The brilliant RDA

We are really proud to have had the opportunity to support the RDA in association with Sue Palmer aka The Horse Physio.

The RDA has just celebrated its 50th birthday. That marks 50 years of providing therapy through horses across the United Kingdom, and giving children and adults with disabilities the chance to access a life-changing sport.

We all love our horses and ponies and know ourselves the joy that comes, not just from riding, but from being around horses, from being part of a “family”, from having the chance to bond with an animal. The RDA provides this to people who would otherwise not have access to this world. We have all read countless stories about children who have never bonded with a person, bonding with horses. There are more and more studies being done that show how horses heal people, those who have suffered trauma, or grief are being daily helped by horses.

The RDA has been instrumental in ensuring that the bond between horses and people is not limited to those who can afford to pay for it, but rather is extended to those who need it most.

At Ethical Horse Products, we have promoted, marketed and managed the sale of Sue Palmer’s Charity Massage course and we are delighted to announce that we have raised nearly £1000! This money will be used to fund two boys to ride with the RDA group The High Riders for the forthcoming year. We hope that they will continue to enjoy their lessons!

If you would like to support the RDA, you can do so in a number of ways. You can donate money, you can organise a fundraiser for them, or you can volunteer. To learn more about the RDA please click here.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

 

Giving is great!

This is one of my favorite quotes:

“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” Regina Brett.

Whenever I am struggling, or feel my life is difficult, I try (I don’t always succeed!) to do something for someone else. This has a two-fold effect.

Firstly, I feel better as I am helping someone else, which is a positive thing to do even if other areas of your life aren’t feeling very positive. And it doesn’t have to be anything big, just a small gesture can make a massive difference. Secondly, listening to someone else’s problems does wonders for putting your own problems into perspective. Suddenly, your attention turns from you to the other person. This is not to say that your own problems aren’t tricky, and difficult – they are. But sometimes it is good to turn away from our own problems and try and help others.

I recently raised some money for a charity. My friends raising money for the same charity have raised thousands of pounds, I have raised hundreds. Yet, as the fundraiser at the charity said “it all adds up, we are always grateful to people for raising money, no matter how small the amount.” Raising money for charity is a good way to give something back, do a run, bake a cake, there are hundreds of things you can do, and most of the charities are really supportive and will help you out in your efforts.

But you don’t even need to do something that big. Little things often make a world of difference, send someone a card, stop and check the lady can cross the street, help someone in the supermarket when they can’t reach something. A thousand small actions can lead to a better world. A smile can make someones day.

So, big or small, our actions can help others. Seeing the problems others are facing can help put our own into perspective, and everyone will benefit from receiving a smile…

5 tips for Spring

Here it is British Summer Time – the long awaited time of lengthy evenings, no mud, and shows. We can’t wait! But before you pile into to enjoying your time with your horse, make sure you are ready. We have complied our top 5 tips for enjoying the Spring time with your horses.

  • Beware the spring grass! Spring grass is notoriously loaded with sugars, this can give our previously sedate steeds a spring in their toes, but can also have serious health implications for those prone to laminitis, Cushings, or other metabolic disorders. We love turning our horses out after the long winter, but make sure you keep an eye on them, and consider restricting their grazing or using a grazing muzzle. This will give them all the benefit of the outside, without the spring grass risk!
  • Check your horse’s saddle due to weight change. Our horses’ shapes change over the winter, their muscle mass decreases due to less work and their weight can often drop. It is advisable to get a professional saddler to check your horse’s saddle before you start increasing their work load.
  • Don’t go from 0-60 build up your horse’s workload gradually. Don’t suddenly start riding your horse for hours at a time, make sure you build up his work gradually to ensure he stays healthy and sound. Make sure he is up to date with his teeth, feet and consider getting a physio out for a once over before you start to increase his workload.
  • Make sure all your rugs are washed and reproofed ready for next winter. Have a good sort out in the sunshine, and then you are all prepared for next winter. Also you can often pick up some good bargains for next winter in the spring sales.
  • Don’t just think about your horse, make sure you are fit to ride after the winter. Have you been active all winter? Or have you been sat on the sofa eating chocolate biscuits? (Guilty as charged!) Make sure you are fit to increase your riding. Try and walk every day, even 30 minutes does wonders for your base fitness.

 

Enjoy it! And if you are not enjoying your time with your horse, please ask a respected professional for help, after all horses are meant to be a source of joy, not stress!

 

Lessons on loading

The horse is a flight animal. This means that if scared he will run away from the fear, as supposed to a fight response, where the animal will attack the object of fear. Your horse refusing to go near the trailer, is not being “naughty” but acting correctly according to his innate behaviour: “One of the most important things to remember is that horses evolved as a prey species. That means that many of their instinctive reactions are based in a desire to protect themselves from danger.” (1)

The problem arises that we are asking our horses to supress their fear and if they can’t do this, their reaction can be volatile and extreme: “Fearful large animals are dangerous animals. They are more likely to injure themselves or their handlers than unafraid animals. Fear is a universal emotion in the animal kingdom: it motivates animals to avoid predators and survive in the wild.” (2)

In order to be responsible horse owners, it is our job to teach the horse that the trailer or lorry is not a source of fear. To do so we must ensure that we train our horses to trust and respect us. To do this we must take the necessary precautions to optimise the conditions in which we load our horses. “Accidents from these types of deficiencies (Slippery surfaces on loading ramps) usually are due to poor judgement or lack of necessary precautions.” (3)

There are a multitude of opportunities for injury during the loading and unloading of horses: “Hazards to people in the vicinity include kicking, biting, or injury arising from crushing or being struck as the horse rears in the air. Further hazards arise from the weight of the doors falling onto people including when horses barge their way past.” (4) And many other ways, and other horrific accidents that have occurred while people are trying to load their horses.

A horse that is correctly trained to be loaded reduces some of the dangers of loading. Accidents can happen when “…bystanders or young people are sometimes asked to help, and they may be inadequately trained for the purpose…”(4) It is not the job of spectators at shows to help you to load your horse, it is your job to ensure that your horse is trained to do so.

“Where loading and unloading is incorporated as part of a horse’s basic training they are more likely to accept it and be compliant.”(4)

Do your homework at home. Thereby you will give yourself the possibility of having a safe and enjoyable day out with your horse, without the added stress and risk of having a difficult to load horse to persuade onboard at the end of the day.

 

References:

Photo by Kelly Forrister on Unsplash

It’s how far you’ve climbed that matters…

Much as I love watching great sporting events such as Badminton or Royal Windsor Horse Show, they can have the effect of making ones own achievements fade into comparison. My triumph at hacking my spooky pony past a flapping rubbish bag in the hedge seems to pale into insignificance beside Piggy French’s Badminton win, but it shouldn’t.

Our achievements are not less because of others victories. The scale doesn’t matter. Her win was wonderful, but what I have overcome to be able to hack along the road without wanting to throw up from nerves is not less of an achievement.

We live in a world that judges people on their ability to be best. How fast can you run, how early can you read a book, how clever are you. But the dyslexic child who has persevered, painstakingly to learn how to read a simple sentence, has climbed far higher than the child for whom everything has been easy.

Don’t ever diminish your climb because someone else has climbed higher, they may have been a long way up the mountain when they started. Remember where you started from and be proud of where you have reached.

So the next time that you do something that you once found impossible, remind yourself of that. Don’t judge yourself by the other riders in the school, but rather compare yourself to where you once were. We forget how far we have come, we forget how difficult it has been, we get disheartened by other’s achievements, because we forget how very far we have come. Praise yourself, look back down the mountain, and even if you are nowhere near the top, be proud at how far you have climbed.

Once we remember to be proud of ourselves, we can then delight in others achievements without dismissing our own.

I wouldn’t start from there…

I’ve had a phrase echoing around in my head recently, and I can’t completely remember where I got it from. I was convinced it was Mark Rashid, but I have googled and googled and can’t find it! Perhaps I’m probably completely wrong, and I actually heard it on an advert for toothpaste. Anyway, here it is:

“I wouldn’t start from there.’

Doesn’t sound all that promising, does it. But it did resonate; to me it means the place to start solving a problem isn’t always where you first think it is. To take a personal example, in the first few years of owning my lovely big mare Steffi, I was a big jumping fan. She wasn’t the most confident of mares, and it took us quite a while to get going. One problem that we struggled with for a LONG time was running out when she was overfaced by the height of the jump, or a spooky filler; if she wasn’t 100% sure she would nip out to the right at the last minute. I had a few lessons with some local instructors, and they all generally had two answers. One, just ‘keep her straighter’. Or two, to put up a guard rail on the right hand side of the fence, to physically prevent her going that way. Which was fine, but I didn’t know HOW to keep her straighter, and as soon as the guard rail was removed we went sailing past again!

After having a couple of lessons with a different instructor, I started to realise I had been trying to fix the problem from the wrong starting point. Steffi drifted to the right when not feeling confident because I TOLD her to; I rode quite asymmetrically due to an old shoulder injury, which I now began to realise meant that I took a much stronger hold on the left rein than I did on the right. Over time, she had begun to lean on this constant onesided pressure, over bend to the left, and effectively resembled a banana! Every time we approached a jump I held on to the left rein to try to keep her straight, and she obediently bent her neck to the left, drifted her shoulders to the right and around the jump!! Of course, fixing this problem was a lot more complicated than putting a guard rail on one side of the fence, but once I had relearnt how to ride straighter a lot of our jumping issues permanently disappeared. So, the next time you come up against a problem, can you work out where you really need to start?

Amy

With thanks to our guest blogger Amy Craske.

Image by Pixelia from Pixabay

Different times…

Time spent with our horses is enjoyable (hopefully!) but the things you do together vary greatly according to your situation and your horse’s age and condition. I’m reminded of a funny chart I saw in reference to children, which showed a timeline with all the problems associated with children, and in the middle it said “three golden days”. The same could equally be said for our horses.

Youngest require incredible patience and time. The hours we spend teaching them the basics, or taking them to shows and simply leading them around to see the sights.

Then they go lame, and need time out, then they need rehabbing. Then the strange British weather is too wet, too hot, too windy. Your school is too dry, too deep. Then their shape changes and they need a new saddle as the old one has hurt their back.

Then they begin to get old and they need carefully managing. They need special food and more stretching time. The systems that used to work with them no longer do, so you have to develop new ways of working with them.

Suddenly, they are old and retired and they mooch around their field while you hang over the fence and remember those 3 perfect days…they were 8 years old, and the sun was shining with a gentle breeze enough to keep the flies away without making the flags flap about. The school was just perfect. You were both fit and healthy and focused. Just for a moment everything was perfect…

Perfection is a bit of a myth, life doesn’t lie in those perfect moments, but it lies in all the struggles and all the boring everyday moments that make up our worlds. Your time with your horses in no different. Enjoy every moment.

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!

Image by Kenny Webster at Unsplash.com

 

Golden oldies!

Keeping your older horse happy and well into his last years, is a brilliant gift you can give him. It is not always possible to do so, life can be too difficult, and it can simply not be practical. But if you have the time and resources to do so, this will help you to take the best care possible of your older horse.

It is well documented that one of the most important things for the elderly, both human and equine, is movement. One of the biggest problems with the elderly occurs when they put on bed rest and stop moving. Equally putting an old horse on box rest can causes stiffness and decrease in flexibility. Keeping your old horse out in the field where he can walk about will have a good effect on his general health.

Anything that helps keep your horse moving, will help him in his later years. Such as encouraging him to stretch using carrot stretches, or baited stretches. Equally massage will encourage the muscles to work better and is an enjoyable way to spend time with horse when riding him may no longer be an option.

Remember that as your horse grows older his needs will change, so don’t fall into the “oh but I’ve always it done it that way” trap! In old age the horse’s digestion alters and their bite changes with age, speak to your trusted professionals to see how you can alter their feeding program to help them gain the nutrition they require.

You may choose to no longer shoe your old horse, once they are not being worked, but they will still need their feet trimmed to keep them comfortable. Hopefully you will have a patient farrier already! Bear in mind that as your horse gets stiffer, he may find that holding his feet in one position difficult.

There is plenty of joy still to be had caring for your older horse, much of our pleasure in our horses comes not from riding but from the simple day-to-day interaction with them. Take time to care for older horse and you will be rewarded by on-going bond of affection and trust.

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!

Image by Rex Pickar from unsplash.com

Can you reduce stiffness and improve movement?

The NICE guidelines for osteoarthritis, the leading cause of stiffness in humans and horses, include appropriate exercise. Exercise is recommended by doctors to tackle a whole range of health conditions in humans, and the same principles can be applied to our horses. We know that general exercise, even if only for 20 minutes a day can have impressive results on our health and the same is true of our horses.

In an ideal world, all horses would have access to grazing and the freedom to move around. Failing this, we try to go some way to replicate this natural process to maintain the health of our horses. Whether your horse is young or old, in full health or in rehabilitation, a series of simple exercises can do wonders for his general health.

Just as we know that our own core strength is vitally important to maintain health and performance, so the same applies to our horses.  Stubbs and Clayton (2008) state “One of the best ways to both prevent and to treat back pain in horses is through the regular use of core training exercises”1.

Dr Narelle Stubbs and Dr Hilary Clayton devoted years of research to building a series of exercises to improve core musculature in horses. The exercises shown in the book and DVD “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field trials, as quoted in the Equine Veterinary Journal: “Research has shown that regular performance of dynamic mobilization exercises over a period of three months stimulated hypertrophy (enlargement) of the muscles that stabilize the horse’s back.”2

But it is not simply their work that has been examined under research. Other studies have taken place at leading centres of science and research showing that using the correct exercises can greatly benefit your horse. “Exercises to increase Multifidus cross sectional area (CSA) have been shown to reduce the amount and reoccurrence of back pain in humans. Similarly, dynamic mobilisation exercises have led to an increase in multifidus cross sectional area in horses on box rest.”3

Here the study has focused on horses on box rest.  This is important, as bringing horses back into after work after injury can be a daunting and difficult process, and one that can be improved if you can maintain some level of strength and flexibility during the box rest. A further study discusses the effect of exercises on asymmetries in horses. As asymmetry can contribute to further problems at a later date, exercises to balance out the difference between the left and the right hand side can only be a good thing. “Between the initial evaluation and final evaluation m. multifidus cross sectional area increased significantly at all six spinal levels on both right and left sides. Asymmetries in m. multifidus cross sectional area between the right and left sides decreased between the initial and final evaluations.”4

And finally, research suggesting that mobilisation can improve the quality of your horse’s paces: “Gymnastic exercises performed three times per week improved stride quality at walk.”5 So wherever you are with your horse, you can safely say that simple mobilisation exercises will benefit your horse.

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!

References:

  1. Stubbs, N. and Clayton, H. (2008). Activate your horse’s core. Mason MI: Sport Horse Publications.
  2. Stubbs, Narelle & Kaiser, LeeAnn & Hauptman, J & Clayton, Hilary. (2011). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of multifidus. Equine veterinary journal. 43. 522-9. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00322.x.
  3. Tabor, G. (2017). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Pearl.plymouth.ac.uk. Available at: https://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/handle/10026.1/3320
  4. Stubbs NC, e. (2017). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21496085
  5. de Oliveira, K., Soutello, R., da Fonseca, R., Costa, C., de L. Meirelles, P., Fachiolli, D. and Clayton, H. (2017). Gymnastic Training and Dynamic Mobilization Exercises Improve Stride Quality and Increase Epaxial Muscle Size in Therapy Horses.

Learning is liberating!

Learning is something we tend to think of as doing as a child. When we were children, we learnt all the time. How to walk, how to talk, how to read, how to do a cartwheel, how to tie a shoelace, the list goes on. But as adults, often established and successful in our career we can fall into only doing what we already know.

Learning as an adult is a different experience to learning as a child. As adults we assume, we should know how to do things, we should know all the answers. (We don’t!) So, admitting that we don’t know something is a brave move indeed. But learning a new skill as an adult can be a very rewarding and engaging process. One example is learning to massage your horse. This is a useful and interesting skill to learn.

We offer an annual charity massage course, as well as a book and DVD bundle deal “Horse Massage for Horse Owners.” Both these routes give you the opportunity to learn an entirely new skill. It might be something that you have always wanted to try, or it could be something that you have never considered. But either route will give you an excellent grounding in the basics of horse massage.

Massaging your horse is a lovely gift to be able to give back to them. We all know how much we enjoy having a massage and easing away though aches and pains! Horses are, in their very nature, loyal and uncomplaining, so giving them something in return is a delight. Massaging your horse is also a great way to bond, and to enjoy time together when riding is not an option. Maybe your horse is old, or injured, or you don’t have enough time, some time spent together while you massage your horse will give you both pleasure.

And remember that the very act of learning a new skill is good for your brain, and your neural pathways. This is a great description of why it is so good for you: “Education is key to slowing brain aging. Simply put, the more you know, the more you stretch your brain’s capacity for learning.” Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology.

So, look after your horse, look after your brain – what’s not to love?!