Ticks

I’ve had to invest in a tick twister for my grooming box in recent weeks, as Phoenix and her stable mates have had a couple of unwanted freeloaders.

These freeloaders are brought into the horse’s paddocks by deer, of which we have plenty in the area. The ticks then attach onto the horses.

Before we look at the ins and outs of ticks, let’s see what tool I had to purchase. I bought a tick twister, which is a nifty little hook. You hook the split end under the tick, against the skin, and when the tick is “locked in” the twister you simply just twist the twister (the name gives it away, doesn’t it?) and the tick is removed whole, and the horse unharmed. Don’t forget to stamp on the tick for maximum satisfaction!

It’s very important that the whole of the tick is removed; if you use tweezers or any other tool the legs can easily be broken off and left in the skin, causing a risk of infection. Which is why I’d rather be prepared and have a tick twister to hand!

In this country, we only really see multi-host ticks, which happily live on deer or dogs, yet will catch a ride on horses too. If your fields are regularly used as deer highways then you want to keep an eye out for these bloodsuckers. They live in long grass and hedgerows, so within reason keep the grass short and hedges cut back. Horses often pick up ticks when being hacked, especially through woods. They also dislike sunlight so hopefully the upcoming summer will deter them!

Birds, especially guinea fowl, love eating ticks so they can be a helpful tick deterrent.

There’s only so much you can do to minimise ticks in your horse’s environment, especially as the ticks we see in the UK are predominately hosted by wild animals. If you have a horse particularly attractive to ticks, just like some children are prone to getting headlice, then you can use spot-on treatment or purchase fly sprays which also repel ticks.

Otherwise, just keeping an eye out for ticks when you are grooming them and remove them immediately.

Feeding Breakfasts

One of the biggest logistical things I’ve noticed on DIY livery yard’s in the winter is the fact that everyone’s morning routine varies according to what time they start work. Which means that it can be quite stressful for horses waiting for breakfast or turnout.

Many yards I’ve observed have a rule that the first person on the yard feeds the entire yard. Which reduces the stress in horses when their neighbour is being fed and they aren’t. However, in order for this system to work several things need to be taken into account.

Firstly, feeding breakfasts needs to be done as quickly as possible. After all, the first person on the yard doesn’t want to spend fifteen minutes trying to feed the hungry horses, because they’ve got to go to work too. So every livery owner needs to prepare their feeds the night before and leave them dampened or soaked ready to be fed straightaway.

Secondly, feeds need to be stored so that they’re readily available for the half asleep early risers, clearly labelled, yet not left on the yard for cheeky ponies to help themselves when their small owner’s backs are turned, or left to encourage vermin.

Thirdly, everyone needs to know what time breakfast is. After all, there’s nothing worse than turning up for a quick pre-work ride only to find your horse has only just had breakfast. One way to reduce this risk is to give your horse a smaller ration in the morning, and their main hard feed in the evening if you usually ride in the mornings. And vice versa if you ride in the evening so you don’t have to wait as long in the cold and dark while they cool down and eat their tea.

Some yards leave feed buckets outside stables, covered with plastic covers. Which has the risk of attracting vermin, and being eaten by horses not tied up securely. Plus on windy days the covers blow across the yard. Other yards leave feeds in boxes outside stables, which can be time consuming opening any locks and lids.

I’ve spent a long time pondering the most effective way of implementing a “first one feeds” system and recently came across the best solution yet.

On the yard is a metal dustbin with a securely fastened lid, which is vermin and naughty pony proof. If the yard is bigger, then there is one bin per row of stables. Each horse is given a breakfast bucket, which is of a generous size to accommodate the larger feeds of the thoroughbreds, has two handles, and most importantly they are stackable. The yard provides these buckets so they can ensure that they are the correct dimensions. Each horse’s name is written on in very big, thick, black letters so the buckets can be easily identified in the half lit, early hours.

When livery owners make up feeds they fully prepare breakfast (damp or soak the feed) and put them into the bins, one on top of the other. Then when the first person arrives on the yard they go to the bin and take out the stack of buckets and then walk along the row feeding each horse. A super speedy way of satisfying hungry horses early in the morning without waking the neighbours, or on a Saturday morning when recovering from a heavy Friday night.

The only way that this system could be improved, in my opinion, is by the buckets being stacked in order; so you give the top bucket to the first horse, second to the next, and so on. However, with everyone coming at different times during the day, there would be a lot of lifting buckets in and out of the bin, and there being a high risk of a mistake being made when restacking, you’d need to check the names on the buckets as well, just in case.

What other systems do DIY yards employ to make feeding breakfasts a painless task? I’d be interested to know of a better system than this.

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.

Yard Storage

Is spring finally here? Until tomorrow it seems anyway. The last couple of days have been sunny and warm. The mud in the field has dried so that it’s like being in quicksand and you have to pull your foot up slowly, toes curled up, so that your welly is sucked out of the mud and you aren’t left with a soggy sock.

Anyway, yesterday one of the liveries was having a spring clean. All her rugs were out as she was putting lightweight rugs onto her horses and taking the thicker ones to be repaired and cleaned.

This prompted me that I’ve had a blog subject on my to-do list but never gotten around to doing it. And that is, storage of all your horsey gaff.

Most people don’t have a large garage or garden shed (a vacant one at least) in which to store their numerous rugs, spare boots, travelling equipment, body protectors etc, so they need some space at least at the yard. What options are available?

Most yards allow you to have a small storage box outside your stable, which is useful for everyday bits and bobs – grooming kits, riding hat, boots and whip for example. One stable Otis had had a corner cupboard which was incredibly useful and didn’t impinge on stable space either.

Then it’s a matter of storing rugs, feed, bedding, and the other less frequently used but still essential equine equipment. One yard I go to has a row of garden sheds. Each livery owner has their own shed. Obviously this takes up a lot of room, so would only be an option for bigger yards. However, in terms of security, it’s nice to know that your gear is under lock and key so won’t go walkabouts. I have to say it’s luxurious to have this much storage space.

Another yard I visit is an old farm which has been converted into a DIY livery yard. One building is used for storage. I think it must’ve housed pigs but it’s got a central walkway and low walled stone pens on each side, which is perfect for putting storage boxes in. Two or three liveries share each pen, which means each person’s stuff is kept fairly separate yet it’s all easily accessible. The only downside is that unless you can lock your storage box, things could be borrowed. But I like to think livery owners have all the paraphernalia they need so don’t need to borrow from others.

I’ve also seen large metal lorry containers put to good use. One yard has it as their tack room, and another has divided a container into lockers. Each wooden cupboard has two shelves and a door. I think this is a really good space saving solution, but it’s only really for essential every day items. With hindsight, with which everything can be improved, I think I would have larger lockers. Liveries can individually provide locks for their cupboard, but the container itself is pretty secure.

On a similar vein, I’ve seen part of a barn divided up like stalls, with wooden partitions, and each livery has their own area. This is more spacious than the container lockers but the security isn’t as good.

It’s hard to find the right balance of space and security for liveries, without becoming the equine equivalent of the Big Yellow Self Storage Company, especially when some people have far more rugs or tack than others. And for some people it is their only storage for horsey things because either they don’t have space in the garage, or their partner doesn’t want equestrian things taking over house space. I’m lucky in that my husband doesn’t really go into the garage … so he has no idea how much equine stuff is there. Not that he’d mind, of course.

I want to know, what storage solutions other yards have and how you, my readers rate each experience you’ve had.

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.

Herd Stabling

Someone was telling me about their stabling arrangements earlier this week, and with the drastic changes in business rates I wonder if this is the way forward for riding schools.

The riding school I went to as a child was a converted dairy farm, so we had a similar arrangement for some of the horses.

Matt, as well as my previous pony, spent the first three winters in The Sheep Shed. Yes, it had previously housed sheep, but was a long, single storey barn with a five bar gate at one end. The barn was rectangular, with the back, long side against the hill, and right two-thirds of the front wall had the muckheap barn (yep, that’s right, our muckheap was under cover!) against it, and the gate on the left. To the left of the sheep shed were more barns which were converted from machinery storage to pairs of stables. Anyway, the gate had a piece of black plywood on to stop the horses getting their feet stuck in the bars.

So know you know how the sheep shed looked. Each winter four geldings (14.2hh sort of size) lived in there. They were all chilled out geldings, who naturally gravitated towards each other in the field anyway. None were particularly dominant, although I remember the first couple of days being quite noisy as they established the pecking order. One year I think we had an emergency swap because one pony was being a bit too boisterous. I can also remember doing a winter with five in there and that was hard work!

The four of us became very adept at working together to muck out, and became quite a team. The bonus of being one of four was that you had someone to fall back on if you were ill or overwhelmed by schoolwork, and you didn’t have to muck out every day!

My friend and I went to school together, so we did three weekdays and a weekend day, and the other two owners (who were mother and daughter) did the rest of the week.

Anyway, each horse was designated a corner, and when we arrived after school we would tie each pony into their corner. Then we’d ride, leaving the other two tied up. When we’d finished, we fed each horse their hard feed in their corner and tied up haynets for all of them. In later years a hay rack appeared, but mine always had haynets. We’d fill the two dustbins of water and take out four wheelbarrows of muck. It was a semi deep litter arrangement, with a good clean out on weekends and the whole shed emptied in the spring. Fresh straw was scattered over the top and then we’d let the horses go.

Yes, they moved around the haynets and you couldn’t monitor closely how much they were eating, but as soon as one was noticed to have dropped weight (usually Matt) they were taken out and fed an extra feed on the yard in the mornings. On weekends we used to leave them tied up most of the day because we were always there and always coming and going, so it was a good chance to pump forage into the slimmer ones.

I’m sure the horses didn’t get bored, despite no turnout December until February because they had so much social interaction. It was always lovely to come around the corner and see three or four heads looking over the gate, whinnying to you.

The riding school ponies had similar accommodation, in large rooms that used to be the cow stalls. Between three and five ponies were in each one. Usually the four dominant ones, and then the milder ones. Again, swaps were made if someone got a bit big for their boots, and the end stable, which you had to walk through to access the stalls, was often conscripted mid winter when someone started losing weight or being unhappy in the group. On days there were lessons the ponies just stayed tied up – out of the cold and wet – munching hay and easily brought out for lessons. We had to do the old fashioned thing of offering them water before tying them up, although they were pretty good at leading us to the water buckets when they were hungry!

In terms of riding schools, I think this is the only way to beat the increase in business rates because to house six ponies in six stables you need six 10ftx10ft stables. However, that equivalent space in an open barn would probably house seven ponies, perhaps more if they were small. Which would mean that the riding school barns are being used in a more cost effective way.

Obviously this situation wouldn’t work for liveries because of the risk of injury and argument, but for horses and ponies used to living in a herd environment it is a definite possibility. So long as enough feed stations are provided and the animals integrated carefully, and monitored through the winter in case they drop off weight, then this living arrangement is far more natural and you should end up with happier and healthier horses.

It’s food for thought though, if you are a small riding school facing business changes.

Seedy Toe

As I turned out the Diva earlier this week I passed the BFG in his field and noticed he had a semicircle cut away in the hoof wall at the front of his fore foot. If I didn’t know any better it looked like the farrier had changed his mind from a shoe with toe clips to one with quarter clips.

What I did realise though, is that I’ve never blogged about seedy toe, which is what this phenomenon is.

Seedy toe, or white line disease, is when the hoof wall separates from the sensitive laminae at the white line. Dirt then gathers in the cavity and it becomes infected by anaerobic bacteria.

The farrier, or vet, cuts away the dead, separated hoof, and then the hole should be cleaned out thoroughly with hibi scrub to ensure there isn’t any infection and then sprayed with iodine spray. I have seen deep holes packed with cotton wool, which I assume helps stop dirt gathering, especially in wetter weather. The horse should be kept in a clean, dry environment to reduce the risk of infection. If necessary, antibiotics can help clear up the infection. With the cavity exposed there is less chance of the anaerobic bacteria taking residence because the environment has more oxygen in.

The funny thing about seedy toe is that horses aren’t usually lame until it is severe, so it is normally diagnosed by the farrier during a visit and treated before it becomes an issue. Yet another reason to have their feet checked regularly. The BFG wasn’t bothered by his seedy toe, and there isn’t any infection there so the farrier obviously caught it nice and early and just removed the dead hoof and exposed the cavity so it can be monitored and cleaned more easily. Below is a picture of the type of seedy toe sported by the BFG.

  
Apparently horses with long toes and low heels are more susceptible to seedy toe, as are those with brittle horn. There are also links to laminitis, but in this case seedy toe is a secondary infection and results from distortion of the inner structures of the hoof. Best not to think too much about that. Preventing seedy toe comes in the form of regular exercise to maintain blood flow to the limbs and keeping his bedding clean and dry, and not letting his feet get too muddy in the field. To support the foot whilst the hoof wall grows, the horse can be shod with full bars shoes, or broad-webbed shoes.

Doing my research for this post I was amazed at how bad seedy toe can get, see the case study below. The only cases I have come across have been the farrier making a little hole and everyone continues as normal. Which makes me think that it’s worth having an observant farrier who visits frequently.

  

In Reflection 

  
I had a fantastic ride this morning on Llani. As you can see, it was dark, but I dragged him in by the light of my head torch and tacked him up with the help of the yard kitten.

Out in the school he settled immediately, walking purposefully and oblivious to his surroundings he softened immediately to the contact and in the trot he engaged his hindquarters from the beginning, lifting his wither and maintaining an even contact constantly. Because he was forwards and engaged he didn’t falter on the changes of rein or circles, and he flew into a balanced extended trot when I asked. Leg yield was more extravagant than previously and he maintained his balance.

Everything I asked is within his capabilities, but if often takes one or two tries before we get our best work. For example, he often hollows and runs out of balance when I first ask him to open his trot up.

The best part, and I’m not sure if it was because I was working in sitting trot (even the extension!) to try to save my sore knee, but when I asked for canter Llani did his best transitions ever! I’ve been really focusing on them, but the first one can always be a bit of a pogo-stick hop into a stuffy canter, but this morning the hind legs pushed him straight in his body, and with open strides, into a lovely, easy canter. Of course it was easy, he wasn’t curling up around my inside leg so he could propel himself along more easily.

I was thrilled with his canter this morning; numerous beautiful  transitions and very balanced. 

We ended with a free walk on a long rein, and I reflected on how far he’s come. 

For starters, he never used to be able to walk on a long rein; he’d peter to a halt, confused at the lack of rein contact.

A couple of weeks ago I took him for a solo hack and we crossed the motorway bridges easily, just a pause to look round. His outlook on “monsters” has changed. He used to stop and try to run away, but now he stops, assesses and then hurries past, holding his breath.

He used to be terrified of the sound of clippers, but last month I clipped him without sedation. Just with the help of some apples.

He let me drape a plastic bag over his back this week without batting an eyelid. He also walks over tarpaulin confidently too – something he never would’ve done last year.

When jumping, he pops fillers straight away, without the panic that he used to have, and again his mentality has changed from “oh my god, run away” to “oh my god, scary but … Let’s do it!”

   
 
Llani’s demeanour has changed too, and he’s much more laid back on the yard. My friend had a go at lunging him last week. She’s not lunged before, but soon got the hang of it and he behaved very well. 

Then his latest achievement was last weekend, when one of my friends took him for a hack and ended up leading a beginner on a pony from him.

Even though it can be hard work, and demanding, now that I’ve thought about Llani and his journey, I think he’s unrecognisable from the horse that I met last year.

Understanding Grass

I was asked an interesting question by a new horse owner last week.

“How much grass is enough grass?”

The million dollar question.

To me, and to many other horsey peoople, the answer comes from observation, and instinct. To explain our reasoning, however, requires a degree.

Here I`m going to try to explain the elements that we consider when looking at paddock use, rest, and rotation.

The Horse

Different horses need different amounts of food; a native will survive from lower quality, or quantity, of grass than a finer horse of a similar size. Does the horse suffer from laminitis? This will affect the amount of grass they should be permitted for health reasons. Other factors such as their age, body condition, size, and workload, will have an impact on their dietary requirement. 

The Time of Year

Grass is more nutritious in spring and autumn, with higher levels of carbohydrates, and when the temperature is above six degrees celsius grass grows. This means that horse`s need less grazing space when the grass is growing quicker otherwise they risk being overfed. At different times of the year horses are on the pasture for different lengths of time; in winter most horses are stabled at night, and in the summer many live in the field all day. 

The Land

Take a look at the actual grass and weeds that grows in the field; this will give a clue to the pH of the soil (acidic soil gives rise to buttercups, docks, and dandelions). Different grasses grow at different rates in different types of soil and be of a varying nutritional level, and the type of herbs that grow will also be affected. Herbs are beneficial to the horse`s diet but, for example, clover is high in protein and will encourage weight gain. This means that each pasture is different, and it`s makeup needs to be considered when determining how much grass is there. Additionally, different soils cope with adverse weather in different ways – clay soil retains moisture so is harder to manage in the winter. The length of time that a pasture has been there influences it`s durability as the grasses have a more established root structure, so will survive wet conditions better as the soil is less likely to wash a way. If the soil is well draining grass will begin growing earlier in the year, which will affect the time of year and amount of grass growth. It is quite easy to have a soil analysis test taken, and professional advice sought to help manage the grasses on your particular field. Weeds inhibit the growth of grass, so the quality of the grass in a field with a large number of dock leaves will be of a lower quality.

Pasture Management

How you care for the paddock on a day to day basis affects it`s sustainability and how quickly it recovers when it is rested. A pasture that is poo-picked daily will have a lower worm burden, and the grass will grow more evenly; not generating patches of long, sour grass which is not eaten by horses. Over stocking a pasture will lead to the grass being eaten down very quickly  and becoming too short, which inhibits it`s ability to regenerate. Additionally, leaving horses on a pasture for too long will mean that the grass is eaten too close to the root and the root and structure is disturbed. The usual pasture management, such as harrowing or fertilising, will affect the quality of the grasses. It can be useful to fertilise the land to ensure that there is sufficient levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to ensure that the quality of the grass is suitable for horses. Excessive, or incorrect type of fertiliser, can produce rich grass, which puts horses at risk of colic and laminitis.

This list of factors is by no means exhaustive, and over a year or two horse owners begin to know their land, the weeds that tend to grow, how the grass recovers, and it`s rate of growth during the year. By poo-picking daily you have the opportunity to study the ground beneath your feet and the amount of grass there. It is allso useful to assess your horse`s weight and body condition on a weekly basis, as weight gain in spring suggests that the grass is growing too quickly for the horse to eat, and the horse needs less grazing.