Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

Guest blog by Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!!

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

With thanks to Jane Broomfield

The Importance of Praise

I read this great story the other day about a teacher. The teacher wrote 20 sums on the board in front of a classroom full of teenagers. One of them was wrong. The teenagers started laughing. The teacher asked them why they were laughing, and the teenagers said “because you made a mistake.” The teacher said, “You laughed at me for the one sum that I got wrong, but you didn’t praise me for the 19 sums that I got right.” The teacher continued, “this is what will happen to you all during your working life, you won’t get praised when you do well, only criticised when you do badly.”

Firstly, he was quite right! The importance of praise in the workplace seems to be a foreign concept to many employers or managers, yet people will work so much harder for you if they feel appreciated. It’s not simply a question of being paid, people want to feel valued. Great employers have the ability to make everyone from the floor workers, to the managers, feel appreciated, it is one of the hallmarks of a good business.

Exactly the same thing applies to our horses. The good riders make their horses want to give that extra bit. Like the good employers whose staff will stay late to help, the horses of good riders will make that extra effort. If you praise your horse for all the things he gets right, he too will feel valued, and will understand what you want him to do. We forget to praise, we remember to criticise.

How often do you tie your horse up, groom your horse, tack-up and then your horse starts to fidget and you tell him off? But did you praise him for standing still all that time? Probably not! Exactly the same happens in our ridden work, we criticise our horses when they make a mistake (despite the fact we were probably responsible for it!) and forget to praise.

Interestingly the ratio between praise and criticism was subjected to academic research and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal ratio is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. So the next time that you ride, or even handle your horse, try this. Make sure you have praised 6 times, before you criticise, and see what effect it has on your horse (and yourself!)

Five tips for confidence…

Confidence seems somewhat elusive to those who doubt themselves. We have all been there, looking round thinking of all the things that could go wrong and all the ways we could fail, until we render ourselves completely incapable of doing anything!

But confidence is just another skill, and you can learn to do anything. So here are five tips to help you build your confidence.

  • Be positive. Spending your time thinking “what if my horse spooks?” will not help your confidence. Instead visualise a positive outcome. Rather than visualising your horse spooking, visualise yourself trotting confidently around the corner.
  • Small steps. If you become nervous in certain situations, break down the situation into bite size chunks. Are you nervous at a show? Break down the day into pieces. Are you nervous of loading your horse, or getting on in a strange place, or maybe even finding your way somewhere you haven’t been before. Once you have broken the day down, you will be able to identify what is causing the nervousness and then work with that area.
  • Be kind. Don’t be self-critical, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself how far you have come, praise yourself for every step, even if it is simply that you were a little less scared than yesterday, remember to praise yourself!
  • Set yourself up to succeed. Don’t over face yourself. If you enter a class above your ability and don’t do very well, you will enter into a negative mind-set about it. Why not enter a class below your ability, then you will have a rewarding experience before you start to push yourself.
  • When we are nervous, our muscles tighten and we don’t breathe properly. Our brain requires oxygen to function, you cannot think when you are scared!! Take a deep breathe, and another, and another, and off you go!

Crazy British weather!

Dealing with our crazy British Weather can be a challenge. One moment we are sliding around in the mud and the next day the temperature has shot up 10 degrees and we are all dripping with sweat and covered with flies! We can’t do anything about the weather, but we can try to work around it.

Often it is not the heat, but the temperature change that causes the problem. Horses, like us, adapt to different climates over time, it is the quick temperature change that catches us out. Every time there is a mini heatwave the internet is flooded with “experts” discussing cooling horses or dogs down.

Be aware of these so-called experts, some the advice they are giving is dangerous. If you want trusted scientific advice on dealing with horses in the heat, please read Dr David Marlin on Facebook by clicking here.

Circulating on Facebook is the myth that you shouldn’t turn your horses out with a wet coat, as the water will heat up on your horse and cause it to overheat – this is not true! The water will evaporate and cool the skin.

Remember that social media is no replacement for veterinary advice and science. If you are in doubt about your horse’s health please consult a vet.

It can be difficult to work your horses during heatwaves and it is all too easy to feel resentful about your entries fees so carry on regardless. Just remember if you always ride your horse at 7 in the morning before work, and then take it competing in a heatwave in the afternoon, the temperature difference will be extreme. The cost of the veterinary care if your horse suffers from heatstroke and associated conditions, will be far greater than your lost entry fees.

Our horses rely on us to keep them safe – don’t let them down…

 

 

In hand exercises and how they can help

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.

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.

 

5 top tips for riding in collecting rings

How to ride safely in a collecting ring.

 

It’s showtime! Which definitely means having warm up in busy collecting rings, but also for anyone who shares an arena at a yard, here are our top tips for having a nice ride in the company of others.

1: Pass left to left – the oldest and simplest of the rules. Always pass left to left when working on the outer track. If you struggle with left and right, write an “L” and an “R” on the back of your gloves.

2: Walk on an inner track – this allows riders travelling at a faster speed to continue around the outside, without you getting in their way. Likewise when transitioning down to a walk check there is not someone cantering up behind you, who might not be prepared for you to slow down.

3: Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horses can often nap leaving or entering the collecting ring or arena, so it basic safety to keep it clear for people who may be having a difficult time persuading their horse to enter or exit.

4: Look up! – do not ride round staring down. Firstly it will tip your centre of gravity forwards, causing your shoulders to round and straining your neck, and secondly you cannot see where you are going! Simply being observant while riding with others will make you safer in the arena. It is always good to notice that there is a horse out of control at the other end, giving you plenty of time to come back to a walk and calm your own horse down.

5: Red flag on right, white flag on left – if there are flags on jumps, be sure to follow this rule, thereby preventing head on collisions. Do not cross in front of jumps without being very sure that no-one is approaching and certainly do not loiter around in front of the jumps.

If everyone can follow these tips for good arena and collecting ring use, we will all have a more enjoyable time. Remember a smile goes a long way, riding and competing are meant to be fun! Also, we are all human, mistakes happen. It is very easy to get engrossed in what we are doing and forget to look around and nearly crash. But most people will be forgiving as long as you apologise. A simple “sorry” goes a long way and can prevent a small incident escalating into a massive row. Do put a green ribbon on a young horse, and a red ribbon on a kicker, so that other people are aware of your horse’s behaviour. If we all act responsibly and politely we will all enjoy ourselves.

 

5 top tips for hacking

Hacking should be a deeply relaxing, pleasurably activity to do with your horse. Enjoying the beautiful countryside in the company of your four-legged friend can be the perfect way to start or end your day, or indeed spend your whole weekend doing! It conjures up feelings of freedom and unity with your horse. It removes us from the trials of everyday life – the bills, your boss, your housework!

However, as with everything, hacking comes with a price. Other than the very fortunate amongst us, we will all invariably have to venture onto the roads in order to access the delights of off-road hacking. The problem with the roads is to do with speed. Everything has become faster, our phones, our computers, our cars…Barely a day goes by without some horror story in the press of accidents involving horses on the road. If we read them all we would never put a foot in the stirrup!

So what should we do? Never hack? Resign ourselves to the arena? The problem with this is, hacking is brilliant for both our own and our horses’ mental states, even top class competition yards regularly hack their horses to allow them a chance to unwind. You may not want to simply trot in a circle for 30 minutes after a whole day sat in the office. However if you take sensible precautions hacking can still be relaxing and rewarding.

Top five tips for hacking:

1: Be sensible. Riding is risky, but you can reduce the risk by making sensible decisions. Should you hack your 4 year old alone on a windy evening? – no, wait till the conditions are right and you have an older horse to go hacking with.

2: Make sure your horse will follow basic commands. Ensure your horse will stand when asked, will move easily forwards and will take a few steps sideways. If you are unsure how to teach your horse to move sideways ask your instructor. A few lateral steps can move you quickly from the middle of the road to the side.

3: Teach your horse to stand while you mount and dismount. If your horse is nappy, or scared, it can be safer to simply dismount and lead your horse past the obstacle. This is not allowing the horse to win, it is teaching the horse that you are to be trusted. Please make sure you can find somewhere safe to remount once you have passed the obstacle.

4: Stay alert. Do not use your mobile phone while riding. Do not ride on the buckle. Listen to the traffic, you can often hear how fast a car is coming long before you can see it. Wear hi-viz gear to ensure you are highly visible to other road users.

5: Be courteous. If someone slows down for you make the effort to thank them. A smile and a nod of the head is all it takes. If you don’t that car driver will remember that the next time they meet a horse and could be less likely to slow down. We all use the roads, we cannot expect courtesy from others if we do not behave accordingly.

 

Stay safe and make the most of the British Summer!

 

Pippa’s Journey (so far!)

Pippa is my 11 year old 16.2hh mare who I have owned since she was about six month old. From a young age we (my partner Paul and I) showed her in hand for many years until we decided to start up a family business in Stourport on Severn 7 years ago. During that time Pippa had been lightly backed and had an absolutely gorgeous foal named Kipper (shired by my own little stallion Bertie,) however we sadly lost Kipper as a young colt.

 

Due to having Kipper and our energy being focused on the new business, Pippa became a much loved family pet but had very little work. She was a very green nine year old who had barely cantered with anyone on her back let alone anything else. It was until the summer of 2017 where I started again with Pippa and began to ride her.

 

During the summer I went to Lincomb’s adult camp which was one of the best decisions I made. It kick-started my motivation and boosted my confidence and I began to discover how much talent Pippa really had. She had never jumped before or done cross country but at this camp we did everything! During one of the lessons at the camp I met my instructor Angela, who has since been a massive help and incredibly supportive along Pippa’s journey. We began to have jumping lessons as well as flat work lessons and even began competing in local competitions.

 

However, things suddenly hit rock bottom in September 2017 when two weeks after I had lost my other mare Kalini, to colic (who I had also owned since a foal) Pippa too had colic and I was faced with the impossible decision as to whether to put her through surgery or not. After deciding to send her the next few hours were some of the longest hours of my like waiting to get the call from the vet to tell me how the surgery went. Luckily she pulled through but there was a huge road for recovery. Since then I have always known she was a fighter, there was just something in Pippa which made her fight that my other mare unfortunately did not have.

 

2018 was rather a quiet year for Pippa. She spent most of the year recovering and I wanted to give her as much time as she needed. We began doing some light work towards the end of the year and even some small dressage tests but had not been back jumping or cross country. During this time I began to sense that something was wrong due to her behaviour, mainly on the ground. She began to skip into canter on the left rein in particular. Due to her surgery I was determined to get everything checked and make sure that she was okay.

 

In early 2019 I booked Pippa in to see physiotherapist Sue Palmer and after an initial assessment Sue recommended I see a vet and suspected that she could have ulcers. From this I booked her in for an appointment at the vets and after a endoscopy they were able to confirm that she had two gastric ulcers, one that was stage 1 and another which was a stage 2 ulcer.

 

After some treatment (and some more treatment to prevent them coming back) Pippa is now on the mend (again). We have began to have some lessons and the improvement is already amazing. We have even began jumping again and it seems that Pippa has definitely missed it to say the least. I’m definitely excited for the summer and have booked into Lincomb’s adult camp once again hopefully alongside some local competitions for the summer. I’ve had many horses over the years but she is my one in a million horse and my absolute pride and joy. It has taken us a while but hopefully we can begin to expand both mine and her abilities and have some fun again.

 

With thanks to Emily for sharing her story with us. If you have a story you would like to share, please email [email protected]

Is the weather driving you mad?

We wait all winter for the summer, plodding through muddy fields, dragging wet rugs off horses, cursing the short day length which renders it impossible to get anything done. All winter we look forward to the summer and its endless hazy, sunny days where we are going to be able to spend hours playing with our horses under a gently glowing sun…

Then summer arrives, and after lulling us into a false sense of security, we are inundated with torrential rain, turning the entire countryside into something resembling soup. It is rubbish!

However, short of saving the planet, reducing the effects of our consumerist society and slowing climate change (but that is another story!), there is little we can do about the weather. The first thing to do is to accept it. Yes it is raining again, but being cross isn’t going to help. Yes, it would be lovely if the sun was out – but it isn’t.

Next make a flexible plan. You probably only have a few hours in your day where you could ride, so you can’t ride around the weather, but you can decide what you are going to do if it too wet to ride. You could sit inside, eat biscuits and mope, or you could spend some time with your horse inside. Why not give him a massage, (take a look at our book and DVD set Horse Massage for Horse Owners to get you started!), do some stretching exercises with him (Activate Your Horse’s Core has brilliant exercises in it!) or simply a really good groom?

You could maybe consider hiring an indoor school (share with a friend to keep the cost down) if you are too frustrated, or simply go riding – remember there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothing!

Whatever you decide to do – enjoy it!