, therefore they are trickle eaters. Having small amounts of fibre at each stage of their gut helps regulate peristalsis which reduces the likelihood of colic, prevents stomach acid splashing up the lining of their stomach acid, causing ulcers, and means that they are most efficient at digesting their food and extracting the nutrients.

Even obese or laminitis horses require almost constant access to fibre. However, they should have fibre with very little nutritional value, such as soaked hay or straw. Unfortunately, too many people starve laminitis horses, which can lead to them developing stomach ulcers.

I also feel that there is a psychological benefit to a horse or pony having a semi-full tummy all the time. You know how ratty you and I get when we're late home and dinner is subsequently late. And we can reason why we're hungry, and when our next meal will be. Horses can't, so it stands to reason that when they are hungry they are more likely to bicker between themselves, and to be less tolerant of us – nipping whilst being tacked up, fidgeting whilst being groomed, for example. I think a lot of bad behaviour on the ground stems from horses being uncomfortable in their digestive system. Sometimes they're a bit gassy and bloated, but more often than not they're hungry. If they were to develop stomach ulcers, this also leads to negative reactions when their girth area is touched, which some people believe is naughtiness.

Horses and ponies who are starved for periods of time, or had their grazing restricted with a grazing muzzle for example, have been shown to gorge themselves, managing to take in as much grass in the short time they are unrestricted than the longer period that their intake is limited. Which is why it is recommended that ponies who need a muzzle wear it in the paddock during the day, but are stabled with a quota of soaked hay overnight, to prevent the gorging behaviour.

My reason for bringing up this subject is that last week I was involved in taking a young client to Pony Club Camp, which gave me a parental insight into the week.

I was disappointed to learn that the ponies did not need a haynet during the day. They were to be tied up in the barn; ridden for a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon, with a two hour lunch break in between. During this week the ponies would be working far harder than in their usual day to day lives, but their anatomy is not designed for them to go without food from 9am until 4.30pm. Yes, there is a risk of bickering in the pony lines with food, but surely if every pony had a small haynet and were tied at a correct length of lead rein, far enough apart, there would be less of a problem than when they're hungry and irritable. I would have also thought that they would perform better in the afternoon session because they were happier and had more energy.

Each evening, the pony I was involved with went out into his paddock and gorged, so he was bloated the next morning. This can't be good for his digestive system!

I felt it to be quite ironic that the children are taught correct pony management, and there is both a mini and a big badge all about the rules of feeding. At some point the children are going to realise that they aren't following the rules of feeding, and will question it. This leads to a mental internal battle, and unfortunately a lack of respect for their instructors and mentors. Which is a shame.

I think it's a case of "do as I say, and not as I do", which I don't think is the right attitude for any educational environment, and one that I certainly didn't appreciate when growing up.

Solving The Myth of Washing Down Horses

Whilst the UK is in the midst of a heatwave, a discussion is going on about the best ways to cool horses down. Usually we don’t have this problem and almost any method is sufficient.

It makes me wonder how equestrians cope in hot climates. Would any readers from those countries care to enlighten me? I think I was told when I was in Dubai that the polo horses had air conditioned stables and were exercised very early in the morning. Horses from those climates also tend to be fine coated and thin skinned, unlike our hairy natives who are all struggling as the thermometer nudges thirty degrees Celsius.

Some people advocate hosing and scraping, others say to hose and let evaporation do the cooling down.

In fact, the best answer is to do a bit of both. Imagine you are standing next to a very sweaty horse. Quickly run the hose over him. Touch his side; the water is warm isn’t it?

Now comes the pseudo science part. By which I just mean I’m haphazarding a guess at the science but. Heat from the horse’s body transfers immediately to the water, so the water becomes the same temperature as the horse. The water then acts like an insulator (although scientists will say that water isn’t a particularly good insulator, some would say it’s enough of one in this case) so preventing the horse’s body from losing any more heat. At this point the horse can’t cool down until the water has evaporated.

Now, scrape the excess water off the horse and hose him again. Keep removing the warmed water until the water runs off cool. Now the horse’s surface temperature is returning to normal, but he still needs to continue cooling down. This happens when the cooler blood leaves the skin and goes to the hot muscles, so removing some heat from there.

It’s at this point that leaving cool water on the body to evaporate, mimicking the sweating process, is effective.
I found this explanation of why sweating cools you down:

Beads of sweat on your skin are in liquid form. When the water temperature rises, the molecules become more active and gain energy. When a molecule gains enough energy, it can break free from the bonds that hold the liquid together and transform into water vapor. This is evaporation. As the molecule evaporates, its energy — or heat — is removed from the sweat that remains on your body. This loss of energy cools the surface of your skin.

In the same way, water and sweat evaporating from the horse’s skin will cool them down. 

A friend told me that endurance riders advocate washing and scraping until the water runs cool off their backs and then leave the rest to evaporate. Which makes me feel better in my hosing the horses until the water feels cool against my hand, then scraping off excess and then turning them out to roll and dry out naturally. 


I found the following article about the cooling process followed at the Beijing Olympics – Read it here – which makes the valid point that if you continue to apply water to the horse’s body then warmed water will be displaced so cold water is always next to the skin and heat will displace to the water. So scraping excess water away can be replaced by just continuous hosing. This article also points out that to maximise the cooling effect of washing down it’s important to cover as much of their body as possible to increase the area that is being cooled, so don’t just wash the sweaty shoulders, wash all the neck and hindquarters too. 

Lessons From Horses

I remember hearing a lot when I was younger about the positive influences a horse has on the development of a young person`s character. We were probably trying to persuade our parents to buy us ponies at the time.

But what traits do we develop when we begin to care for horses?

Responsibility – I think this one is pretty obvious, when a horse is in your care you learn to check that they have everything they need. That they are warm, dry, healthy and happy.

Time management – Juggling school and looking after a horse teaches you to crack on with your jobs and maximising your horse time. I have noticed, that with the increase in health and safety parents are staying on the yard with their kids and because of pressures of their busy lives they do more and more of the jobs, which prevents kids learning key time management tactics, even as simple as “You have twenty minutes to groom and tack up ready for your lesson” With the focus being on time for the lesson!

Team work – When riding, you have to learn to work with your horse, to take his feelings and abilities into account; learn to reassure and reward him.

Respect – you learn to respect others; other horse owners, horses, and to listen to advice, others opinions.

Dedication – You learn to work hard at a project, attending to it every day; working hard to achieve your goals and to better yourself.

Money management – you learn to budget your pocket money; to spend your well earned cash on things for your horse, to limit your own clothes purchases so that you can afford to enter that competition, or to have an extra lesson.

Conviction and determination – controlling an animal ten times (if not more) your size requires sheer will and determinism sometimes. Learning to ride teaches you to really want to achieve. You learn to have a no nonsense attitude and keep your horse in line in a fair and consistent way. Horses can tell a lot from our body language, and will walk all over you if they think you are only half hearted about riding.

Control of emotions – horses are sensitive creatures, and extremes of emotion can upset their performance, so you learn to put a lid on your frustration when you eventually catch your horse after twenty minutes of them cantering around the field … Likewise, if you`ve had bad news, or fantastic news, you learn to put it aside so you can best focus on your horse and your performance together.

Selflessness – I think this is the most important trait we learn. You learn to put your horse before you. You go outside in the pouring rain to feed, or change rugs. You get up early on your weekend because your horse is waiting for breakfast. All in all, you learn to put the needs of others before yourself.

There are hundreds more characteristics that we develop, and that are enhanced, by horse ownership which I think makes us better people. Let me know which trait you think has been most influenced by horse ownership. I think for me, having and working with horses has taught me to control my emotions and keep a balanced, ambivalent disposition.

Saving Time

We all know looking after horses is time consuming, but when doing all the associated jobs start eating into your riding and quality time then we start to get disillusioned and lose interest in horse ownership, especially when you are tired of a long winter.

I think it’s really important to prioritise your house keeping tasks, multi-task, and shave off precious minutes when doing the essential jobs. Sometimes I feel like the queen of saving time. I’ll put one set of tack away and, to the horse’s dismay, bring out the next set before turning out said horse and bringing in the next.

For example, is your wheelbarrow the right size? Taking one trip to the muck heap instead of two can save you a couple of minutes when mucking out. Likewise, is your bedding the most economical for your horse? Can you bank up fresh bedding at the weekend to bring it down during the week? Are all your tools fully functional? After all it takes twice as long to sweep the yard with a broom missing half it’s bristles!

When you arrive do you walk past the tack room to your stable? Is it worth getting your tack out en route, even if you still have to muck out or catch? Or what about returning your tack to the tack room and mixing up feeds en route? Or can you carry your haynets with you to the muck heap and fill your nets on the way back to the stable? 

Poo picking. If you only fill half a wheelbarrow each day would you save time doing it alternate days? After all, you’d only walk around the field once, and empty the wheelbarrow once, so the extra five minutes you spend picking up extra droppings is counterbalanced by the time saved not walking around the field or pushing barrows on the other day. You’d probably save 10 minutes at least, and that is valuable quality time! Also, would leaving a wheelbarrow outside your field save you a couple of minutes as walking on your own is quicker than pushing a barrow? 

Outside my stable I keep a hoof pick hanging up, along with my lunge line and cavesson. So I save valuable minutes hunting for a hoof pick when I bring Otis in. Likewise, the lunging stuff is to hand as I tend to lunge when I have limited time. Some stables have corner cupboards, which I think are really useful for essentials that you need everyday – grooming brushes, eye drops, baby wipes, brushing boots, whatever you use daily. Otherwise, a small box outside your stable is an option. 

I also find being organised in terms of your storage saves time. How about grabbing a whip from your whip rack rather than rummaging down the side of your large trunk, amongst rugs, discarded brushes, crisp packets, holey gloves, and half eaten salt licks.

While talking about being organised, I find it amazing how much time you save by filling up multiple haynets or several hard feeds. Making up a week’s worth of haynets will shave minutes of your daily routine, thus giving more precious cuddle time.

Sometimes changing your routine slightly helps save time. For example, if you are just feeding your horse, and there’s more than one in his paddock, then instead of standing there guarding him as he eats, what about making a little corral with electric fencing and put your horse in there to eat. That gives you chance to poo pick, check the field, rugs and horses;  meaning you are done and dusted in a very short amount of time. Useful before work or when you’re going out for the day. 

Get a bike. This is most useful if your field is a five minute plus walk from the yard. Cycle down to the field in half the time, abandon the bike and bring your horse in. When you turn out you can cycle back. If you really wanted to, you could carry a feed bucket and haynet down with you. I have clients who use a bike and it really does save time and energy. It also has the added benefit of teaching your horse to associate bikes with good things.

I think it’s also useful to play around with your routine to find what best suits you. I’m a morning person so usually ride in the morning, and I’m more proactive and because I’m conscious of the time and needing to get to work, I don’t get chatting to anyone. Funnily enough, the other liveries are also time-conscious so there’s far less chatter and more jobbing!

Finally, if you still struggle to fit in that quality time with your horse then it’s time to consider what jobs you can off load onto someone else. Can you turn out your neighbour’s horse in the morning if they bring yours in at night? Or can the yard do your poo picking, or bring your horse in so he’s dry and content with a haynet so when you arrive you can hop straight on. I know it’s more expensive, but the increase in quality time and enjoyment levels are worth it.


So if you’re finding yourself bogged down in housekeeping for your horse, then it’s time to make some changes and fit in some quality riding time and remember why you have a horse! 

Pony Club Achievement Badges

The Pony Club camp I taught at last week devotes their stable management sessions to achieving the care badges.

There’s hundreds of the blighters; mini badges for the little children, and big badges that require a greater depth of knowledge for the older children.

Was anybody in Scouts or Brownies when they were young? It’s a similar concept. Once you gain your badge you’re supposed to sew it onto your jumper so that you look like a brightly coloured patchwork quilt. I’ll admit, the kids do look cute with all their badges.

This camp though, is the only one that I see kids with badges at. I guess they get pushed to the bottom of the pile, underneath passing the D or C tests, riding, and below competitions and qualifying for PC championships. 

I think, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, that young riders’ stable management knowledge is less nowadays than it was twenty years ago. How many of them can identify the ergot? Or list the rules of feeding? Yet many of them compete to a fairly high level. Perhaps Pony Clubs should pay more attention to improving their stable management knowledge? After all, better knowledge means their pony will be in better physical and mental health. 

Yes some of the achievement badges are a bit obscure (star-gazing, and butterflies, for example) but teaching them could trigger another interest in a child, which is always healthy. And unless we teach these things the knowledge is lost forever. I know I would definitely have to research different types of butterflies if I ever had to teach it, but then maybe it would be more interesting for the kids if a butterfly expert was brought in to do a show-and-tell?

Perhaps kids nowadays think that wearing badges on their arm is geeky or uncool? In which case, is there a way to encourage participation and increase the “coolness” level? I’ll get back to you when I have an answer.

Maybe the achievement badges come into their own at PC centres. Centres are clubs for children without their own horse; usually run at riding schools. So these kids will have less focus on competing, and will have set stable management sessions. It makes logical sense then, to orientate these sessions around a specific badge. Then they can have a test once they have learnt the syllabus.

Or maybe the badges only appeal to those with a tendency to collect things. Like me! I ended up quitting Brownies because I never received the badges I had spent all summer doing. Initially I had the dilemma as to how to position them on my sash so that they were in order (ideally I think I wanted every badge before I sewed a single one on!) but then I became disenchanted by the lack of badges. Maybe it takes a certain type of person to enjoy collecting achievement badges.

Personally I find the badges useful for planning stable management sessions because you have a topic to talk about, and an aim. This is especially useful with the little ones. I think the little ones actually like receiving their badges, it’s just a question of maintaining this enthusiasm as they reach double figures. I was appalled by the poor knowledge the senior group had that I tested for their C test last month.

Pony Clubs tend to go very quiet over the winter, with the odd Christmas rally, or half term madness. The weather doesn’t help. But maybe doing some badge work that doesn’t involve being outside or getting muddy will help keep the spirit of Pony Club, and strengthen friendships. For example, you could print out pictures of the different birds in the bird spotting badge and hide them around a room (say the village hall) and once you have taught the children how to identify the different species they could go on a pretend bird hunt. Or they could organise some fundraising or charity work to get their fundraiser badge… 

Teaching is only limited by our imagination, but I think I’d definitely like to see more children focusing on stable management, and improving their pony care as well as their riding ability. The key is to make the badges more appealing to the modern members.