Category: Uncategorized

The Loading…Issue?

My horse does load and travel quite well. But if we were to stop and pass a trained eye over the entire event from start to finish the process is far from a comfortable experience for my horse. This has not proved overly problematic in the past as I have always relied on specific tactics in the event my horse decides not to put a hoof on that ramp. Fortunately buckets of feed and lunge lines haven’t featured in any of the horses I have loaded over the last decade. While it is tempting to divulge the tactics I have used, it would be irresponsible to promote or encourage such practices. Rest assured none of them involved beating, hurting or scaring the animal. Knowing you have a few tricks up one’s sleeve, and having a Plan B can only mean one thing however…the horse was never trained to load correctly in the first place.

A horse that is even slightly suspicious of placing its hoof on that ramp must have doubts. I accept full responsibility that initially I did not train this particular horse to load correctly because I was ignorant. Going up the ramp, coming down the ramp, it’s such a small part of the day that it’s often the case we do not stop to read the signals. People tend to concentrate on the why they are travelling that day. It could be a show, hunting, a sponsored ride or a trip to the beach for example.

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There must be without a doubt the sound of a million sighs of relief throughout the world on a daily basis when that ramp finally closes and the horse is loaded.

Should there be a ‘Phew!’?

Of course not, and If a person finds themselves feeling relieved then they should address the fact that they must have been worried in the first place.  Addressing this fact is accepting the horse has not been trained to load correctly. Blaming the horse for not loading is only going to reflect badly on its owner because a horse does not teach itself to load.

It occurred to me recently that my horse had not travelled in 5 months. To be honest this should not be a passing thought because this should in fact be part of my training schedule. This is the problem, people fail to even have a training schedule, there’s no weekly or monthly plan. Many owners (not all) consider that all training occurs in the saddle. Training should occur 100% of the time you are near a horse. If I were to write a list of all the things an owner should do on a weekly and monthly basis they would consider it an impossible notion due to time constraints, I think it also. Which is a shame for our confused and mostly bewildered equine friends, but it certainly keeps our horse trainers in plenty of work having to address issues involving mounting, leading, riding, loading, traffic, jumping, bolting, shying and another 100 problems.

Even if I had trained my horse the correct method of loading from the out-set many years ago, handling and training a horse in all manner of situations and environments should still be maintained frequently. We can’t blame the horse for anything, only ourselves.

The Strict Routine

My horse was very strong on a hack recently, and while we may have only been walking, it was still necessary to correct the speed. I hadn’t asked for this fast paced walk, in fact I was looking for a nice amble across the English county-side. The walk she had chosen felt hurried and anxious, and when I applied pressure to my reins she totally ignored it. Now I could have got home 30 minutes earlier than planned, but this needed correcting. Situations like this are no more than a nuisance at walk, yet my horse ignoring my pressure and deciding her own speed at trot and canter could prove a lot more dangerous.

Very frequently situations in the saddle are not always just connected to riding, and situations such as mine are a consequence of everything else an owner does around the horse. Yet I see very little evidence of people making this connection, I often see just the opposite. Problems in the saddle are just that, it’s a schooling problem, a bad temperament, the horse is in season, it’s the spring grass, the saddle needs re-flocking or a stronger bit is required.

A very sad situation occurred recently in which a young rider was thrown from her horse and received a fatal head injury. I may not know the exact circumstances but the article I read stated that the girl had finished riding and put the horse in the stable. For reasons unknown she brought the horse back out the stable and mounted the horse again. The hat had already been removed, as the saddle and she mounted on the concrete base. The horse bucked her off.

This is a set of circumstances in which having a strict routine could get someone hurt or killed. We see the same routing every day in which someone has finished riding, untacks the horse, grooms and feeds, or some variation of that, but usually some sort of routine is established.

Returning to my own situation of my fast paced anxious hack; this was resolved by giving some thought to what I had been doing the last few times I had both handled and ridden my horse. I had done this very same trail the last time I hacked and when I had finished I untacked my horse, groomed, fed and turned her out. I had unwittingly trained my horse that if we just get finished she will get a bowl of feed and can get back to her herd sooner. Schooling wise, I did correct this pace while riding but this was just 10% of what I needed to do to change this behaviour. I didn’t want a stronger bit, and ideally I wanted my horse not to be anxious when hacking.

The next time I handled my horse I fed her first, then groomed and did some groundwork. Some days I didn’t provide any hard feed and I avoided riding the same trail if I had hacked that way the last time. Sometimes we didn’t hack but rode in the arena, or did dome road-work. Fundamentally I always did things (everything) differently than the last time. My horse is now in a situation where she cannot predict what is coming next.

Is she anxious? No.

My horse is calm because she is not in control of the situation, and if she is not in control then the person who is calling the shots…is me.

Be wary of livery yards that seem proud to advertise their horses have ‘a strict routine’. No don’t be wary, just avoid them. Ideally you want a yard that lets you mind your own business, which is entirely possible in my experience. The horses you see and hear in the morning kicking the stable doors wanting to be fed are not calm and contented horses, they are anxious.

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A strict routine has a knock on effect with everything someone does with their horse which involves riding and handling. The added danger is when you do something that suddenly breaks this routine. If you have ridden your horse at 4 pm every-day for the last 2 years then one morning decide to ride at 7 am, you may very well have a horse that throws a tantrum. It isn’t the bit, it isn’t the saddle, and it isn’t because your horse is mean. It’s because you have trained your horse to expect breakfast at 8 am and to be ridden at 4 pm.

I was made aware of a horseman a couple of years ago, although I do not know his name and I have never met him, all the same I tip my hat to him. He purchased a ‘dangerous’ horse. This horse was turned away for many months while the horseman just observed him. During this time the man could see nothing physically or psychologically wrong with this animal, so brought him back into work. In my mind and without a doubt I feel sure this man was bringing back balance to this horse’s brain. He was undoing years of bad horsemanship, routine, strong bits and uneducated handling…by just letting the horse be a horse for 6 months.

My partner hunted this horse several times after been cared for by this man, so you can believe me when I say this horse was not dangerous and was good as gold when ridden.

Throw that routine out, good horsemanship is not just about sitting in a saddle. Give some thought to what you do around horses. The rears, the bucks, the napping and being strong when led may just have nothing to do with your tack or because the horse is dangerous. It may just be better not to invest your money in changing tack, but investing your time in understanding horse psychology.

Combining Passions

It was suggested to me recently that I make some horse related instructional videos for a 3rd party, which I am happy to do. I am by no means Adobe Evangelist Terry White but I strive to be, and that’s what counts, at least that’s what I tell myself! Anyway this gave me the idea of linking my passion for writing with my other passions of photography, image editing, video editing and of course…horses! I am now hunting for ideas for short videos that may help other people with horse care and general knowledge. Please let me know your suggestions! I have put together a short video on plaiting a mane, and there will be another on plaiting the tail very soon. The video footage was actually captured for plaiting the tail but a few unfortunate circumstances meant that the quality isn’t quite as I hoped.

Firstly, I was stood in the sun for quite some time shooting the ‘mane’ footage which caused me to become quite dehydrated and tired. Secondly someone suggested a ‘cool glass of shandy’ (it may have been me) after we had finished filming. This last suggestion proved to be somewhat catastrophic, and I rushed plaiting that tail like a Suffolk dwelling business man racing to catch a train out of London at 5.30 pm on a Friday evening.

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The mane footage was completed and edited however.

I tend to plait up the evening before a show to save me doing it in the morning. My mare has never shown any indication these bands are a nuisance, she has never rubbed during the night, not even an itch of an inch of a plait!

Because they are not sewn in like traditional methods the soft bands allow the hair to move, so there is no pinching or pulling of the hair-root. As you will be able to see from the video the bands are perfectly safe to use and will not split or damage the horse’s mane. The evidence is apparent in how thick and healthy my horses mane is! The plaits stay in all the next day.

Whatever your chosen discipline these will not fall out and are easy to remove once we are finished. My technique will have your horse looking show-perfect the entire day! Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions for topics for more videos’ let me know, I’ll do my best. Thank you to my friend Dean Spackman, for been a great camera-man and an amazing director! I promise to inundate you with chocolate brownies!

Buyer Beware

I have in the past on many occasions, climbed aboard a horse that I knew nothing about. The reasons are multitudinous but the most common reasons were; I’ve ridden horses that have been problematic for the owner and I have been asked to put it through its paces. I have ridden horses that have already been bought and the owner has asked me to be the first to ride it. Or  I have gone along with a potential buyer to try out a horse for them.

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Firstly, there is no way on Heaven and Earth the average rider can know a horse after 30 minutes in the saddle. Going into the arena and completing walk, trot and canter on both reigns, and maybe popping over a small jump will not tell anyone much of this horse’s history or level of training. The horse could be absolutely perfect in the school yet tomorrow it may stand on a plastic bottle and throw its rider. The small things can get a person hurt because they just didn’t consider them. People concentrate on whether the horse is good in traffic, if it jumps well, loads, has competed etc. all the big things.

I was grooming a very quiet, well -schooled horse once and it stood on a plastic curry comb. It shouldn’t be physically possible for a horse to complete a 360o somersault but this one did, almost breaking my arm in the process. A horse can be brilliant on the road until one day it comes across a mattress that has been dumped in the verge. But we can’t possibly prepare our horses to be unresponsive to every household item, or just about any possible object on the entire planet, can we? Not technically, but we can certainly strive for the correct response by exposing them to as much as possible while teaching them they can trust us to decide whether a mattress is an alligator in disguise or not.

I am of the opinion a potential buyer should not get on a horse that is unknown to them. When booking a viewing the last thing you need to see is someone already on the horse and riding it in the arena. They haven’t seen it caught and led from the field. If it was boxed then they haven’t seen what it was like when the handler approached it. They haven’t seen the behaviour when groomed, tacked up, and mounted. The buyer hasn’t seen anything that might give them clues to the horse’s character, training or history. Even if the seller allows someone to catch the horse, lead, tack-up, mount and ride the horse, will this person be experienced enough to recognise the signals and understand what type of horse they are dealing with?

I have a 100 memories in my head of people purchasing an inappropriate horse that will not suit the lifestyle or ability of the rider. An off the track Thoroughbred will not suit a happy-hacker, and you may think pointing this out is unnecessary and surely I made it up. No, it happens.

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These are my options when my mare retires to secure myself an appropriate horse, bearing in mind I’m not going to ride an animal that is unknown to me;

  • I buy a 2 or 3 year old only on the understanding it has had minimal handling. By starting with a blank canvass, I reduce the possibility there are any hidden surprises that may lurk in this horse’s history. I also buy from a reputable breeder that has maintained the health of the animal.
  • I buy a horse that is already known to me, that I have seen ridden/handled in many situations and environments for a long time by someone I trust.
  • I pay a reputable professional horseman to find me a horse with a good temperament which has been handled/ridden correctly, and one that would suit my lifestyle.
  • I find an appropriate horse myself but have it on loan with a view to buy, I then do 4 weeks of groundwork before deciding this animal is suitable.
  • I don’t own a horse, I loan one or share a horse with someone that understands how to communicate with a horse correctly.

These are the only appropriate options open to me that I feel are necessary to protect my well-being, physically and mentally. This is from a person that would once climb on anything. The reason for doing so was ignorance. Having the ability to ride is 1% of good horsemanship, if you consider that most of the time we spend around these animals is actually from the ground. Having the ability to sit bucks, rears, spins etc. just means someone has a good seat but that’s all it means. Having the ability to understand why this behaviour is occurring, and having the patience and knowledge to resolve such issues… that is good horsemanship.

Look at the options above and consider them. Don’t ask someone like the ‘past me’ to try a horse out for you, it’s a mistake. That pony I rode for someone was fine, one week later their child couldn’t sit a buck and broke her arm. That Thoroughbred I rode was good as gold in the school, the next day it reared and the owner was hurt.

I have many of these memories and unfortunately riding a horse once or twice didn’t help any of these people, mainly because all I could do was ride. I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to tell them anything useful about this horse.

If I had possessed the skills back then, then the very last thing I should have done…was put my foot in that stirrup.

The EquiShrug

The only reason I looked up from the very important task of minding my own business was because I heard someone shout. You find yourself already looking in the general direction of the noise before it even occurs to you the golden rule of minding your own business has just been broken. The horse tentatively drifting about in what I assume was intended to be a 10 metre circle was wearing what is potentially a nightmare contraption in uneducated hands – a Pessoa. Fortunately it was apparent the horse was completely desensitised to the lunging whip that for some reason was been held high in the air gently swaying. If you had seen the same action from a distance while standing on a beach this person would have resembled a talented kite flyer. Being desensitised to a whip waving about is generally a good thing for horses, but they should also recognise when you are attempting to apply pressure.

From the ground the stick can be thought of as an extension of your arm to communicate with the horse. There is all types of pressure everyone should be aware of which will include your own body language and even the direction of where one is looking. I’m aware of what my feet are doing, my eyes, hands and the stick, and this is perhaps just 10% of what I could actually include in this article, but it’s not possible. This is the reason I hardly ever lunge, I see it as such a fine art to get everything correct that I don’t believe I am good enough. I accept it takes 100% concentration and only a skilled professional can properly lunge a horse. So take on board that if someone can say they have been around horses for nearly 40 years and feels they cannot expertly lunge a horse, then why are people doing it when they have owned a horse for the last 2 years?

They lunge because they are unaware of the fundamental errors they are making, the horse is going in a circle and that is all lunging means…apparently.

I am in something of a unique position having owned one of my horses for over 20 years. I can look back and somewhat painfully recall the mistakes I have made with this mare. Yet when I had professional training my horse transformed before my eyes, my horse didn’t become good as she was always a good horse. Unfortunately she was owned by an ignorant human that could not correctly communicate with her. She has taught me that horses are very forgiving creatures, because even after all my fundamental errors this mare is gracious enough to still have a ground and ridden relationship with me.

As I continued to look toward the horse in the Pessoa the owner brought that stick down and thumped it on the ground behind the horse, the horse took two steps forward and for reasons I don’t understand the person made snapping motions on the line causing the horse to stop. Again the lunge whip came crashing down, and the hapless horse took a tentative step forward. Nope, that wasn’t correct either as the line was again used in the snapping motion. I was confused as the horse! My eyes were darting between the horse and the person’s hands to attempt to understand what they were trying to achieve. I am of a species that is allegedly the apex predator, the most intelligent of this entire planets numerous species, yet I couldn’t understand…so what chance did this horse have!?

Well the horse had no chance of understanding. He’d tried forward and back none of which seemed correct. He did the only other thing that seemed an option, he gave up trying. This is the point I was rewarded for breaking my golden rule of not staring. The horse turned to the owner, sighed and planted himself. The human equivalent of this body language would be a human turning toward someone else, shrugging their shoulders and say ‘What?’ I have termed this the EquiShrug. The owner was quick to shout and call the horse stupid. I wish I could have told her the horse was a kind-natured animal that had done its best to understand the human. He didn’t rear out of frustration, he didn’t buck in anger, and he didn’t gallop in a circle with anxiety. No, he’d done his best to understand and his kind soul had responded with an EquiShrug.

The EquiShrug

Another example of this was again witnessed as I patiently waited for someone to turn their horse into the paddock. I was holding my own horse 15 feet away waiting to use the same paddock. The horse was asked to walk through the opening, which it attempted to do, but again the lead rope was banged under the chin. Different owner, different horse, it was even a different yard! The horse stopped, even backed up which I saw was a completely correct response after receiving such halter pressure. Unfortunately this isn’t what the owner wanted, and the horse was pulled forward again. I turned my back as the horse went through the gate to resume minding my own business. I had to turn back when I heard shouting and for some unknown reason the horse was back outside the gate! I can’t even imagine how this came about, I should have kept watching. The rope was pulled again to indicate to the horse to walk forward, at this point the horse planted himself with the EquiShrug response, to which I simultaneously burst out laughing.

Passenger versus Partnership

Laura considers herself an experienced horse owner and rider. Laura is the person you go to if you require something from her extensive and always stocked first aid kit. She is the one with 27 rugs in her stable and every type of equine boot that was ever invented. The knee boots admittedly hang on a hook in the corner as they fell out of favour in 2011. Laura has rented her stable at this particular yard for the last 17 years and in that time has owned 3 horses. Every yard has a Laura, they become part of the woodwork. As a new livery you soon learn no-one upsets Laura because of the sometimes fraught, but mostly amicable relationship she has built up with the owners of the establishment, she has reached the status of ‘I’ve been here longer than anyone’. This gives the impression that if you do not like Laura, her 17 years makes it apparent that if you fall out with her, you will be the one that leaves. There-fore even if you dislike Laura, it’s beneficial to always greet her with a heart-warming ‘Good morning!’ while continuing to raid her extensive first aid kit as and when required.

Everyday at 9 a.m Laura breezes onto the yard clutching a bag of apples, flap-jacks and sometimes the latest copy of Your Horse. You duck down in your stable because you are terrified Laura will insist on feeding your horse 7 or 8 flapjacks while pointing out why your horse must have gastric ulcers because he is showing all the symptoms that are listed in the magazine. You breathe a sigh of relief only when said magazine and flapjacks are safely in her storage cupboard and only then emit a totally fake, and an overly high pitched ‘Good morning!’

After 2 hours of coffee drinking and educating the obviously grateful liveries that all their horses have gastric ulcers Laura decides it’s high time she gave her horse some much needed schooling.  After-all, her horse has spent 2 hours kicking the stable door and throwing his head about, which has nothing to do with the fact his stable is an oxygen-deprived stink-hole or that he’s fetlock deep in poop and hasn’t had his hay-net filled since last night. No, it’s because he’s an attention freak.

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Laura leads her horse out of the stable, puts his bridle on and ties him up to get her saddle. At this point Sarah the yard owner strides across the yard and Laura must tell her how some of the riding school ponies must, yes you guessed it, could have gastric ulcers, and rushes to retrieve the now battered, somewhat soiled copy of Your Horse. After yet another coffee, 3 cigarettes, a pair of snapped reins, and finding spare reins, Laura finally gets the saddle on the horse.

Been somewhat rushed for time now Laura enters the school and does 2 laps of walk around the arena. The horse is lazy this morning and chooses to ignore Laura’s constant tap tap tap of her heel. This does not deter Laura however as perhaps the horse will choose to listen on the 800th tap. She doesn’t count, but she stays optimistic that although her horse ignored the first 2 taps he might miraculously pay attention when the tapping gets in the high hundreds. Laura decides a trot will wake him up so kicks just that little bit harder, unfortunately the horse has already squirreled this particular type of pressure away into his brain under the file name ‘ignore’.

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All is not lost however, Laura has a special friend she can rely on called ‘Mr Schooling Whip’. 2 or 3 asks on the flank of her horse and the lazy walk becomes something of a lethargic trot. After one lap consisting of a lethargic trot, breaking back into a lazy walk, then back into a lethargic trot Laura is exhausted and decides it must surely be time for a coffee break. On dismounting, her horse gets the most gloriously grateful pat and 4 flapjacks for being such a good boy. Laura, now feeling ecstatic that she has finished riding for the day, can resume breezing around the yard telling everyone else how to look after their horse, and if you are especially lucky, she may help you with transitions in the arena while sipping her coffee and pointing out why your position is incorrect.

There are many Laura’s probably on every livery yard the world over. Not much is asked of the horse, in-fact it’s the horse that is in control. This supposedly ‘dumb’ animal has trained the human. It’s an advantageous situation on the whole. The stable isn’t much fun, but no energy is been expended while being supplied with hay, and he does eventually get turned out to pasture some 47 coffee’s later. The situation becomes serious however when you have a dominant horse that in time learns to ignore the owner completely when in the saddle, when leading, when loading and all manner of handling.

But for now, let’s just address the riding. Riders make the fundamental mistake of changing gait when the gait they were in remains far from perfect. No-one should be asking for trot when the walk is not perfect, and at all speeds i.e. slow, medium, fast walk. No-one should be asking for canter when the trot is not perfect, and again at all speeds. People need to just slow down the rate at which they train their horses. If your horse is ignoring your leg aid at walk, you are not ready to trot. Take an hour or take 2 hours concentrating on keeping your lower leg still and when you do use it make sure the horse knows it means something. It doesn’t matter if it takes 3 weeks to achieve walking around the arena in a medium walk, this is hands down better than the flappy whip yielding exhausting way that Laura rides. Laura is a passenger because her horse ignores her and this is potentially a dangerous situation. Far better to develop a partnership with your horse and this can only be done with patience and understanding. Fitting in a quick ride between Tesco and the school run should not exist in your brain. Have a monthly plan on what you would like to achieve and make time to make every schooling session count for something. Forget the coffee and chitter-chatter, attend to your horse. Lastly, unless you brush your horse’s teeth, leave the flap-jacks at home.

Horses Don’t Like Us

They don’t hate or love us either they merely tolerate us because they have no choice. This is the equine version of Stockholm Syndrome. Those horses that can no longer cope with pain, fear or confusion will react in a way that earns them the label ‘Dangerous’. Unfortunately it is always viewed as the horses fault and his bad character.

Usually when a novice purchases a horse things can go well for a while, things are not going well for you in the eyes of a professional horseman, but you are blissfully unaware of this, as far as you are concerned everything is super. The horse greets you every morning at the yard and you think this is cute. The horse whinnies at you because you may provide food, he comes to you in the paddock because you may provide food. Everything else you do around or on him is merely tolerated. What the horse ideally wants is to be left alone by humans and to graze with his herd. From getting the horse in from the field to putting him out again, everything in between is him merely tolerating the situation.

The worst case scenario in my eyes happens every day all over the world. It’s the novice parents that buy their child a pony. It’s just all wonderful in the parents eyes, the child is so happy running up to the pony with a carrot, giving it cuddles, hanging off the neck and playing with it like it’s a 4 legged flesh and blood version of Barbie. On searching for suitable images I actually struggled to find a pony that wasn’t pinning its ears, the worst I saw is too unsuitable to even show. But through the smiles and laughter of a happy child, pause for a while and take note of the pony’s ears, be responsible parents and ask your child to show the pony some respect.

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Riding schools are particularly stressful places, there’s a lot of human traffic and noise, the ponies can all be tied up too close together when ready for lessons. They tolerate uneducated hands pulling on their mouths, flapping legs and constant chatter from the children, they can be hot and sweaty from the previous lesson, I think at this point the level of tolerance can vastly decrease. While a professional horseman can at least help his horse to have a high level of toleration during training by communicating properly, many other owners are handling animals that have an ever decreasing level of tolerance. There is definitely a scale and when a horse reaches zero tolerance the manure hits the fan and unfortunately the horse gets the blame.

A horse doesn’t love or hate, like or dislike or favour one person over another. A horse is aware of its resources and its surroundings, pain, discomfort, hunger, feeling cold/hot, thirsty, other horses and its own instincts. Your horse has no concept of been naughty, bad, silly or good. The level of tolerance a horse can obtain can also be negative or positive. That horse you see in the barn standing alone, head down and ignoring the world has a high level of negative tolerance, he’s so tolerating of people and his surroundings that he’s switched off. He’s not deaf or old, he’s not sulking, anti-social, or a ‘funny old boy’, what he wants is for you to go away with your bad communication, screaming kids and terrible riders and to be turned out in a field where he can finally feel some comfort with his own kind.

The top dressage horse you have just seen perform perfectly on the tv has a high level of positive tolerance. But achieved by someone of Carl Hester standard, who has communicated well, the horse is not confused and understands what is being asked of him. However, this horse is not enjoying himself, he’s merely tolerating been ridden and would without a doubt rather be grazing in a quiet pasture.

Grand Prix Freestyle at Olympia 17th December 2014

Be mindful of your actions on and around horses, strive to communicate effectively in a way the horse can understand, and while we are all very busy exploiting these magnificent animals aim for your horse to have a high level of positive tolerance.

Riding and Road Safety?

Over the years I have ridden on the British roads hundreds of times without incident. Car drivers, bike riders, lorry drivers, tractor drivers have all been courteous. Once I met a wide load truck carrying an armored tank. Admittedly my old boy was somewhat wide-eyed at this, but the driver stopped and we actually had a pleasant chat at his driver-side window. I’m careful when riding on the roads, and I only ride with an experienced rider, never alone or in the company of novices. There are tactics we use, none of which I have seen used by riders when I am in the car. We trot around bends if there is no oncoming traffic, and yes you can hear cars approaching. We do this to reduce the time of being in a vulnerable position and to not hold up traffic from behind. If we hear traffic approaching from behind we pull over to the verge as much as possible, but we also stop if the road is narrow. I always turn my head to the driver to make sure he has seen us, and that he is slowing, and it’s amazing the effect eye-contact can have on a stranger. If I believe there is going to be a problem, for example a very large noisy lorry is coming, I have never hesitated to ride up someone’s drive-way, or into their garden, I have been all sorts of places! I am quite happy to push through a hedge if I decide to remove my horse from danger.

I have accepted however as soon as I place my left foot in a stirrup to the moment I dismount, everything in-between is MY responsibility, it’s MY risk and no one should take the blame for MY decision to ride a horse.

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No matter what my horse spooks at I accept I have been irresponsible by not preparing my horse to disregard any number of spooky objects, noises or situations. I rarely see people investing time with doing ground-work and as far as I’m concerned the horse should have seen and been in many situations even before you have made the decision to sit on him. It seems crazy to me people do not invest in their own LIFE. More often than not precautions consist of high viz jackets, a body protector and a riding hat. How absurd it seems to wear gear in anticipation of falling off! People wear less equipment when sky-diving. If I went to a theme park and they kitted me out in gear that would help me survive a roller-coaster ride, I wouldn’t get on it, it would appear too dangerous.

The video below shows a number of unfortunate situations culminating in two horses being hit by a car, and I have edited this to remove the point of impact.

Both riders are drifting about the road with no real purpose when they should both be 100% concentrating on the environment. It’s an overcast day and the road is wet, the car driver is without a doubt going too fast and loses control at the bend in the road. In this situation the high-viz jackets are actually useless but who is at fault here? Instead of looking for fault both riders should accept as soon as that left foot went into the stirrup everything that unfolded after is their responsibility. Personally I would of made the decision not to do road work on a dull wet day, I’m not sure how windy it was, but again if I could not hear on-coming traffic I wouldn’t risk it. Even though I accept from this footage the riders can in-fact hear the car approaching. It’s an unfortunate incident and something every rider should accept can happen.

People are keen to share their experiences on Facebook and Youtube of road-rage incidents, which usually involve a child or woman screaming at a car driver, or even smacking a car roof with a whip. Ladies we have to share the road, and you have no right to be screaming at anyone. This sort of behaviour gives responsible riders a bad name. Pull over for the car, thank the driver and be courteous. Yes I agree the moronic car driver is trying to squeeze by you on a narrow road, but I usually just point and indicate I will pull over at the next available space/verge/garden/layby. It has always ended well and the car driver is grateful I have done my best to get out of his way. But just try to remember, you chose to be in this situation and it is the responsibility of the rider to accept the risk. Take this on board next time your left foot goes into that stirrup.

This Horse Is Dangerous

If I was to suggest to a non-equine friend of mine to come and hang wall-paper for me I already know she would be horrified and she would insist she knows nothing about house decorating. This is wall- paper people. Yet the same friend and many like her will wake up one day and decide to buy a horse. They imagine long rides across the British country-side, the birds are singing and the sun is setting turning the sky a beautiful orange.silhouette-2125305_960_720

Usually this decision comes from child-hood memories that contain 5 or 6 riding lessons, and now they are in their mid-thirties with disposable income they seize the opportunity to ride a horse again. No consideration is given to the fact that they are now 6 stone heavier and 25 years older. No consideration is given to the fact they really hadn’t mastered rising trot before they quit, and are not equipped with horsemanship skills or knowledge. Further-more the riding school pony she rode was 28 years old and was used to riding in circles every darn day in the same dusty arena.

So what does my friend do? She will go out and buy something ‘beautiful’. It must be chestnut, or all black with a flowing mane. It needs to be 8 years old because for reasons that escape me, that’s the golden age apparently. This horse has done dressage, it’s hunted, it’s done road work, it carried a 12 year old, it’s worth a lot of money…therefore it must be good, it’s the perfect horse.

It’s an exciting time, there’s a new hat to buy, a body protector, jodphurs and an Ariat riding jacket…and the long leather Tattini Breton boots are just to die for? Of course to complete the professional look she needs to carry a whip, she is not sure why, but its long, it’s black and the model in Horse and Hound was holding one, so why not?

Things go well for a while, mainly because she just sits there and goes for gentle walks around the arena. People at the yard tell her it’s a beautiful horse and she feels very professional and blessed. Slowly but surely little things start to happen that she completely ignores because she loved him by then, and anyway these little things are part of his character. He turns his back on her in the stable, he pins his ears when tightening the girth, he refuses to stand close enough to the mounting block or starts to get strong when leading to the paddock. The brand new tin of hoof oil remains untouched as apparently he’s funny about having his feet picked up.

The new friends she has made at the yard will tell her it’s the spring grass, or she needs to change his feed, perhaps get a new saddle, or to get his teeth checked, the list is endless as are the opinions. Unfortunately no-one has the knowledge to know whether this behaviour is physical or psychological. My friend lacks the skills to see if he is being dominant, or it is in-fact a pain issue. She missed seeing the small issues develop, and only noticed them when the problems became detrimental to her own well-being.

It’s never going to occur to my friend, not in a thousand years that while she was walking gently around the arena she never loosened those reigns, she never stopped that pressure on his mouth, it’s never going to occur to her that she inadvertently retrained the horse to ignore that pressure. What did she think would happen when she tried applying the same pressure at trot and canter, any guesses? Her balance was  off and she was not aware of her own body language so in this scary moment she unwittingly clamped her legs on, basically signalling to the horse to go faster.

But she does not realise why this situation developed as it’s obvious the horse ignored her brakes because he’s dangerous, he’s strong and wants to bolt. Of course she fell, she hurt herself and needed 6 weeks off work. Her yard buddies blamed the dealer that sold him to her, some said he’s quirky or he has a screw loose. Because she is inundated with all of this fabulous advice she doesn’t actually call a professional to ride the horse, no one calls a trainer to get their expert opinion.

It doesn’t matter now because now he’s got that label. My friend decides to sell the horse, unfortunately all her new friends are keen to let everyone on the horsey grapevine know that ‘that horse put his last owner in hospital’. Not one person will say the owner was completely incompetent and had no business buying a horse, let alone sitting on one. No-one will tell my friend this because us equestrians get called busy-bodies and apparently a know it all, so we keep quiet.

If I were to ask Monty Roberts, Clinton Anderson or Pat Parelli if they considered a horse dangerous I would hope and pray they would answer yes. I am aware even the professionals have to be conscious of their own body language around horses 100% of the time, 100% alert when reading signals from the horse and to be 100% precise when communicating with the animal. Consider the concentration, the years of training, the commitment it takes to get to the professional level of horse expert. There is no room for error with these guys, but even then, with all that knowledge they can never rule out the risk of a freak accident. It happens. Consider that risk for a novice then, the risk of injury becomes highly likely.

After 2 years of falls, being trampled, dragged, bitten and owning a now worthless horse I should ask my friend what she would prefer, wallpapering my wall or buying a horse? I’m guessing she will supply the paste and avoid patterns depicting sunsets.

First blog post

The Horse Industry

My Experience: I consider myself proficient in reading horse body language, although I believe there is always more to learn so do not consider myself an expert in horsemanship, I just strive to understand them better. Having worked in the horse industry and owned horses for nearly 40 years I have seen many changes in respect to training, owning, keeping and handling of horses. I have seen a decline in owners mastering horse skills and horsemanship knowledge. A rapid decline in-fact, 30 years ago it was rare for someone from an average income household to purchase a horse, when I was a child only one other person owned a pony out of the entire school. Now my hair-dresser has a horse, the cashier in Tesco has a horse, actually so does my dentist. This is all well and good, and why not you may ask yourself. It’s not good because horses are now so easily accessible the practice of irresponsible breeding is occurring, there are too many horses that don’t sell. These animals get left neglected in fields across Britain, they die and their bodies get dumped along a road side.

Modern Owners: So many potential owners see a horse as something you sit on, no really, that’s what they think. It’s that easy, you buy a horse, saddle it up and you sit on it. Now consider the accidents that are happening from falls, kicks and when riding on the road. We can blame the horse, we can blame the car driver, heck we can blame that plastic bag that blew under the horse. Everybody else is responsible apart from the rider/owner. No-one thought to train that horse to disregard plastic bags, pheasants, speeding cars, barking dogs, tractors and a hundred other things. Please don’t blame that lady with the umbrella either, you should have been in the school showing your horse an umbrella. People aren’t training their horses because they do not have the time or knowledge and after all, it’s just a horse that you sit on, right? On a positive note occasionally I do see a new owner get professional tuition straight away, and no, I don’t mean off a 25 year old ‘riding instructor’. I mean from a professional horseman that understands horse psychology and is a clinician and trainer and has been in the industry at least 30 years. Anyway, considering all the things horses are likely to spook at I’m incredulous why these people ‘sit on them’ without any preparation (see my umbrella comment). My riding instructor was a complete dragon in my 8 year old mind, and she made me trot for two years before moving onto canter. These days I see people cantering on their 3rd lesson! A review I read recently on a riding yard said ‘Don’t go there my child wasn’t cantering after 2 lessons’. That riding school was avoiding serious injury to your child, my dear.

Grooms: At least 20 years ago being a groom was a skilled job, tasks would involve clipping, bandaging, treating minor injuries, managing ailments and conditions, taking care of tack, training, riding and lunging, grooming to a high standard, plaiting, rasping feet, the list was endless. Now with this growing tide of horse ownership the standard of grooming has fallen into decline as owners themselves are in no need of a good groom because surely all one does is brush off the horse before sitting on it. Groom’s wages fell, and good grooms left the industry. Grooms can now be as young as 15 with about as much knowledge as the owner that has had 4 riding lessons.

Management: Horse knowledge used to be passed down through the generations, it was a subject one would continually study, one would strive to understand these animals better. This rarely happens now, and it can’t happen, as much as some people will not like my views if an owner is working a 40 hour week, when would they have time to increase their horse knowledge and to train their horse? They simply just don’t have the time. Livery yards are becoming bigger, the stables are wall to wall, often 30, 40 + horses under one roof in a converted barn. horses-786239_960_720

Full year turn out is becoming impossible as while yards can build more stables, they do not have enough land to offer much grass so the horses stay in most of the time. Colic and gastric ulcer cases are on the increase, and of course they are. Too much feed, too much hay with lots of standing around, any animal on the planet including us will suffer the consequences of eating and not moving. Every topic I have covered here could be its own subject and a thousand words long, and it will be. I can’t change the horse industry, and it’s not all bad. The horse is an incredibly forgiving and tolerant creature and I wish to write about my own experiences which span 40 years.