Tag: horse

Why Do Horses Paw Water?

 “My horse has an annoying habit of standing at the water trough & splashing water”

You will see variations of this sentence posted across the internet on forums and social media platforms. At times it may pertain to a bucket in the stable, splashing water in a puddle or even when crossing a river  and other water sources. Well, it certainly isn’t a habit and should never be seen as annoying.  Owners may find that having a soaking wet stable from such an occurrence something of an inconvenience, although I would suggest a horse standing in a box is feeling far more exasperated than the owner.

Horses use a front hoof to strike out at water, and often change hoof during this manoeuvre. It is a similar movement to when a horse gently paws the ground of his paddock when planning to roll. Although there can be obvious differences between preparing to roll in water, or roll on grass. Horses generally circle the chosen rollspot, while simultaneously sniffing the ground before actually committing to lying down. Only pausing between turns to paw at the ground, much like a dog scratching at the blanket in his basket. The knees will start to buckle as the horse prepares and will often fully drop to their knees before changing their mind and begin the entire process again i.e. pawing, sniffing, turning, pawing etc.

Why Paw The Ground?

We know horses evolved to eat mainly grass, yet the grass plains these early horses roamed 10 million years ago are very much different from today’s manufactured pastures. Moreover, 55 million years ago their habitat was forested areas and they thrived on a diet of shrubs and tree leaves. With the expansion of grass plains forming from a changing climate horses evolved to have the attributes we see today and with similar diets. But in both habitats, they each have something in common, in that, in large areas the ground would have been covered in dense vegetation such as tall grass or trees and shrubs. While horses are very capable of napping while standing, deep sleep can only be achieved while laying down. Additionally horses must lay down in order to give birth, and to roll which will  remove irritants such as parasites and vegetation, and to cool down in water.

Being a prey animal, the horse developed long legs, a longer neck, and both monocular and binocular vision, as well as lightening quick reflexes and speed. Yet Mother Nature insists on balance, after-all the predators must also eat. The weakness of the horse is its blind spot due to the position of the eyes. Physiologically the animal is well equipped to recognise a predator from a great distance, but will fail to see what may be lurking directly at his feet. Hence, pawing the ground while sniffing is beneficial in identifying or removing harmful debris, or dangerous critters. Randomly dropping to the ground whether it is long grass, sand or even a dense forest could have proved perilous.

And Water?

Much for the same reason, apart from crocodiles and alligators which are alerted to the sound and movement of splashing, most creatures will move away from the source. Now think about that puddle your horse won’t walk through. Owners in my experience can be bewildered why their horse refuses to walk through a puddle, especially on a horse yard. Both the position and the colour can influence how a horse will respond to puddles. If it’s in shade or dirty, the horse will instinctively act with caution, particularly if the bottom isn’t visible.  If it is reflecting strong sunlight that is dazzling, again the horse may feel confused about what he is seeing. You will see the horse slightly twist his head as he changes from binocular, to monocular vision in an attempt to identify whether it is safe or not.

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If he is forced to walk through it he may even stop to sniff it before pawing at it, because he’s checking for (and dispersing) critters and checking the depth. Horses generally like to see what is lurking in or under a puddle. Pawing has many functions and is not always a precursor to rolling. Splashing can also be achieved with the muzzle, and is most commonly seen at the water trough. Horses often use this method in a forward, backward motion before drinking, and again, this not only removes small critters from the immediate muzzle area, but moves away vegetation such as algal blooms. The horse is essentially clearing an area in which to drink from. Using a hoof in a very small area such as a trough or bucket could be a precursor to rolling, especially if the horse is hot. Its instinct driving him to cool down, as is the pawing, even when he is probably aware he cant physically roll in such a small area.

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Attentive owners should ensure their horse is not feeling overly warm in the stable, which should minimise, or eradicate the horse’s need to find respite. As with troughs and serial trough splasher’s, offer shelter in the field and lose the rugs, or even construct a small water hole so that the horse can roll in water.  Rolling, even laying in water is a natural, and an essential part of a horse’s life and something they have always done, and have evolved to do. Imagine being utterly compelled to do something but find yourself impeded, you would feel just as frustrated as the horse splashing in his water bucket. Vices generally form from frustration and boredom and causes mental stress, which could all be avoided by meeting the animals basic needs. A horse habitually splashing in a bucket, or a water trough is a signal his basic needs are not being met. So rather than feeling annoyance, try to understand what the horse is telling you, and find a solution.

Images – By Kind permission of photographer Gary Odell

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.

Stirrup

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.

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.