Category: horses

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 2

#5 Do not overlook the veteran horse

Do not be deterred from buying a horse that is over 12, 15, 18 or even 20 years old. If the animal is fit there is no reason why such an age should matter, or even be relevant. A 20 year old horse will hunt, show-jump, hack or even compete in dressage for example. Horse care has come on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades. They are afforded better dental, farrier and vet care, as well as improved feed and supplements, both of which can contain essential herbs and minerals to maintain good health. Most yards insist on fastidious worming programs, and flu and tetanus jabs. Manufacturers of equine consumables strive (and compete) to improve the quality of bedding in term of reducing dust and maximising absorption. Frankly put, there has never been a better time to be a horse, and 20 could be seen as the new 10!

Equestrians for the most part are just stuck in the old school, traditional way of thinking that a horse is old at the age of 16. Ligament and tendon issues, back and joint problems, colic or even arthritis can occur at just about any age. Become a seasoned horse owner and you will soon discover it is nigh on impossible to plan too far into the future. The 4 year old, for example, may have a future in show-jumping, and has been bought for that purpose. Unfortunately the horse could pull a tendon out in the field tomorrow, or next week, its easily done. To be blunt, no-one knows exactly how long they have with any particular animal. Horses are moved from pillar to post amongst young equestrians especially, as children grow out of them. A 25 year old Shetland could be ideal for a 3 year old child, given its experience with children. The same could be said for a 22 year old horse that has retired from dressage but could now suit a happy hacker. It’s a mistake to overlook the veteran, many remain fit and healthy and still have a  lot to give.

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#6 Choose a temperament that matches your skill set

Regardless of the breed, horses can have different temperaments and personalities. Two subservient laid back parents will not guarantee that the foal will not possess very dominant characteristics. Horses with very dominant personalities will need an experienced rider and handler because these types are likely to have more challenging behaviour.  Most people identify rearing, bucking, biting, kicking and bolting as a behavioural problem, when actually it’s the human lacking the skills to avoid, or resolve what is essentially natural behaviour. Horses that display aggressive, evasive, even stubborn behaviour toward its human handler is doing so because it sees itself as more dominant, but it has to be the other way around.

Being more dominant than a horse is not to suggest unkindness or brutality. Clear instructions, and consistent knowledgeable training is showing the horse that you are the leader, and someone he can trust. Some horses don’t resist when you push it’s buttons, but many will. Even if you have to contact past owners, find out everything you can about the horses temperament because unless you are an expert trainer, you could end up with a horse that becomes your leader.

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#7 Find A Horse that matches your life style

Some horses take up more time than others depending on the breed and its purpose. If you are a happy hacker the majority of the time, and only occasionally take part in the local shows then grass livery could be more suitable. Moreover if an owner is working full time, raising children and has a busy social life, anything other than grass livery could be quite challenging in terms of time management. When time becomes an issue it may just be better to concentrate on riding without mucking out, bringing in/turning out twice a day, filling hay-nets and making up feeds. Paddock maintenance would still be necessary such as manure removal, cleaning of troughs, fixing fences and adding hay over winter. Although many yards include this maintenance in the price of grass livery.

Some breeds can be prone to laminitis, and gain weight easily leading to further health problems, yet with proper paddock management there are many issues that could be avoided. Grass livery isn’t exclusive to the native breeds either as many horses will happily live out. Less hardy types and owners that intend to clip their horse in order to compete or hunt over winter usually require a stable. This could mean two visits a day, manual labour and less time for anything else going on in life. I have met my fair share of new owners that have found owning a horse disrupts their 25 year habit of eating dinner on their lap, while watching Coronation Street. Or complain that the farrier won’t as a rule work on a Sunday, just for their convenience. Owning a horse can be like taking on a part-time job without set hours. So give serious consideration on what type of horse you buy, its purpose and where and how you are going to keep it.

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 1

Images: Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use, No attribution required. Modified by author. https://pixabay.com/

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 1

#1 Don’t be swayed by pretty names and good looks

My first horse was a 14.2 hh strawberry roan mare called Princess. 8 year old girls in particular will immediately want to own a pony that is strawberry roan, and called Princess. The child’s parents may also assume such a beautiful pony with an angelic, virtuous name would be appropriate for a little girl. As it turns out pretty ponies with pretty names are not as virtuous as 8 year old children think. Over a period of 2 years I had to endure bucks, rears and bolts and all the associated injuries and terrifying experiences that occurred during such events.

Some people may assume this type of pony was completely inappropriate for a novice child. However I am cautious now, some 40 years later, when deciding if the pony was unsuitable. If anything the pony was a test of my passion, endurance and mettle. My parents had no clue about horses, and back then all horses were sold as seen. When a pony threw its rider no one called the vet, dentist or saddle fitter. Right or wrong, it was a simpler time, and a child either learnt to sit a buck, or gave up riding.

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#2 Do not take the advert at face value

It has to said adverts can be tricky to write by the seller, but most private sellers generally pad the advert out too much. By the time they have listed the 7 or 8 disciplines the animal has competed in, you are left wondering if the horse ever had time to sleep. Dealers, for the most part, can be more honest in that they will say the horse hunted last season, rather than is an experienced hunter. For some reason buyers like seeing the words has hunted. It may indicate the horse will perform well at cross country, be bombproof on hacks, and isn’t fazed by hounds or other horses. My horse hunted for many seasons, yet was a complete nut case, something the advert may fail to mention.

In the event you have bought the dream horse that is good to do in all ways, you may soon discover it was only good to do in all ways when it had an experienced jockey handling or riding it. The type of jockey that could tame one of Daenerys Targaryens dragons while simultaneously performing root canal on themselves. None of these issues showed up when you went to view and ride the horse either. But give it time, and take advice. You can either embrace this opportunity to become as good as the last rider, or admit your skill set is lacking and find a more appropriate animal in terms of your riding ability. Either decision is fine and after-all, you have at least learnt not to take horse adverts at face value.

#3 Age means nothing

There exists a myth that when a horse reaches the golden age of 8 it spontaneously becomes sensible. Sensible must mean bombproof, experienced and wise, a trustworthy animal that has completed its training and now has a PhD in Equine Brilliance. However, there is no such thing as a horse that has completed its training. Training is something that continues throughout the life of a horse. Consideration must also be taken in exactly who has been training the horse for the last 8 years. One trainer, many trainers, one owner or numerous owners?

There are many, many horses out there that should potentially have training started from scratch, because they have not been trained correctly in the first place. Owners are faced with evidence of this on a daily basis, but choose to ignore it. A horse may regularly duck out of a jump, boot the heck out of the trailer when travelling, be strong when leading to the field, or tanks off with the rider at canter. Yet owners pass this off as the horse being quirky, or having a bad day. Forget age because it means nothing in terms of the quality of training the horse has had. It’s better to have a 4 year old that has been trained by a professional than an 8 year old that has not been trained properly, or even badly.

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#4 Price also means nothing

Bluntly put, a horse is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it.  We are all aware, or have been, of the livery that has paid 12 grand in purchasing a show jumper. Yet the rider themselves is a novice and has never jumped more than 60 cm. The seller may have attached such a price to the horse because it has a proven track record and has won money. In other cases it’s because it was bred from parents that had success at show-jumping, even dressage or showing. The less experienced potential horse owner may assume it’s a good horse simply by the price tag alone.

While the breed of the horse may play a part in whether it will be more suited to a particular discipline, horses are not born ready-made. If the horse has already been trained to a good standard it is unlikely to stay this way without regular, and knowledgeable training maintenance. If an owner does have the time and the resources to regularly train, then they stand the same chance of success buying  a healthy animal of the same breed or type that cost 11 grand less.

 

Images: Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons Free for commercial use No attribution required. https://pixabay.com/

Modified by author

‘That’ Post On Grazing Muzzles

Well I had an inkling that this subject may be controversial. There are many devices on the equestrian market that have been in use for so long that people become almost blind to whether such devices should be used. Certain objects become such a familiar sight on yards, or on horses, that they become accepted without question or thought. Spurs, bits, whips, draw reins, and grazing muzzles (to name just a few) seem to fall into the category of what is considered conventional. My main beef with this is that when certain devices are readily available and a familiar sight, no extra thought, research or effort is made to find another option, method or technique to remedy a situation or ailment. Of course this isn’t true of everyone, but novices in particular may unwittingly trust such devices simply because they are commonplace.

Others may also never question something they have been doing, simply because for so many years they assumed it was the correct thing to do. Many of us go through life doing things a certain way, and only question it when someone asks why? I am without doubt guilty of this myself in that I have never ridden bitless. It was never questioned as a child, and I never asked why I was inserting a lump of metal into my horses mouth. Yet riding without a bit is common in the USA, and unfortunately rare in my part of the world. However, in my case I can still learn and appreciate that sometimes there are better ways of doing things, and not always just accepting things, simply because they are normal.

Video – Straight From The Horses Mouth 😉

Grazing Muzzles Cause Misery

There appear to be various contraptions readily available to buy these days in which it seems evident that the designer of the product either had no love for horses, or was ignorant of their welfare. Moreover it appears the buyer of such contraptions willingly shares the same mindset of the manufacturer. There are a few things that cause me to grimace when I see a horse from afar. One is seeing a horse wearing a rug on a warm day, or just because it’s raining. The other is seeing a horse wearing a grazing muzzle.

The design of the muzzle would lead one to believe that only small sections of grass can poke through, allowing the horse to snip off just the delicate ends from blades of grass. If used carefully by the animal then it should be entirely possible to graze.

Sounds good so far.

All the horse needs to do is not press down fully to ground level, so not to flatten the grass, but stop approximately 5 cm from the root base. If done slowly, and with a good amount of dexterity and careful precision, several blades of grass should pass through the opening. In theory yes, but obviously this demonstration was performed by the human hands of a designer who no doubt was trying to impress his potential investors. Do these potential investors have horse knowledge?

Those that think a horse knows to stop 5 cm from the ground and blindly negotiate the gaps of the muzzle over several pieces of grass are misinformed. The position of the horses eyes are not located in such a position to be able to see what is directly under its lips. Throw a mint on the floor and observe what happens. The horse knows the general location at first from sight, but when he lowers his head he is going by memory only. To find the mint he will now use smell, and his muzzle and whiskers to feel around for it. Yet while at pasture, the use of the lips and whiskers are rendered near on useless considering the grazing muzzle surrounds the mouth area.

Furthermore horses do not snip off delicate blades of grass habitually, because they would die of starvation. These are big animals that need to eat in bulk spread out over 24 hours. Horses are very capable of using a fair amount of dexterity while picking through thorny bushes for herbs or fruit. But for the most part, they graze in a succession of 2 or 3 chomps before chewing. Instinct alone will cause them to lift their head to check for predators. Therefore to maximise feeding efficiency while remaining alert, they chew while surveying the environment. Simply put, they grab what they can, then check for lions.

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Horses have not evolved to have the dexterity to negotiate the gaps in a plastic or nylon muzzle, only the human inventor that evolved to have fingers can manage such a task. A horse in this situation is more likely to press harder on the ground in an attempt to find grass, rather than calculate the angle, distance and force needed to successfully nip off a few blades of grass. While its entirely plausible that adaptation can occur in animals, over many generations, it is highly unlikely a horse will pass down knowledge of muzzles to its foal, and all of its future generations. To assume all horses will adapt, happily and efficiently, to using muzzles is bordering on the ridiculous.

Every owner that has used one must be aware of the disgusting mess the contraption contains after every single use. Both saliva, and moisture from the grass build up on the inside of the muzzle. Grass that has not been swallowed mixes with all the extra moisture and forms a pulp. This green pulp clogs up the holes of the muzzle and rubs against the horses nose, lips and chin and also impedes the ability to breath comfortably. Horses by their very nature expel vegetation they find unpalatable, and this occurs often. They also shake off the parts they do not wish to eat, such as soil that clings to roots.

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Anything discarded has the potential not to drop through the holes to the ground. As the horse attempts to breath normally, moisture and detritus can be drawn into the nasal passages. If that green, slimy detritus filled mash isn’t bad enough now, just imagine what will happen when the horse visits the water trough.

There is absolutely no way that a muzzle rubbing against the delicate skin of the face will not cause discomfort, or unnatural pressure on the teeth as the horse bears down harder on the ground. Damage and injuries that will no doubt be susceptible to infection considering the amount of bacteria that is being smeared onto broken compromised skin. Furthermore while everyone is aware of the dangers of leaving head collars on when in pasture, for some reason they assume the straps of a muzzle must be safe. Even if the straps are engineered to safely snap, left unsupervised the now hungry horse is likely to gorge on the grass.

Stopping a herbivorous prey animal from grazing and foraging is without a doubt very, very cruel. It can’t be stressed enough, those that use muzzles are tampering with the mental stability of the animal. The animal must be aware on some level it is not meeting its own physical needs. Horses are big on showing strength and not appearing weak. Imagine the distress a horse must feel while its simultaneously staying alert for danger and feeling hunger, breathing through something that feels like a sodden stinking flannel while all the time feeling pain from a lump of plastic or nylon rubbing against his face. Adding to that mental cruelty is then putting a horse in a field full of fresh lush grass…then impeding its ability to consume what visually must be the human equivalent of a banquet.

Research on this topic advises that horses should not be left unsupervised when wearing a muzzle, and that they should only be left on for short periods. In all of these case studies however there were individual horses that had to be removed from the study due to behavioural changes that indicated stress.

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Horses do not need much grass to feel mentally secure, it’s more of a case that we inhibit their ability to roam to pastures new, and this in particular is what causes mental stress. Therefore using a starvation paddock, or employing the method of strip grazing is still not ideal, but it could suffice. If an owner has somehow allowed a working animal to gain an excess of weight, or is attempting to avoid other serious ailments, they could use a starvation paddock and add hay. Hay added in sections in various places within the paddock would meet the needs of the horse in terms of foraging while encouraging movement. This is obviously far better than obstructing air ways and causing both physical and mental discomfort.

Everyone’s circumstances, and the individual needs of the horse are different, understandably. But whether taking measures to avoid a multitude of conditions such as colic or even laminitis, then more intelligent, effective methods must be employed rather than placing such a contraption on the horses head. The best place for a grazing muzzle, ideally, would be in a bin.

Image sources: Wikipedia & Pixels CC0 License,Free for personal and commercial use, No attribution required. Modified by author.

Equitation Motivation

No one naturally wakes up feeling motivated . People may wake up feeling an urgency or an excitement for what the day may hold. But motivation is not an instinct, it doesn’t spontaneously materialise if you eat well, drink plenty of water and sleep a solid 7 hours a night. In fact there are people (or have been) that survive eating junk food, embracing alcoholism and hard drugs and still wake feeling motivated. Just a simple Google search will throw up (literally) Vincent Van Gogh, Stephen King, Alexander the Great, Leonard Nimoy, and Betty Ford. Motivation has nothing to do with healthy living, practicing yoga or eating organic food. Living in a luxurious home, wearing designer clothes, driving an expensive car, dining out often, going on exotic holidays…just have the novelty factor, one which is temporary, and probably wholly unfulfilling especially in terms of daily self-motivation.

The only way to get motivated is to generate it.

Generating motivation starts within the brain with a decision, a promise, and one you will stick to no matter what. It’s about staying focused and drowning out all the useless noise of life.  On a personal level I cannot wait to find a good day to write, a day in which I have the energy of a spring lamb, or I would never type a single word. No matter how well I sleep and eat (and I do) every single morning I have about as much energy as that forgotten limp lettuce oozing mush in your salad draw.

But my decision, my promise to myself is I must write.

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I had a very good vet once, and since, but this man is memorable for his lack of bed-side manner. Bereft of any bedside manner myself, and being quite envious of people that have mastered the art of diplomacy, caused me to really like him, a kindred spirit if you like. Once when handing him the phone to directly speak to a livery about his horse he covered the mouth piece and asked Is he moderately intelligent, or a simpleton? He wasn’t being rude, not in my book. He wanted to understand on what level he should explain a slipping stifle and bad conformation to someone he had never met.

Several months later he was stood chatting with me about my own horse and enquired what I planned to do with her. I didn’t really have any solid plans, just the usual stuff i.e. a bit of show-jumping, sponsored rides, maybe dressage etc. His response was Well, you had better get on with it then or you’ll miss the boat.

Maybe  a simple, flippant  comment but it had an impact on me because he was right, and it gave me pause for thought. People that go through life trying a bit of this, and a bit of that never actually achieve anything worthwhile. They don’t do so because they haven’t committed themselves. They have no single focus and that promise to themselves was never made. The motivation they so sorely needed was never generated.

I hear non-concrete aspirations all the time from horse owners no matter what their level of experience or ability, or what age their horse is. But stop waiting, the right time to make promises and generate motivation is immediately.

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Instead of planning flat-work lessons in the spring, do it now, pick up the phone and book it. If you want to start getting out in the box more and exploring new hacking tracks, get loading. If you’re going to start introducing your horse to pole work soon, do it tomorrow, not soon. You tell me you have started groundwork training, but have you? Can you show me your 3 month plan and what exercises you will be doing? You would like to hunt but you missed this year’s season, but didn’t you say that last year?

If both the owner and horse is fit and well then the excuses are just that, excuses. Yes you can find the time, and yes you will find the money and yes we have all been there juggling the kids and a job. Take all those plans and put them in motion today. Take that first step, whether it’s a phone call or putting together a quarterly program. Get prepared and be prepared because planning is the key to your success and this is what will generate your motivation.  We are not talking about training for the Olympics here, although by all means do, but even happy hackers need motivation! So what if the ground is slushy in the winter, and baked hard in the summer, plan your route and climb aboard right now!

Write down your goals and start planning to achieve them immediately, or, and in the words of my favourite vet You will miss the boat.

…and what happened to my brilliant vet? He got fed up of moaning housewives that owned horses and returned to his first love, the racing industry. His words not mine, like I’ve already stated… he wasn’t the most diplomatic fella on the planet.

Images: Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use , No attribution required https://pixabay.com/

Modified by author

Bombproofing: Sniffing For Confidence

I have read several articles recently regarding bombproofing and many of them offer some handy tips and tricks. Most of them provide information on what many of us would do anyway in terms of schooling with a plastic bag, or tying one to the arena fence. But what I would like to add is something all of the articles left out, and the 2 things I do which are so fundamental I would consider it a dangerous oversight not to do.

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Mounting Block, Or Not?

The main argument surrounding this subject always seems to be centred around protecting the back of the horse. My main argument to you, dear reader, is if you do not know how to mount correctly then using a block will not protect the back of your horse either. If a rider is completing a mount in a fluid motion and in the correct manner, the back of the horse will not be compromised whether the rider is mounting from the ground or a block.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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