Category: riding

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/

Is Riding Dangerous?

This was the subject of a conversation I had many years ago with a woman in her 30’s. She was very typical of a person that rode in their teens but gave up for all the usual reasons such as university, getting married, having a career and raising a family. Some of us do all that yet still keep horses, those that do not often yearn for their own horse again. Thirty-something always seems the most common age to re-enter the equestrian life. The kids have become more independent, plus the finances are looking healthy, and more importantly, the passion for horses still remains .

These conversations always, literally always, go the same way. The person worries about taking care of their kids should anything dire happen to them, who will run the home, how will they survive without a second income etc? My response to her was You are more likely to slip in the bath and break your arm, than hurt yourself falling off a horse. A week later the same lady fell from a chair hanging fairy lights and broke her arm in several places. Yes, several places. Not a hairline fracture, not a nice clean single fracture, but in several places.

Five strikes and you’re out

That’s how I think of horse riding, handling and anything pertaining to horses. To explain, let’s think about the lady hanging fairy lights. The first strike came from using a chair instead of a ladder. The second strike came from over-reaching, or reaching too high, the third strike is exactly why the first and second strike occurred, bad planning and lack of preparation. She has 2 strikes left, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out the odds are now stacked against her. I wasn’t in the room with her, I can only guess where the last two remaining strikes came from. But once those strikes became 5, she fell.

Horse riding is about not stacking those odds against you and not gaining those 5 strikes. Even then, I have to tell you, something that you could have never imagined planning and training for, may still happen.

Heli

But that will be just one strike. You already know those strikes, I don’t have to tell you what they could be. There will be something you already know that will affect your horse on a hack, or in the show ring, or when loading and leading. Those that know those strikes but carry on regardless…then yes, for those people horse riding is dangerous.

Some forms of riding will definitely be more risky than others such as point to point, cross country and racing that are potentially more hazardous than dressage, or a hack around the local woods. Add speed, and add jumps and the potential for a fall increases, yet the people that partake in such sports do so fully aware of the risks. Some people are risk takers, others are not. The average horse rider is not a risk taker, they have more in common with the fairy light lady than Oliver Townend.

Eventing

Keeping Safe

Riding and being around horses is as safe as you want it to be. The training and level of experience of the horse needs to be appropriate for the work it’s doing, it also needs to fully accommodate the ability, level and experience of the rider. Training is something an owner needs to be doing all of the time and striving to continually learn. The most common falls I have seen have been the result of the horse shying sharply or bolting. But it’s not necessarily the cause, in both cases the actual reason people fall is because they lose balance during such an episode. Yet the more a person rides, the less likely a fall will occur, simply because they are improving their seat every single time they ride. Those losing balance on spooky, bolting horses…shouldn’t be on spooky, bolting horses, right?

While I don’t believe any horse will be absolutely 100% bombproof, there will definitely be horses that are less likely to spook through competent training. Yet a novice rider is already at one strike, simply for being unbalanced,  riding a spooky animal is 2 strikes, what else is it going to take before the balance between safe and dangerous is looking unfavourable?

The novice rider will be safe with one strike but only on the appropriate horse, and in an environment and situation that particular horse is comfortable being in. So know your level, understand the level of experience and training the horse has had, continue to improve your own knowledge, training and experience so that when something unexpected does occur, it’s just one strike, not one of many, this will keep the balance in your favour.

Some will argue there will always be an element of risk when riding a horse, and you will have no argument from me. But no more risky than driving a car, walking down the stairs, being on a plane, crossing the road…or even hanging fairy lights.

 

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

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.

Continue reading “Mounting Block, Or Not?”

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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Too windy To Ride?

I raised my chin to look directly above me, the tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. A million leaves being rattled by the wind had the sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore the track had forked before the wood, so I had indeed the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day. Well, not until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this Dolly Daydream episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.

Continue reading “Too windy To Ride?”

An Open Letter Reply – Motorbikes

Horses are complicated animals, very complicated. Less complicated to an expert perhaps, but only after years of dedication, observations, gaining knowledge and working around them does an expert understand equine behaviour and psychology. In this respect a novice has no clue to the complexities of the equine brain. To a person that has no knowledge of horses whatsoever they must seem very uncomplicated, perhaps just a four legged mammal that people ride. This is why I write about horses, if I live another 40 years I will still not have even scratched the surface of the many subjects relating to equine behaviour. It’s a harrowing journey in some respects because as I gain more knowledge, I am also haunted by the mistakes I have made in the past. My aim now is to spend the next 40 years striving to get things right. I write because if I could help just one person avoid my mistakes and help someone understand their horse better, I know at least that horse will have a better life.

Continue reading “An Open Letter Reply – Motorbikes”

Don’t Look Down, You Will End Up There

Whoever came up with that line should be cold hosed on a winter morning, naked.Those that are fond of saying it should stop and think how those words may impact a child. I cringe when I hear an adult saying it to a group of children, it’s worse than  cringing, I feel like someone has physically slapped me and it makes me wince. The line I usually hear next is check your diagonal!

See where I’m going with this?

Continue reading “Don’t Look Down, You Will End Up There”

The Bolt: Part 2

When out hacking through the countryside or along roads my mare will display anxiety when approaching and passing horse paddocks. If these horses are just standing around grazing she will become head-high and attempt to focus on the herd. I can feel her attention has shifted from me and I’ve become a mere passenger. Continue reading “The Bolt: Part 2”

The Bolt

All 3 horses spooked sharply. Conditions for a hack that December day were great, admittedly it was cold, but the sky was blue and the wind was busy ruining someone’s hair in another part of the country. It was quiet and frost still lay unthawed in the shadows of the hedge-line. These are the worst spooks, initiated by things you didn’t see or hear coming. This wasn’t a chip-wrapper gently blowing toward me in which I had time to communicate to my horse it’s okay. This wasn’t a florescent lycra-clad cyclist passing me from behind. This particular monster was silent and unseen.

The most dangerous kind. Continue reading “The Bolt”

The First Riding Lesson

The 8 year old child awoke early to the sound of weaver birds that were industriously building natural wonders made out of stiff grass. The house was quiet as her family continued to sleep soundly. The noise of something shifting outside the bedroom window indicated that one particular mammal knew the child was awake, which was her faithful German Shepard.

6 months previous to this morning the child had been told to sit quietly and mind her manners during a visit to a family friend’s house. This is what happens to 8 year old children, they always have to go where their parents go, no matter how dull it may seem to a young mind. Their chatter filled the air of this man’s large lounge, but the child sat in silence swinging her short legs back and forth on the sofa while staring at the ceiling fan. She was prohibited from playing in the garden, because like many gardens in this Zimbabwean town, there was a guard dog out there that would more than likely eat a stranger roaming in the garden.

The child asked if she could use the bathroom, what she really wanted to do was have a good nose around, anything to break the boredom. After a good 5 minutes of looking through the cabinet and sniffing pungent liquids in glass bottles the child grew disappointed at the lack of makeup and other girly paraphernalia. It would seem to the child there was no mummy in this house. The cabinet consisted of things called Old Spice and Brut 33. Also a good squeeze of the tube of BrilCreem meant the girl had spent 3 of the 5 minutes mopping stinky white stuff up off the floor.

Slowly walking back to the lounge she passed the double glass doors that led to the garden. Hesitant now, she stopped and listened to the adults chatting, and did the only thing a bored child would rightfully do. She carefully tried the door handle which was indeed unlocked. She quietly opened it just enough to slip through into the heat of the day.

The garden was large, very overgrown and mostly without colour apart from the splashes of yellow from gnarled unmanaged lemon trees which were adorned with fruit. The path led to a clearing consisting of worn away grass interspersed with dusty patches of soil that had been baked under an African sun. The child saw a rudimentary kennel with a post that had been hammered into the ground. Attached to this post was a heavy duty chain, and secured to this chain was an enormous German Shepard. He was dozing in the hot sun with flies swarming around his eyes and chewing on his frayed ears. His paws were lightly paddling the air, perhaps he was dreaming of a time when he was once running free through the African bush. There was a battered metallic object near him which must have once been a shallow bowl which had become flattened over time.

The child called out to the dog which instantly leapt to his feet and launched himself towards her barking wildly. The child ignored the 2 rows of yellowing teeth and walked toward the battered metal plate.

Is this yours? The child asked the dog as she picked it up.

The behaviour of the dog instantly changed. Perhaps he thought the small girl had brought food for him. He sat and whined, his now wagging tail formed swirling semi-circles in the dust. The child knelt beside the dog and caressed his head. She then ran her hand down his face to his neck, and unclipped the chain.

Two panicking parents and the boring man came rushing into the garden some 10 minutes later. By the looks on their faces they perhaps thought they were about to find the corpse of their 8 year old child. What they were presented with however was a very much alive little girl playing a game of Frisbee with a battered metal plate and a fly-chewed, but happy dog.

This is why the girl with sun-bleached hair now had a German Shepard sleeping outside her bedroom window every night. Either the boring man did the right thing and gave his dog a chance of a happy life, or he decided that he had the worst guard dog ever. Either way, the dog went home with the little girl that day.

So 6 months later the dog shifts his weight as he hears his young friend has woken and is getting dressed. The child is too excited to sleep any longer for something is happening today that she has been dreaming about since she was 3 years old.

The short boots are second hand but the child doesn’t care and for the next half an hour she sits at her parent’s dining room table making a terrible mess with boot polish. Her father had always instructed her to put down newspaper when using polish, but the child could not find any.

Before leaving the house the child grabbed her black velvet riding hat and gazed at it with wonder and excitement. Again its second hand, but the grateful child doesn’t mind. She looks inside and suddenly understands the lack of newspaper in the house. Her mother has lined the inside of the hat with last week’s edition of the Harari Times. There was no chin strap either, as they either hadn’t been invented by the late 1970’s, or this hat was an antique. Either way, the child would grow to learn the importance of a chin strap, and why it’s not ideal to use newspaper to make a hat fit.

At 6.00 am she set off to walk the 2 miles to her friend Susan’s house, but not before hugging the giant dog that outweighed her by at least 2 stone. Upon arriving she rang the doorbell but there was no answer so she tried again. Muffled sounds could be heard from inside and 20 seconds later Susan opened the door in a bedraggled, just woke up state. The blond girl eagerly asked her friend if her Dad was ready to take them to the stables. Susan did not share her excitement however and informed her friend that she was 4 hours early! With that, the door was slammed shut and Susan presumably went back to bed. Susan may be forgiven for assuming her friend would then return home.

She didn’t, the girl with the second hand boots and the news-paper packed hat sat on the curb outside Susan’s house for the next 4 hours thinking of horses, eagerly waiting for the moment she had been dreaming of since the age of 3.

 

*I dedicate this story to the memory of my beautiful dog Thor.