When should you interfere?

I was walking my dog the other day and passed a boy and his mother on the track. The boy was not wearing a bike hat. My cousin was in an induced coma for 2 weeks over Christmas some years ago, after falling from a horse wearing a hat without a safety harness. He survived, mainly due to the incredible team at Stoke hospital, but the accident has left its mark.

Consequently, I’m a bit of a fan of hats! But back to the boy on the bike. I didn’t stop and say anything, but afterwards I felt as though I should have. Yes, they were only pootling along on a soft track, but that is all it takes.

Here are some statistics from America (you can read the full report here) on the use of hats whilst cycling in children:

Without proper protection, a fall of as little as two feet can result in a skull fracture or other TBI.
Approximately 50 percent of U.S. children between 5- and 14-years-old own a helmet, and only 25 percent report always wearing it while bicycling.
Universal use of bicycle helmets by children ages 4 to 15 could prevent 45,000 head injuries.
Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by at least 45 percent, brain injury by 33 percent, facial injury by 27 percent and fatal injury by 29 percent.

So, should you interfere? I would stop if I saw a child on a pony without a hat, so why didn’t I stop for the biking child? Though it is illegal for a child to ride on the road without a hat; “The Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 requires children under 14
years old to wear protective helmets when riding a horse on the road.” Our perception of biking must be that it is safer than riding a horse, but the statistics list cycling as the number one sport to cause head injuries, with horse riding coming in at number 11.

With hindsight I think I will say something, I would rather annoy someone, than turn around and see their child plummet to the ground, hitting their head on a stone.

The difference between sympathy and empathy

Someone has fallen down a well. Sympathy stands above the well and calls down: “How awful! I’m so sorry for you!” Empathy climbs down into the well and says: “It’s dark down here, that must be hard for you.” Indifference says: “I don’t have a well. That will never happen to me.”

Strikes a chord? How many times have we turned to someone for support but not elicited the response we had hoped for, and ended up feeling hurt. Often this is unintentional. Empathy is tricky, but like many things it is a skill, and it can be learned, improved on and mastered. Empathy, is one of the reasons that we search around for other people who have had the same experiences as we had, so that they “get it”. Don’t get me wrong, sympathy is a million times preferable to indifference, but if you can master it, empathy is the skill to aspire towards. I use the “well” scenario if I need guidance with how to react to someone else’s distress or problem.

Imagine that you are struggling to load your horse. Frustrated by your efforts, you turn to someone on your yard. You could get a variety of responses.

“Well my horse loads.”

“How awful.”

“It’s difficult when horses don’t load, I have had one that didn’t load. That must be a concern for you.”

Which response is the best? The third one! If you then want advice turn to that person.

Remember that this applies the other way round, so if someone comes to you with a problem, try and respond with empathy. Even if, to you, their problem seems small, or easily solvable, simply responding to someone with kindness and empathy can go a long way towards making that person feel supported and heard.

Re-use, recycle, reduce…

For anyone who has tried to live a more eco-friendly life, you will know that it is not easy! However, there are great businesses out there who have put together eco-friendly ranges of products to make your life easier.

The other aspect of trying to life a more eco-friendly life is changing your outlook. Re-use, recycle, reduce…the key is in the reduce. How many things that we buy do we really need? Do you need another girth? (Your horse, not you!) Or are you buying it because you want to? We live in a society that encourages consumerism, that teaches you that you need more. You don’t. Think before you buy, simply buying less means you are living a more eco-friendly life. If you have to buy, buy good products that will last and less of them. Yes, they are more expensive, but they last longer…

Re-use…if you have finished using something for its original purpose look around and think what else you can use it for. I’ve seen old feed bags remade into tote bags, and there literally hundreds of ideas for re-purposing plastic containers on the internet. Let your imagination run wild!

If you have exhausted all available uses for your item, rather than simply slinging it in the bin to go to landfill, see if you can recycle it. Lots more products can be recycled than simply what you can put in your household recycling bin. It can a bit of research, but if it is something you use regularly (like a feed supplement) it is worth working out the most eco-friendly way to dispose of the container.

Every little bit helps, nobody can be perfect, but if everyone tries to do something small, it can add up to a massive change. So remember, re-use, recycle, reduce…

Does your saddle fit?

You know what it is like to walk around in shoes that don’t fit, so it is easy to imagine how uncomfortable a poorly fitting saddle must be.

The problems caused by a poorly fitting saddle are well documented, including pain for the horse, behavioural problems that are labelled as “naughtiness” and poor performance. In our book “Understanding Horse Performance Brain, Pain, or Training?” we help people to identify the causes of their horse’s problems and whether the problems are caused by brain, pain, or training.

While the majority of riders understand the need for  correctly fitting saddles, the practicality of ensuring this can be challenging. Saddles are notoriously expensive  and if you have just purchased a new saddle and then your horse changes shape, the tendency is to make do. Do make sure you seek out a professional saddle fitter to come and assess you and your horse. There is no point having a saddle that fits your horse, if it doesn’t fit you. Do make sure that you have a good instructor to help you achieve and maintain a good position. Even getting a friend to video you riding can help to develop a correct position.

We understand that everyone wishes to keep their horses happy and healthy, but the logistics of doing so can be hard. So make sure you schedule the time to have your horse’s saddle checked by a competent professional, and should ridden problems, such as bucking, develop make sure that checking the fit of your saddle is one of the actions that you take. For a great guide on saddle fitting and what you should look for, take a look at this guide which has been put together by the Animal Health Trust in association with World Horse Welfare, click here to view the guide.

Leave your stress behind…

Horses should be a good de-stressor, sometimes though they seem to cause more stress than they alleviate! But in principle they should be good for you…

Being outside in the countryside, rather than cooped up in a building, taking exercise, doing something that is fulfilling and rewarding, all of these things are proven to help us de-stress and improve our mental state.

I found a poem the other day, which is attributed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, here are a few lines:

The little cares that fretted me,
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea,
Among the winds at play;
Among the lowing of the herds,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.

This should be what spending time with our horses feels like. That we leave our worry at the yard gate and allow the strains of our life to fade away. Often our lives are simply too stressful to simply drop away as we approach our horses, our anxieties are too tightly woven into us to be easily shed. Or our problems are too large to leave behind.

However, when we are aware of how difficult it is to leave our worries behind, we can make more of a conscious effort to leave them at the gate. Sometimes having a physical prop can help, leave a bucket at the gate, and “put” your worries in it. Count to 10 as you walk into the yard and make a conscious effort to leave your day behind. There are many ways to help you leave your stress at the yard gate, and like everything some days it will be harder than others, but trying to leave your day at the gate is the first step. Your horse will be grateful too!

Simply the best!

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Narelle Stubbs is the official Australian Equestrian Team Physiotherapist, treating both horse and rider in many forms of equitation at the World Equestrian Games (1998, 2002, 2006) and the Olympics (2000,2004 and 2008). Narelle regularly lectures internationally at Veterinary and Physiotherapy conferences and special teaching engagements. Narelle’s research interests include: biomechanics of locomotion, back and neck dysfunction, rehabilitation techniques, and the horse / rider unit and athletic performance.


Ethical Horse Products is delighted to be able to offer the DVD and laminated handbook ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’ by Dr Hilary Clayton and Dr Narelle Stubbs. This book and DVD provide a series of exercises which have been shown in field trials to increase the cross-sectional area of the multifidus muscle, i.e. to improve core muscle strength. The exercises are broken down into three areas; dynamic mobilisation exercises (i.e. baited stretches), core strengthening exercises and balancing exercises.

The effects of the dynamic mobilisation exercises have been studied and the results have been evaluated. The results show that the size of the deep spinal stabilising muscles increases after sustained use of the dynamic stabilisation exercises taught and clearly demonstrated in ‘Activate Your Horse’s Core’. The muscle size was measured using ultrasonography in three separate studies, across three countries, with the duration and frequency of the exercises being different in each study.

The deep spinal stabilising muscles are responsible for the stability of the back and neck during locomotion. These muscles can become weakened through injury and can benefit from targeted exercises to strengthen them. Your horse will benefit from increased mobility and stability in his back and neck, no matter what his age or condition. These exercises can be used as part as rehabilitation (please check with your professional if you have any concerns whether they are appropriate for your horse) or simply as part of your daily warm-up routine.

The better chance we give our horses to perform to their optimum, the more enjoyable our experience with them will be, and theirs with us. Regardless of whether you are competing professionally, or enjoying a sunny hack, these exercises will help your horse to build and maintain a healthy core, meaning he finds his work easier.  Increased levels of comfort lead to less ‘bad’ behaviour as well as improved performance.  Take the time it takes, put the effort into helping your horse to physically be his best, and both you and he will reap the rewards.

To help your horse today, buy “Activate Your Horse’s Core


The Art of Learning

I love learning. I find it endlessly fascinating to find out about things that interest me and to read and to share what I have learnt with others. I like the whole process and that moment when things click into place. But that moment can sometimes come from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best things that I have learnt are ideas or ways of being that I can transfer across from one to scenario to another. So I use tips for how to deal with a toddler on my puppy, and tips for how to house train my puppy on my husband…

I was reflecting the other day on the conversation that always occurs around Monty Roberts. People will always say; my horse won’t … but on being asked if they thought it would do it for Monty, the answer was usually “yes.” This is the training aspect of Understanding Horse Performance; Brain, Pain, or Training that we refer to, and one of the questions that we ask is “will your horse do what is asked if someone else asks him?” This is not saying that you are bad, or not good, just that you might not have progressed as far in your learning as another individual. If the answer to this is yes, then it is simply a case of training yourself, before you train the horse.

I saw this scenario beautifully illustrated in a dog training class the other day. A lady with a collie said she couldn’t groom her dog, it wouldn’t let her. She handed the dog over to the trainer. 30 seconds later I turned back to see the dog sitting patiently while the dog trainer groomed it. It was a classic “Monty Moment”. It was such a clear example of how we get ourselves in a muddle. She was convinced she couldn’t do it, so therefore the dog couldn’t do it. Once the professional had shown the dog what was required, he could then train the owner to do it. Once she had seen him do it, she knew she could do it.

So remember to ask for help, and take every opportunity to learn something from someone else.

Why do we need to see to believe?

I have been reading Dr David Marlin’s posts about cooling horses and dogs. For anyone interested you can find him on Facebook (click here). Dr David Marlin is an esteemed scientist, he knows his stuff! Yet there are endless comments from people who say they don’t believe him because they haven’t seen it happen.

Why do we feel the need to see things with our eyes before we believe them? Why do we assume we know best because we had dogs or horses for years? Why do we feel our anecdotal evidence has more weight than scientifically proven facts? I don’t know, there must be some psychological reason.

People forget simple laws of physics, or perhaps were never taught them. Maybe the blame should be placed with the schools! The rise of the internet has made everyone a keyboard expert, and drowned out the voices of the genuine trained and qualified experts. Think of all those certificates you can buy over the internet, giving you all manner of qualifications for things, after a few emails and video.

Whatever you want to know you can google it, which is great, but runs the risk that the information you are reading has been written by someone with a misguided view. In the old days you went to library and looked something up in a book that someone had painstakingly written. I’m not saying everything in books is true, but the chances were that if you had sat down to type out a whole book on over-heating in horses and dogs, the chances would be that you knew your stuff!

The internet can be a minefield, check your sources, and remember science exists even if we can’t see it. We can’t see gravity. We can’t always see the equal and opposing reaction to every action. It doesn’t mean they are not there. In general people are not trying to misinform, they believe the myths they are passing on. Don’t be one of them!

Hacking…the good and the bad

We are all aware of the benefits of hacking both for our horses’ well-being and our own. Top class competition horses are regularly hacked out to allow them unwind time and to many of us, our weekend hack is our reward for the strains of our working week. Hacking alone, in particular, conjures up images of freedom, escaping the humdrum of life and unifies everything that is so unique about horses. However…everything comes at a price.

In our modern world, we have grown used to the speed with which the world moves. Everything is quicker. Your phone, your job, your internet, your car…and every other car that travels on the roads. The press is full of horrific tales of car and horse collisions on narrow lanes. If you were to read them all you would never set one foot in your stirrup. So what do we do?

Firstly – be sensible. All riding is risky, you are taking a considered risk every time you ride. For example, do you ride your just backed 4 year old on a windy cold evening by yourself? No, wait till someone is there and it’s not blowing a gale. Do you hack your unschooled, spooky horse down a lane by yourself? No, make sure your horse will move away from your leg, a few simple steps of leg yield will be enough to move your horse across to the hedge should a car be approaching. Also a well-schooled horse is more likely to stay tuned in to you rather than the approaching car. If possible try and find someone to ride out with, place the quiet horse between the spooky one and the cars. Failing this, ask someone to walk with you.

Secondly – stay alert. Listen to the approaching traffic, don’t ride along on a long rein with your feet out of the stirrups. Don’t use your mobile phone.

Thirdly – be courteous. If someone slows down for you make the effort to thank them. If you annoy that car driver they will be less inclined to slow down for the next horse that they see.

I cannot reiterate the last point enough. I still regularly while driving meet riders in the middle of road, on a long rein, who don’t thank me while I wait for them to pull into a gateway. You must thank drivers, if you can’t, don’t hack out, you are putting other people at risk!

Wear a hat!

It is so tempting in this hot weather to not wear a hat. Hats are hot and sweaty, and they smell when you have sweated too much into them, but…they will save your life. Personally I would choose being sweaty, hot and smelly over being dead any day.

It’s simply not worth the risk. Always wear a hat to ride, and if you are dealing with any horse on the ground who is unpredictable, young, sharp or you don’t know very well, wear a hat for handling as well. Teaching a young horse to have it’s feet picked up, wear a hat. Turning more than one horse out at once, wear a hat. Teaching a nervous horse to load, wear a hat. Just got a new horse? Wear a hat. Not sure whether you should wear a hat or not – wear a hat.

Wear a properly fitted hat, with a harness. Get your hat checked at least every year, and certainly after any fall or kick. Your brain is far to valuable a commodity to risk it. Brain injury causes damage not only to the individual who has been injured but also to their friends and family who have to deal with the long term consequences of brain damage.

I know it tempting in the heat not to bother, but it only takes a moment and your life, and your family’s life can change irreparably. If you are struggling in the heat, considering riding at an earlier or later time of the day, or give your horse a few days off. Please be mindful of heat exhaustion and keep you and your horses safe during the heatwave. After all being hot is a temporary state, but being brain damaged is for life.