Category: Horse People

Don’t Be a Screaming Sue

Open the gate, open the gate!!!!

No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.

During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue. Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.

His large chest would quite literally sweep Sue to one side with the power of a tsunami. With head held high one would question whether Sue was holding the rope or swinging from it. It was always at this moment that Sue needed a volunteer. Not help you understand, Sue didn’t need help, but a volunteer. Everyone knew the routine by then, and one of us would scurry off ahead of Sue and the 4 legged tsunami to go and stand by the field gate. I say scurry because no-one in their right mind would trust Sue to hold onto that horse behind you. Trying to run forward while simultaneously checking behind to ensure BB wasn’t about to bulldoze over you was no easy task.

The victim, or volunteer would barely make it to the gate before Squashed Sue rapidly evolved into Screaming Sue. BB would soon give up on walking and break into trot. It would be at this point also that Sue would start screaming Don’t you dare! which was quite lost on BB, and in fact the entire yard. It was apparent that BB actually did dare, considering this same routine had been played out for almost 14 months. It had occurred to me that if Sue should ever want a powerful trot in the arena the only aid she would need would be her voice, and shouting Don’t you dare!

Sue, who would now be running/swinging alongside her horse would already be reaching up to undo the head collar. The head collar and rope would come clattering to the floor with a hapless screaming Sue doing her best not to trip over it. BB would be free and almost at full gallop during the last 10 meters to the gate. The woeful volunteer would have that gate wide open while standing on the post and rail just to ensure their own safety. They would invariably get splattered in mud as a galloping bulldozing tsunami would pass them at near on 25 mph.

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While this tale of Screaming Sue and Bargy Boris may seem fantastical, fictional or at best farcical I have more than once seen this ‘method’ used when turning out a horse. I have a theory that some owners do not accept help because they are unaware they need help. The situation and their horse’s actions become so familiar to them they become almost blind to the issue.

But in my view this situation was nothing less than downright dangerous. Anything or anyone could have crossed BB’s path during that last 10 metres and the outcome would no doubt be catastrophic.

The horse was actually only doing what he has been trained to do. In his eyes this is merely how the human turns him out. It’s part of his daily routine and in some respects BB is doing exactly what is expected of him. Horses like to comply, they feel comfortable when they understand what the human is trying to communicate to them. They are very easy to train, so be very aware of what exactly you are training them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why BB could not walk to the gate in a calm, safe manner. Well, there’s one reason – Sue. Yet the issue is nothing to do with turnout.

When an advert reads easy to do in all ways take note, and consider if your horse is also the same. Mild inconveniences to downright dangerous behaviour should not be accepted or tolerated. Many behaviours are not down to his personality, a horse may be rambunctious but he can be trained not to be when with the handler. Issues may develop slowly through fear, anxiety or miscommunication, but that’s the time to seek help, before the problem becomes huge. It’s not a failing to ask or accept help and advice, it’s an opportunity to expand your knowledge which in turn will give you a fantastic partnership with your horse.

Why I Hate Spurs

I am just going to come out and say it. Spurs should only be used if you are a very, VERY good rider. If a rider does not have the skills, knowledge or patience to re-educate a horse with desensitised sides, which is why the majority of bad riders are using them, then spurs are the last thing they need. It is not my intention to become part of the no bits, no spurs, no anything brigade. Spurs may have their place in the equestrian world, and are traditionally used all over the planet, in my view, to refine the leg aid. An extremely well trained horse may for whatever reason ignore the leg, and I use the word ‘ignore’ loosely. There could be many reasons why the horse has not responded in that particular instance. So strapped to the leg of an expert, one that is aware of their own movements and know exactly what they are asking of the horse, then yes spurs have their place. But then compare that to someone that has been riding 3 years and are strapping spurs on because they are about to do a pre-novice dressage test, or jump 60 cm at the local show.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that KICKING a horse in the ribs with a blunt piece of metal probably hurts like hell. If in doubt hand your spurs to a friend and have them punch you in the ribs with them. Many will argue they only use them when necessary, and even when used it will be a jab, not a kick. Really? No-one will convince me an inexperienced rider has such a great command over their legs that they are aware of what their legs are doing 100% of the time. If a rider cannot rule out an accidental jab might just occur, no matter how infrequently, then they shouldn’t be wearing them. Yes horses can ignore the leg, but in many cases they have been taught those flapping, constant nagging legs, at times, mean nothing. If a horse is at the stage where over time, they are frequently ignoring certain aids, then it’s time to readdress your riding skills, not reach for spurs.

Ego’s should be left in the car, and for good reason. Admitting you may need help and employing a trainer is no failure by any means. This is exactly what you should be doing. By actually admitting the relationship between rider and horse is unravelling to a degree that the horse is ignoring the rider, is the first step to improving. Strapping spurs on and reaching for a whip with a horse that is already confused to what you are asking is creating a recipe for disaster. What happens when the next piece of equipment fails, reach for an electric cattle prod? No, of course you would be horrified if I suggested such a cruel thing! But then, do you think your horse is happy with your untrained legs that are jabbing metal into his sides?

So where do you go from here? You go back to basics. Decide if your walk was perfect before you ask for trot. Slow, medium, fast walk…was it perfect? I bet it wasn’t. Many of you enter that arena, walk one lap and go into trot to warm up. How do I know you are doing that? Because I used to as well, it was the way I was taught, it’s the way everyone is taught. Even before a lesson, I have been asked many times by the instructor have you warmed up? I was taught a good schooling session always involved walk, trot and canter. Yet how did that instructor even know my walk was perfect, how would have they known how my horse was when entering the arena, how many instructors can even read equine body language? I could have spent 10 minutes at the arena gate booting a rearing horse for all that instructor knows. I could have spent 10 minutes teaching my horse to completely ignore my leg. A good trainer will know, a trainer that really wants to help you improve will want to see everything you do with that horse.

99% of us, yes including me, that aren’t at the top of our game, are not expert horse riders, do not have an excellent command of every single muscle, aid, movement, presence of mind and seat, before reaching for those spurs…find yourself an excellent trainer instead.

Here I further discuss the subject of spurs, and give an example of their misuse, including the confusion and discomfort that they can potentially cause.

I am in no way slating this rider, simply because everyone of us makes mistakes, no-one can ever say, at least shouldn’t say they are perfect riders. Unsavoury things have been said about this lady across various social media platforms, yet none of it is helpful. We should all strive to learn from each other, and to increase our knowledge which in turn improves the welfare of the horse. I don’t care who you are, no one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. It is better to be aware of our lack of horsemanship knowledge in order to build our education, than pretend we know everything and remain ignorant

 

 

Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies

I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.

Watching show jumping is border-line ruined for me now. I see the slightest slip of a hand accidentally jab a horse in the mouth. Unbalanced crooked landings and unintentional leg aids in which horses are forced to learn between whether it means something or nothing…horses are clever like that. I see swishing tails, and not the sort you see that lazily batters a fly away on a July afternoon. But tails that have a left to right snapping motion, add that to the tightly pinned ears and I read pain. I see mouths that open, and heads held high. I see horses that are willing to jump but ask the rider to release the reign just a fraction more.

Continue reading “Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies”

The Livery Snob

…and she’s only a D.I.Y’er!

Yes I heard those words. That delightful sentence fell from the mouth of a person on full livery.

They had felt compelled for some reason, to log a complaint to the yard owner about a person on Do It Yourself livery. I can’t imagine what the naughty diy’er had done, perhaps it was even about me!

Continue reading “The Livery Snob”

Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous

Over the years I have more than once, blamed a groom for forgetting to bolt the stable door when finding my horse loose on the yard. Then one day I witnessed my mare jumping out of her stable! Well that’s putting it more mildly than what really happened when my horse escaped. Continue reading “Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous”

Raising Our Foals Fairly

The majority of foals, certainly in my experience here in the UK, are spending their first few months alone with the mother. Although I am aware of reputable horse breeders that turn out a number of foals and mums together to live amiably as a herd. Yet I have seen many individual horse owners segregate the mother and baby until weaning. Then between  4 and 6 months the foal is usually separated from the mother and put into a herd of horses.

Continue reading “Raising Our Foals Fairly”

My Horse Needs Individual Turn Out

Those were the words the livery used to inform me that her horse could not be part of a herd. This horse could not have a field mate. There would be no swishing tail to turn and face during the summer to deter the flies from bothering her eyes, or a restful sleep while the other horses stood guard looking out for danger. No mutual grooming would ever occur, and there would be no comfort from having a leader, or being the leader. This particular horse could not have a field mate because, in her words, her horse would kill other horses.

Continue reading “My Horse Needs Individual Turn Out”

Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!

Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.

On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.

This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”

The Planned Spook

There is only one good reason why my terrier would suddenly go from lounging on the carpet to suddenly leaping up and running under the sofa at break neck speed. Being fully aware of the reason, the human sat on said sofa jumped up and ran fearfully to the living room door. For the past 20 years this particular arachnophobe has made sure to train her dogs to perform a very important duty. Terriers it would seem are far more talented in this role as opposed to larger dogs that struggle to successfully squeeze under sofas, armchairs or beds. 3 seconds later my pint sized tri-coloured saviour emerged with it caged between two rows of teeth, and it was enormous. I don’t like to see any living thing on this earth hurt, or unnecessarily killed, but my phobia runs deep. I would actually prefer to throw a pint glass at a spider rather than catch it humanely. I’m very sorry for this. Continue reading “The Planned Spook”

Irresponsible Horse Dealers?

The deal was done, money was exchanged, hands were shaken and Charlie was loaded onto the trailer. The family had done their homework on finding an appropriate pony for their child, in size, temperament, training and experience in both the pony and the child. On the face of it, it was an ideal match. The dealer was well known, certainly in England, probably in Britain maybe even overseas. Therefore a  well known horse-dealer is unlikely to destroy their reputation by selling a dangerous pony to a child. So in this case, it is certain there had been no shady shenanigans in terms of selling a dangerous, unsound, insane or unhealthy animal by a greedy and  unethical  seller that had bought the horse just 2 days before from a knackers yard. Yet in just six months this pony had thrown the child so many times that it was considered too perilous for the child to continue riding, not without risking serious injury. If after 40 years of riding and one day I fell, breaking my neck, it could be considered a freak accident. Yet if I was bucked off on a weekly basis some might suggest it was inevitable. So it is understandable that the parents decided to send this pony back to the dealer.

So did the dealer sell a dangerous animal?

Continue reading “Irresponsible Horse Dealers?”