Tag: training

The Realistic Guide To Buying A Horse Part 1

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

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

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

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#2 Do not take the advert at face value

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

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

#3 Age means nothing

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

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

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#4 Price also means nothing

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

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

 

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

Modified by author

Equitation Motivation

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

The only way to get motivated is to generate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modified by author

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/

Bombproofing: Sniffing For Confidence

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

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Don’t Be a Screaming Sue

Open the gate, open the gate!!!!

No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.

During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue. Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.

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Why I Hate Spurs

I am just going to come out and say it. Spurs should only be used if you are a very, VERY good rider. If a rider does not have the skills, knowledge or patience to re-educate a horse with desensitised sides, which is why the majority of bad riders are using them, then spurs are the last thing they need. It is not my intention to become part of the no bits, no spurs, no anything brigade. Spurs may have their place in the equestrian world, and are traditionally used all over the planet, in my view, to refine the leg aid. An extremely well trained horse may for whatever reason ignore the leg, and I use the word ‘ignore’ loosely. There could be many reasons why the horse has not responded in that particular instance. So strapped to the leg of an expert, one that is aware of their own movements and know exactly what they are asking of the horse, then yes spurs have their place. But then compare that to someone that has been riding 3 years and are strapping spurs on because they are about to do a pre-novice dressage test, or jump 60 cm at the local show.

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Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies

I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.

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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.

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Raising Our Foals Fairly

The majority of foals, certainly in my experience here in the UK, are spending their first few months alone with the mother. Although I am aware of reputable horse breeders that turn out a number of foals and mums together to live amiably as a herd. Yet I have seen many individual horse owners segregate the mother and baby until weaning. Then between  4 and 6 months the foal is usually separated from the mother and put into a herd of horses.

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Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!

Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.

On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.

This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”