There is only one good reason why my terrier would suddenly go from lounging on the carpet to suddenly leaping up and running under the sofa at break neck speed. Being fully aware of the reason, the human sat on said sofa jumped up and ran fearfully to the living room door. For the past 20 years this particular arachnophobe has made sure to train her dogs to perform a very important duty. Terriers it would seem are far more talented in this role as opposed to larger dogs that struggle to successfully squeeze under sofas, armchairs or beds. 3 seconds later my pint sized tri-coloured saviour emerged with it caged between two rows of teeth, and it was enormous. I don’t like to see any living thing on this earth hurt, or unnecessarily killed, but my phobia runs deep. I would actually prefer to throw a pint glass at a spider rather than catch it humanely. I’m very sorry for this. Continue reading “The Planned Spook”
The deal was done, money was exchanged, hands were shaken and Charlie was loaded onto the trailer. The family had done their homework on finding an appropriate pony for their child, in size, temperament, training and experience in both the pony and the child. On the face of it, it was an ideal match. The dealer was well known, certainly in England, probably in Britain maybe even overseas. Therefore a well known horse-dealer is unlikely to destroy their reputation by selling a dangerous pony to a child. So in this case, it is certain there had been no shady shenanigans in terms of selling a dangerous, unsound, insane or unhealthy animal by a greedy and unethical seller that had bought the horse just 2 days before from a knackers yard. Yet in just six months this pony had thrown the child so many times that it was considered too perilous for the child to continue riding, not without risking serious injury. If after 40 years of riding and one day I fell, breaking my neck, it could be considered a freak accident. Yet if I was bucked off on a weekly basis some might suggest it was inevitable. So it is understandable that the parents decided to send this pony back to the dealer.
So did the dealer sell a dangerous animal?
Well done to those people that actually get off their back-sides and look for work. I regularly see these adverts pinned to the notice boards of tack-shops. I applaud those individuals that make the effort to either hand-write or print off a carefully written advert and drive around the shops in a bid to find employment. But there is also an error in many of the adverts, as straight after the opening eye-catching title it will say I am 19 years old and have been riding since the age of 4. Well, as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, riding for 15 years does not make a person an experienced groom. If the author has grown up on a yard under the supervision of an experienced horse professional, then yes, probably in this case they may be an experienced groom. But those individuals are rare. My main beef, if you will, is that people assume that because someone has riding skills, they will make a good groom. The person that rides will also assume they will make a good groom. Most of these adverts generally only include riding experience, and that they are actively seeking work as a rider.
The horse caught my eye simply by the way it was standing. There was something about its demeanour that seemed off. There was no back leg resting, the head wasn’t lowered and the ears were pinned. Furthermore the horse was tilting slightly backwards to remove the weight off its front legs. This wasn’t a horse at rest, no snoozing was occurring here, it looked like a marble statue. Laminitis seemed obvious, probably likely, but I also considered colic or even overheating, which in some cases can be connected. The most apparent thing about this animal which wouldn’t depend on a vet diagnosis was that it was morbidly obese. I had considered overheating because the horse was a heavyweight native breed of the British Isles…and it was wearing a rug on a mild autumn day. This horse had been clipped but for no real reason that I was aware of, as it could not even be considered to be in light work. Continue reading “Heavyweight Should Not Mean Overweight”
Darcey skipped across the yard with all the joys of a spring lamb and flicked up both heels as she jumped the narrow concrete drainage gutter. In her mind she was not a 9 year old child, nope, she was Ellen Whitaker competing on her grand 16.2 hh bay steed. The fence before her was over 4 feet high and as she got close she counted down the approach 3…2…1 and takeoff! The gutter was jumped clear, guaranteeing her a place at HOYS! Darcey threw up her hands in jubilation and waved to the cheering crowd. In this moment a high-pitched whinny quickly disintegrated her fantasy and the crowd abruptly faded away. Continue reading “Training Without Due Care and Attention”
When somebody is about to walk behind my horse and they ask Does your horse kick? I always feel a bit tongue tied. Obviously I would like to say no, but in truth all horses kick. Although I am almost certain my mare wont (this time) because I am aware she has seen the person approach her. If she’s not eating, stressed, frightened, in-pain, half asleep, or being eaten by flies, then yes, I am almost certain sure she will not kick you on this occasion.
Horses have taught me many valuable lessons over the years, even the painful lessons have been important as these are the ones that have kept me safe. The speed, accuracy and power of a kick is something to behold. I was kicked twice in a fraction of a second 2 inches above my left knee cap many years ago, the dent in my leg will be there permanently. I regard this as physical reminder of my stupidity. Continue reading “Why Your Horse Could Kick You”
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.
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?
Turnout was cancelled. I was keeping my horse on part-livery which included hay, bedding and a groom that would do all the turning out and bringing in. 20 plus years ago part-livery used to include everything apart from someone exercising the horse. You could expect all the mucking out to be completed, the horse groomed, even the tack would be cleaned. If an owner is doing more than actually tacking up and riding, then yards have no right to call it part-livery.
It was a tall young woman who was striding past my stable that yelled out the news the horses would spend the entire day and night stuck in a 12 by 12 feet wooden box. I had only been at this yard for 2 days, and had chosen the place specifically to get extra help with my horse. I was looking forward to having more quality time, rather than spending time doing all the chores.
For a period of time my office was located at an equestrian establishment, just a couple of feet to the right of my desk behind the wall was a stable, and a string of stables beyond that. An ideal location for someone as fanatical and passionate about horses as myself. I thought so also at first, but it quickly became apparent this location was detrimental to my health. The itchy eyes and coughing fits started from day one, although at the time I put it down to being slightly off colour, these things happen.
I also changed from wearing contact lenses to glasses as I thought perhaps staring at the computer screen was straining my eyes, unfortunately the glasses made no difference. Over the next few weeks it occurred to me I was not having the same coughing fits and itchy eyes when at home.
The situation became awkward for me as my boss would come into the office to discuss work, and I would either cough all the way through the meeting, or have to leave to get some fresh air. So that was the second thing that occurred on me, when I left to get some fresh air, the coughing would diminish. I found that over time the periods of having to leave the office were becoming more frequent. It’s really not a good look for an employee to be walking out the office every 30 minutes. I became quite worried that I must appear lazy. Truth is, I just couldn’t breathe.
I’ve been on yards my entire life and not suffered like that, but in hindsight I realise sitting next to a stable is not the same as walking out to paddocks, checking horses, grooming and riding etc because I am moving about in the fresh air, as opposed to breathing in stable air over an entire working day.
So what is in the air?
While researching equine respiratory problems recently for my articles concerning soaking hay and using particular types of bedding, it would appear the air in stables can contain excessive concentrations of airborne dust, moulds, viruses, bacteria, spores, aeroallergens, and endotoxins (Saastamoinen M et al 2015). Rather worryingly, and if anyone thinks it’s ok not to muck out thoroughly, and very frequently, this report also states that the levels of ammonia detected in the morning were high enough to be considered dangerous to both humans and horses.
Would you want to eat in a toilet?
NH3 (ammonia) is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes that line the mouth, eyes and respiratory tract. Breathing in NH3 could cause chronic and acute respiratory disease which is one of the leading causes of wastage in horses used in high performance athletic endeavours and commonly recognized in pleasure horses as well (Hernandez and Hawkins 2001). Concentrations were found to be higher below 2 metres, and highest at ground level, now consider the height of a haynet, manger or even feeding the horse from the floor. Ammonia can rise and dissipate, but not when exposed to moisture and/or humid conditions, the two things stables have an abundance of.
This report also discusses something I have pondered over for a very long time which is, even if you are buying the best bedding money can buy, if your neighbour isn’t, then your efforts could be for nothing. Your horse will still be breathing air that could be considered harmful.
Gunky eyes? Herbal treatments and eye drops wont solve the problem
So what can be done?
There is going to be a level of dust and particles small enough to enter the lungs in hay, haylage, bedding and feed. Also dust in general, look at the filth that gathers on rugs and lines the stable wall. Stable yards would benefit from being kept clean with minimal or no paraphernalia such as liveries belongings, spare rugs, boots etc. Keep it elsewhere such as a tack or rug room. Hanging gear on the stable walls promotes the collection of harmful dust and bacteria. Also buy the best quality feed and bedding that you can afford. Feed could be sprayed with water and hay soaked for one hour in cold water.
Ideally if the environment can be kept clean, then removing urine and droppings immediately could minimise the build-up of harmful toxins. Hosing down the floors and walls daily would also create a far cleaner environment.
Personally I feel equestrians are between a rock and a hard place however.
While rubber matting may have its benefits it’s too heavy and cumbersome to pull out every day to hose off manure. If you have ever flipped over a mat, you will agree its filthy and it stinks, well that stink is what your horse is breathing in. In my experience shavings absorb urine more efficiently than straw, with straw it tends to spread across the floor surface, rather than being contained in one area. Yet both straw and shavings contain dust. What we need is better bedding and mat options. But all this sounds time consuming and expensive? Yes but perhaps it should be if it benefits the health of our horses.
Maybe I am asking the impossible. But the best course of action in my view to guarantee your horse is not breathing air which has the potential to damage its health is to limit the amount of time it spends in a stable.
Looking back I feel positive about working in such close proximity to stables, this was a walled office also, yet the level of airborne particles and ammonia were still enough to irritate my lungs and eyes. Quite literally coughing my guts up gave me a good level of understanding in how horses must feel.
I was able to remove myself from the situation, horses cannot.
Saastamoinen M, Särkijärvi S, Hyyppä S (2015) Reducing Respiratory Health Risks to Horses and Workers: A Comparison of Two Stall Bedding Materials. The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Animals (Basel). 2015 Dec; 5(4): 965–977 [ONLINE] Available at:
(Accessed 3rd October 2017)
Hernandez J, D.L. Hawkins (2001) Race-start characteristics and risk of catastrophic musculoskeletal injury in Thoroughbred racehorses. J. Am. Vet. Med. Ass. 218:83-86 [ONLINE] Available at:
(Accessed 5th October 2017)
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