Caring for your elderly horse

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Older horses represent a sizeable portion of the horse population, according to Laurie Cerny editor of www.equineseniors.com “20 percent of the horse population is over the age of 20.” 1. This is excellent news on the one hand as it shows that we are looking after our aging equine population. However, with age, comes the problem of care. The older horse has different requirements to the younger horses.

The feed industry in particular, seems rife with clever marketing that would encourage you to believe that their feed or supplement is the magic cure all for your old horse. To quote Dr David Marlin’s words of advice: “When it comes to nutrition you will be amazed how few companies actually have anyone working for them who has any nutritional qualifications whatsoever. There is NO requirement for this, although I strongly believe there should be.” 2. Make sure you ask the advice of an independent professional, or at least a company that sells a range of different brands. There are some feeds and supplements that will help your older horse, just be discerning in your choices.

The NHS guidelines for the elderly state: “As you get older, it becomes even more important to remain active if you want to stay healthy.” 3. And while this statement is aimed towards humans the same applies to our horses. The advice given by Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts, in N. Grafton, Mass. In her article on keeping the older horse healthy, states: “Increase mobility to reduce pain, and avoid stall rest.” 4. Being able to turn your horse out, as well as to some form of mobility stretches, is one of the best things you can do to ensure that your horse remains happy and well.

Yoga is proven to improve mobility and flexibility. There have been a range of scientific studies around the physical and mental effects of yoga. 5. And while there is not an equine equivalent, there are good series of scientifically proven stretches in Activate Your Horse’s Core that will help your horse. This give you a selection of simple to follow exercises to help improve your horse’s core strength. If you don’t feel these are appropriate for your older horse, discuss a series of exercises with your physio to help your horse to maintain flexibility.

With all the science and knowledge that we have access to these days, it is possible to provide a top level of care to your older horse, ensuring that his later years are happy and enjoyable.

References:

  1. Release, P. (2018). Older Horses Focus of Senior Horse Symposium – Quarter Horse News. [online] Quarter Horse News. Available at: https://www.quarterhorsenews.com/2018/01/older-horses-focus-senior-horse-symposium/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  2. com. (2018). Dr David Marlin. [online] Available at: https://www.facebook.com/DrDavidMarlin/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  3. uk. (2018). Exercise as you get older – Live Well – NHS Choices. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/activities-for-the-elderly.aspx [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  4. Erica Larson, N. and Erica Larson, N. (2018). Tips for Maintaining Aged Horses’ Health – The Horse. [online] The Horse. Available at: https://thehorse.com/114189/tips-for-maintaining-aged-horses-health/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].
  5. Elsevier Connect. (2018). The science of yoga — what research reveals. [online] Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-science-of-yoga-what-new-research-reveals [Accessed 19 Mar. 2018].

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Photo by Holgi from Pixabay

Hairy horses

By Amy Craske

At this time of year, a lot of us are clipping our horses to make them more comfortable when working. A few are also doing it all year round, especially with those older Cushings teddy bears! I know with my first pony, when she started to grow that thick pelt, I spent more time clipping in the summer than in the winter! I’m lucky enough to now have another lovely older pony with Cushings for my children, and I’m falling back into hat pattern again. Fortunately for us, Rascal has literally been there, done that and got several of the t-shirts during his varied career, and for him clipping is a walk in the park. In the summer I was giving him a bib clip loose in the field with my battery powered trimmers while he had a nap in the sunshine!

 

An awful lot of horses, however, don’t find clipping quite so therapeutic. For every one I’ve met who almost leans into the clippers like they would a good scratch, I’ve met just as many who struggle to stand still and submit to it, and a few who are downright terrified. The horses who become terrified are not only upsetting, for both ourselves and for the horse, but often downright dangerous. Often the best and safest solution for everyone for theses horses is to ask a vet to sedate the horse. This is not without risks; the truly terrified horse can still have a reaction, and it can seem to come out of nowhere as their normal body language is muffled by the effects of the sedative. I remember distinctly holding a cob mare a good few years ago while someone else clipped her belly, and she had been sedated because she did NOT like her belly being touched at all (now, I might have a few ideas as to why that might have been, but at the time we just dealt with it). This horse went from seemingly completely doped, to kicking the clipper handler in the head, within about half a second, and if she hadn’t had a hat on I dread to think what would have happened.

So if you have a horse which struggles to cope, it can make clipping very complicated and extremely frustrating. When you are trying to get that neat line down the side of the face or a blanket line which doesn’t look like it was done by Shane McGowan, and your horse JUST FIDGETS at the EXACT WRONG TIME it can be infuriating. I know, I’m an absolute perfectionist when it comes to clipping; I did a trace clip this year on a lovely dark bay horse in poor light, then realised once I’d finished and didn’t have time to go back that the line on one side appeared to be a visual representation of a radio wave!! It is causing me almost physical pain every time I look at the poor boy, and I’m praying his coat will grow enough to be clipped again before the spring so I don’t have to keep looking at it!! It can be easy to get irritated, and want to hold a leg up, trap them against a wall or reach for a twitch when the daft thing won’t just stand still. After all, don’t they realise you’re only doing it to make them more comfortable, and the more they fidget the longer it’ll take??

Keep an eye out for part 2 coming soon!

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Photo by Alexas from Pixabay

Are you confident?

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

Confidence on the ground is one of the fundamentally most important areas that you can address in relation to working with your horse. Horses are unarguably potentially dangerous. “Some seemingly straightforward activities such as leading a horse out to its paddock can result in fatal kicks.” Medical Equestrian Association. While we cannot remove all risk associated with horses, we can, by educating ourselves, decrease the risk potential. Turning three horses out at once on a windy night without a hat, is inherently more risky than turning one horse out at a time whilst wearing a hat. Part of education is learning where the risk lies. If you have spent time working with your horse on the ground and your horse is responsive to your commands, you are optimising your chances of success.

According to the current statistics into horse related injuries, 80% occur while mounted, and 20% of injuries occur while the horse is being handled. Interestingly dismounted injures require hospitalization in 42% of the cases, while only 30% of mounted injuries require hospitalization. However, if we can improve our relationship with our horses on the ground, we can not only reduce the likelihood of an unmounted injury, but also reduce the likelihood of a ridden injury. By educating ourselves, we can help to protect ourselves during the time that we spend with our horses.

When handling horses make sure that you are wearing a suitable hat, gloves and good boots. You could consider wearing a body protector if this would increase your confidence.  Horses are unpredictable and by learning more about them and increasing our understanding of them we can improve our chances of knowing how they are going to behave. If you feel protected then you will feel more confident and this will help you to handle your horse more effectively. “The most frequent cause of death and serious injury for mounted and dismounted horse activities is head injury.” www.brainline.org

According to research in the British Medical Journal during research into the hazards of horse-riding; “It was found that 70% of the 20 accidents could be thought attributable to the behaviour of the horse at the time, and seven of these were in the spinal injuries group. Rider error was a significant contribution in seven cases, and in two instances the rider was under instruction at the time. There was also inadequate experience of the rider in seven cases, of which five were thought to show inadequate supervision.” This research seems to conclude that either the rider did not know enough, or the horse misbehaved. If we remove the premise that the horse misbehaved and instead view it as the horse was not sufficiently trained, then the vast proportion of the accidents could have been prevented by training both the horse and the rider.

By improving your confidence on the ground, you will improve your skill. As your skill improves so will your relationship with your horse. We cannot prevent all accidents, but we can prevent the preventable ones. By learning to handle our horses with clarity on the ground we will become more confident. We will learn to “read” their behaviour as we become more in-tune to their reactions.

References:

  • Medical Equestrian Association
  • Brainline
  • Silver, J. and Parry, J. (1991). Hazards of horse-riding as a popular sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 25(2), pp.105-110.

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Photo by Joachim Marian Winkler from Pixabay

Hello and welcome!

We like to help other people share their ideas and thoughts, which is why we always try and have guest bloggers, as well as our own blogs. So we are delighted to introduce Amy who will be a regular guest blogger for us here at Ethical Horse Products.

 

Hello horse fans! Nice to meet you. I’m Amy, and I’ve been riding since I was 5, had ponies since I finally nagged my non-horsey parents into submission at 13 and worked with them on and off most of my life. I’ll happily admit in my youth I was a ‘limpet’ who would get on anything, and give it a smack and a kick if it didn’t comply; when I got my own and tried to use these tactics with a horse I was also trying to build a relationship with, I started to think about the way we do things with horses a bit more critically.

I moved on to working for a couple of dealers/show producers and that solidified my unease; a lot of force, gadgets and over riding of permanently stabled, weak and overweight youngsters put me right off the horse industry. I knew I wasn’t happy with the way things were done but didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to challenge it.

I found Intelligent Horsemanship which showed me alternatives for communicating with and training our horses were out there, and encouraged me to consider things from the horse’s perspective. A few years ago I also found Ride With Your Mind and Mary Wanless, which helped me solve some long-standing problems with my riding. It has also helped me in my teaching, giving me a method to help solve some of the problems I could see but struggled to change.

I am now studying with Mary, although I am not yet an accredited teacher. I now work at a local riding school in Norfolk  a few days a week alongside Heather Cook, an accredited RWYM coach, and teach freelance which I love. To be honest I happily steal tactics and ideas from anyone who has ethics and welfare as their top priority! I especially enjoy working with people to improve or repair their relationships with their horses, and encouraging them to learn how their horses think; I also love working with people new to horses, as it is lovely to foster in other people the same love for horses I have had since the first time I saw a pony!!

Having educated myself about horse psychology and ethology, learning theory, and the natural habitats equines are adapted for, I am amazed how little of this is covered by the traditional equine educational organisations. I try to use this knowledge and experience to help people solve groundwork and handling issues, and I also do quite a lot of clipping and trimming, aiming for the horse’s experience to be as pleasant and stress-free as possible.

My true passion and goal is to encourage people to have a real sense of empathy for their horses, and perhaps by extension other humans too! I started blogging almost as a way to try and get some of the thousands of thoughts about horses and horse training that spin through my head on a daily basis into some sort of order, as much for myself as to explain myself to others. I’m hoping it will also help me find other horse geeks to discuss things with!

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Happy New Year!

By Lizzie Hopkinson

So have you made a resolution? Maybe you have made many, or maybe just the one? New Year’s resolutions are fantastic, they give the opportunity to set our minds forward and to think about what we would like to achieve. (Remember to write them down so you don’t forget!) It doesn’t matter how small or large they seem to others, the important thing is that you choose them.  Keeping them is harder…

I think having a small resolution is good, as we are more likely to be able to achieve small steps. Breaking down goals into component steps, makes the big goal more manageable and ensures that we can work systematically towards that goal.

If your New Year’s resolution is to hack out alone, break that goal down. Make a series of small goals that you can work towards, ensuring that you feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, rather than simply feeling daunted by the magnitude of your aim.

So, small goals could be; leading your horse in hand for a walk by yourselves, hacking in company, hacking in company, but going lead, riding your horse down the drive by yourself, riding alone in the school, practising mounting and dismounting in different locations.

Suddenly by working your way through each of those goals, you have given yourself the tools you need to hack alone. Yet without those steps, you may have become discouraged from your aim.

So when you are thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, make sure you break down each goal into bite-sized chunks, this will help you, by encouraging you, rather than overwhelming you.

Comment below with your New Year’s resolutions, and let us know how you get on!

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Bombproofing my ponies

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

When I was young, I kept my ponies on the farm up the road. It was a traditional working farm with tractors, livestock, dogs, landrovers, trailers. The stables were in an old building, past which the farmer would trundle as he went around his day. I was allowed to ride around the farm, past the plough, the bailer, the harrows. My jumps were made of items I had been given, oil drums, old feed sacks. I rode with friends on their bikes, sharing the ponies and the bikes between us. My ponies were bombproof. Nothing we met out and about was any different to what we encountered in our everyday life.

Looking back, I realise that without realising it, I was bombproofing those ponies, exposing them to the very things that they could be scared of, so that they learnt that they were normal and unthreatening. A case of unconscious competence. Later on, I kept my horses in purpose built yards, with access to a clear school, those horses were not bombproof. Those horses would react to tractors and trailers if confronted with them. Gradually I learnt that what I had done as a child was correct, but now I had to learn to do it from first principles, I had to do it consciously, and learn conscious competence.

Once I had realised what I had lost as I had grown-up, moved up, I had to go out of my way to re-create the conditions that had once been on my doorstep. So that I purposely began to school my horses in the fields, around the tractor, leave random items spread across the field, rugs, old feed sacks pinned down with stones, until I realised that the field I schooled my horses in, was effectively a re-creation of the farm of my childhood. But these horses were bombproof. Used to being asked for shoulder-in, or a half-pass around an old pile of timber, or a strategically placed trailer, they were unfazed when meeting the same hazards out hacking.

I fear today that these farms, such as the ones from my childhood are vanishing, lost to commercialisation.  The conditions that I took for granted, no longer exist, and with them the opportunities they presented. But we need our horses to be around the very things that we will meet. So, we must re-create these old farmyards, full of clattering and clanking, full of sights, sounds and smells, so that our horses are unfazed. A crisp packet in a hedge is no threat if your stable is covered with old plastic sacks, the tractor approaching you down the lane, is not a source of worry if you see it passing back and forth all day. Rather than worrying that you could meet out hacking, and avoiding it, actively seek out obstacles, so that your horse becomes confident in the presence of the unexpected and you can enjoy your time together.

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Mounting – the bridge between groundwork and ridden work

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Mounting is essentially the bridge between your groundwork and your ridden work. In one sense, mounting, and the process of it, sets up the interaction between the horse and rider. The moment that the rider gets on the horse, gives the horse a series of messages. If the rider is crashing down on the horse’s back, snatching at the reins, the horse has already learnt so much about their rider. If the rider is gently sitting down, using their core to engage their own muscles as they sit, quietly holding the reins, reassuring the horse, the relationship has already got off to a better start.

We tend to spend time practising the same movements when we ride our horses. How many times did you ride a 20-metre circle the last time that you schooled? And how many times did you practise getting on? I think we can confidently assume that you rode more 20-metre circles! Yet mounting is probably more important than the ability to ride a 20-metre circle. The process of mounting is one where the rider and horse can be unbalanced, and the probability of accidents is greater at this point. So, spending time practising this will pay off in the long run.

Anyone who hacks out needs to be able to confident mount their horse in a variety of different locations. Even if you think that you never get off out hacking, you never know what will happen. You might meet an obstacle that is safer to pass on foot rather than ridden. Your horse may get a stone stuck in his hoof. You may meet a fallen tree, or an accident. Whatever the cause you may be forced to dismount. I recently met a jockey walking with his racehorse in a forest, he had dismounted to extract a stone from his horse’s hoof and couldn’t get back on. I gave him a leg-up, he gave me a tip for the 3.30 at Newbury. Knowing that you will be confidently able to get back on, will save you a long walk home! Just make sure you spend some time finding a safe place to remount.

When you work on your mounting practice at home you can spend time teaching your horse to stand by different obstacles, or if you have a moveable mounting block, spend some time moving it round the yard to different locations, so that your horse isn’t only used to being mounted in the same place.

Anyone who is even the slightest bit nervous, is always reassured by mounting a quiet well-mannered horse. Setting the tone for your forthcoming ride, seems to me, to be vital for building a good relationship with our horses. A horse that stands quietly and waits till you have collected yourself before you move off together, will give you the opportunity to have a good ride. Optimise your riding experience by putting the time into teaching your horse to stand properly – you won’t regret it.

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Photo by Vincent Botta on Unsplash

On being bigger, and being able to enjoy my horse

By guest blogger Jane Broomfield

So, a couple of things that have been mulling around in my head…
I am not a “small” person. I am quite tall and have shoulders that are wider than most, and I have curves….perhaps not all in the correct place right now, but I am working on it.
I am also, like most equestrians, strong. I have a large muscle percentage and I do not fit in the normal range for clothing. To be honest, this is a general thing, and not just related to “equestrian clothes”. (I not even going to the long boot place today…)
Now, I appreciate that there are companies out there that are making equestrian clothes for the more “curvy” rider, I am not just not sure I enjoy being singled out because I am built a bit like an “Amazon”.
And when they do have the “full” size stuff, it tends to be shaped like a tent. Tents do not look great when riding, especially when competing. And I am not sure my horse would appreciate it either!!

Big does not always equate to “tent shaped”. We need the same clothes as everyone else, just in a cut that does not cut off our circulation!

My horse,Keane, who is a Percheron cross, is really good fun, and he is great to take out and show. But something odd has happened. I have had a number of my fellow competitors stop and say what a cute horse he is, and he seems like lots of fun to ride.
Which confused me….. are their horse not fun to ride?
Looking around the collecting ring… it became clear, no, no they are not. This is an issue that we are seeing more and more. We are buying horses that we are not ready to ride. The following saying comes to mind.
“Most do not need a $50,000 dollar horse, but need a $1000 dollar horse and $40,000 dollars worth of lessons.”
Sometimes, we need to be realistic. We need to determine what we want to get out of our riding and buy the horse we need, not always the one we want.

With thanks to Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

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Bucket list item – attend Carl Hester clinic – check!

Our guest blogger Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horse talks about attending a Carl Hester clinic.

 

I was very lucky to attend the Carl Hester master class in Vancouver over the mid November weekend. It was awesome!!

Seeing this clinic was a bucket list item for me, I have watched him ride for the UK for many years and have found his books excellent reads. I think it’s really awesome what he has done for the Equestrian sport in the UK, especially dressage. Something he empathized was that he did not come from a “horsey” family and he did not have lots of money, he brought the best horse he could with the money he had and it was the training that made the horse, not the price tag.

Mr Hester has an distinct and direct way of dealing with each horse and rider even though most wanted to work on the same concerns.

We got to see a some really nice horses and some excellent riders, which helped the rest of us understand that the issues remain the same even as we progress. We are all looking for better connection, better paces, and more ‘spectacular’ results that can only come from more relaxation and impulsion.

We learnt that they only school the horses 4 days a week, and the actual learning time is only around 30 mins, they are stretched before and after each ride, ridden out twice a week and a day off with as much time out in the field as possible. The young horses live out as much as possible and are only brought in to work.  I think something we can all take from this is that horses need to relax and be horses and we should not “drill” them.

There was some much information, especially on how to improve the upper level movements , but when it really came down to it there were some key points we can incorporate into our own ridden work.

And… stretch….

He emphasized the need for the horse to stretch. Each horse was asked to stretch and to work in a longer frame. Athletes stretch before training, our horses are athletes, they need to stretch too!

Leg on… leg off…

Leg off a ‘lazy’ horse, and leg on a hot one. The hot horse needs to accept the leg and listen to it. The lazy one needs to stop depending on the rider to keep them going. ( Stop nagging them!!) If you ask the horse to do something, they should continue doing it until you ask them to do something else.

Leg = reaction. It may not always be the reaction you ask for BUT that is OK! Appreciate that the horse is learning, and try to be clearer with the ask the next time.

Transition, transition, transition….

Ride every transition like it is part if a test and ride LOTS of them. And by lots he was looking for hundreds…

How often have you ridden a transition, especially down a pace that has just been ugghh… but you have not corrected it because, basically no one is watching. Stop that! Ride them like they really matter, because, basically they do. If you ride each transition forward and correct, it becomes habit, and when it comes to test time, a non issue!

Hands!

Keep an eye on your hands. A good hand is a hand that is constantly communicating with your horse, it just looks like it is doing nothing! They are forward hands that correct while looking still. First though, keep them in a good basic position. Hands up and in front of you with the thumbs up and close together. This is not news, but it is something I see often, hands are dropped and turned over, this leads to a gap in communication with the horse. Fixed hands block the communication. We often heard, thumbs up, hands together. It is nice to know that even advanced risers need reminding of this occasionally!!

There was so much more information about how to ride different movements, improving collection, changes and piaffe and passage, but the above is a good starting point and easy to implement for any rider.

 

With thanks to Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horses.

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My brilliant old pony…

By Lizzie Hopkinson

One of the best ponies that I ever had was already a teenager when he came to us. We had found him in Wales, he was skinny, lame, fairly blind and I fell in love him with. My mother had him vetted. The vet told her he wouldn’t last very long, and not to touch him. So, we carried on looking, but, he was the only pony that had made me feel confident. Eventually my mother, ignoring the vet’s advice bought him for a reduced price. Every other person who had been to view him had been told not to buy him by the vet. She got him very cheap, and then spent the money she had budgeted for a pony on getting him fit and healthy.

She transformed him from a skinny wreck to a gleaming perfect looking pony. He was, she says, the best pony she ever bought. I competed him all through pony club, inter-schools, he taught my many cousins to ride and was endlessly patient. He was the best of ponies, the sort of pony that would go incredibly slowly in every pace for nervous riders, then gradually as their confidence increased so would his speed. He took many riders from terrified to brave with the same technique.

In his old age my mother used to lend him to children who had lost their confidence. He would be despatched off at the correct weight with a list of what he needed to be fed. The weight would stay on him till the child got their confidence. At this point he would then turn into a galloping machine and run off all the weight. This was when he would then come back home, and my mother would patiently fatten him up again before sending him off to the next scared child.

Gradually it took longer and longer to get the weight back on him, and finally we could no longer keep any weight on him. By this time, he was in his late 20s. I wished I could have rung the vet who had told my mother not to buy him some 15 years earlier and shown him that you can have many fantastic years with an old horse as long as you care for them.

He was the perfect example of what you can achieve with a good team of professionals. At that time, people in general didn’t collect a team of professionals to care for their horses. Most people had the vet and the farrier, but that was it, especially as far as ponies went. But my mother collected a dentist, a back-person, an acupuncturist, a saddler, a farrier and a vet. And that team of professionals kept that old pony, that had been written off by the vet, going for another 15 years.

I’m not advocating ignoring your vet, but it was a perfect example of what you can achieve with a fantastic team of professionals behind you.

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