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?


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.

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Image by Kenny Webster at


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.

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Image by Rex Pickar from

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.

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  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] Available at:
  4. Stubbs NC, e. (2017). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of musculus multifidus. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Available at:
  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?!

Keeping your horse on box rest

Horses have accidents or injuries, just as we do. According to the insurance company Petplan, the fourth most common type of health problem in horses is desmitis.1. Desmitis is the inflammation of a ligament most commonly in a limb causing lameness. The general treatment for desmitis is box rest, with a program of walking across 6 to 8 weeks, obviously your individual treatment will vary. But if you consider this, then the chances are at some point in your life with horses, you are going to end up with a horse on box rest.

Interestingly the second most common health problem is gastric ulcers, which can be trigged by box rest. So, ensuring good mental and physical health of your horse on box rest is crucial to prevent a knock-on effect being caused by the initial problem.

Keeping your horse active and mobile while on box rest, may be a challenge, but using some routine of stretches can be very beneficial. Stretching is a good way to keep your horse’s brain engaged, helping to prevent boredom.  “Similarly dynamic mobilisation exercises (DME) have led to an increase Multifidus CSA in horses on box rest.” 2. The stretches put together in “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field tests, so these may be a good starting point.3. Though, remember as usual to consult your vet, or trusted professional if you are unsure of the suitability of any of the stretches for your horse.

Beware of overfeeding your horse while on box rest. It is easy for your horse to gain weight while he is confined, and extra weight will not help his recovery. Equally starving your horse can contribute to gastric ulcers, so it is a fine line between the two. Feeding a little and often, if possible is the ideal scenario. The current recommendation is to feed during the day, horses seem to be able to cope without food better at night.4. So, if you need to limit your horse’s intake give him less food at night and more during the day.

Remember all horses are different and what works with one horse may not work with another. If you are struggling to keep your horse in good mental and physical health while on box rest speak to your vet, it may be possible to adapt the box rest routine to better suit your horse.

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  1. (2018). The Top 5 Most Common Health Conditions in Horses | Petplan Equine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].
  2. Tabor, G. (2018). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].
  3. 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.
  4. Group, B. (2018). Gastric Ulcers | B&W Equine Vets. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].

Stepping outside the box

It is very easy to simply do the same thing that we have always done. Whether it be the same exercises in the school or following the same route out hacking. It is all too easy to become entrenched in our habits. Stepping outside the box can give you fresh insight and a different perspective into your riding and your relationship with your horse.

Do you always work your horse in the school through the same set of exercises and through the same paces in the same order? For examples, lots of us begin in walk before progressing through trot work, and then finally to canter. Why not try working the canter before the trot? It can have the effect of opening the trot up and can be beneficial.

Or if you find that your horse seems a little stale, try going around the block in the opposite direction that you usually go. Suddenly, it will seem like a whole fresh new hack. Or you could try leading your horse around your usual walk. Both of you will gain a new perspective from doing that, and work in hand will always help your ridden relationship.

It is so easy to do the same things over and over, but sometimes it is good to set yourself a challenge and step outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a competition or a huge challenge, it could be taking your horse to a different venue to school him or meeting up with a friend to go for a hack. Or going for an all-day hack (check your weather forecast first!) Whatever you choose to do that is different from your everyday routine will give you a new experience.

Every time we try something new, we learn something. It may simply be that we learn not to do that again! But trying out new things is good for us and our horses. Experiences can always be put towards learning, so that our knowledge and understanding increases.

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Tips for confident hacking – summary

Hacking is one of the great pleasures of horse ownership, however it can also be one of the more fraught challenges facing us. As always, though, there are steps we can take to help us to enjoy hacking and transform it from a source of stress to a source of pleasure. Here we talk through some of the things that can help.

First begin on the ground, the relationship that you and your horse have on the ground, sets the tone for your ridden relationship. By leading your horse on a hack, you will discover where the areas of problem are and will be able to work on those areas from the ground. Once you have established a good ground connection you will be able to transfer that to your ridden work.

Spookiness can be pain related, so it is always worth getting your horse checked for any areas of discomfort if he is spooky, before moving onto training him. Once you are confident that your horse is comfortable in his body, and that his saddle and bridle are well fitted, then you can begin spook busting, safe in knowledge that the spookiness is not pain related.

Build confidence gradually, and solidly, making sure that you happy in different locations before moving onto another. For example, starting in the arena riding past obstacles, then transferring your obstacles to a field, then maybe to a track.

Consider your response to the spook. Sometimes we see people patting the horse whilst it is spooking, the logic is to try and relax the horse, however the horse could interpret this a being rewarded for spooking. A better response would be to praise the horse once it has stopped spooking. It might help to get a more experienced rider to teach your horse not to spook, as our own reactions can influence the horse’s behaviour.

Sadly, the roads today are not as quiet as they once were, and drivers still lack education about horses on the roads. Whilst we cannot change the behaviour of others, we can do our very best to make sure that we are as prepared as possible before we venture onto the roads. This includes choosing the time that you hack out, early Sunday mornings are ideal! As well as using a solid bombproof horse as a companion if possible.

Preparation lies not only in the work you do with your horse, but also in your equipment. Ensure that you have a well-fitting hat, and body protector if you wish and suitable footwear. There are some very good rider systems that alert people should you have an accident. At the very least it is advisable to tell someone roughly where you are going and how long you will be, so that should the worse happen, help will be on its way.

Hopefully, by spending some time working with your horse, you can enjoy your time out hacking.

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Improving a Cinch Shy Horse

Always check that your horse is not in pain before re-training their response. Seek appropriate professional advice such as physio or vet, to check that the horse’s behaviour is not pain related. If in doubt always consult a professional.

If your horse is “cinchy” or afraid of having the saddle tightened up, it can be quite frustrating. Most horses with this issue will dance around or pull back when you attempt to cinch up your saddle.

A cinchy horse has an established fear of the saddle being tightened, so the goal of this lesson is to reprogram your horse’s response to being saddled from one of fear to calm.

This lesson should be performed in a round pen with a halter and lead rope. You will need your saddle and pad for the later steps. Always wear appropriate clothing including boots and a riding helmet when working with a cinchy horse.

Do not tie your horse.

Follow each step of the lesson until your horse can perform the step calmly before moving on to the next step.

Remember, the goal is to establish calm and relaxation with cinching up. Never rush your horse through the steps and be prepared to repeat steps as many times as necessary before moving on.

  • With your horse in hand, approach from their left shoulder and pet him. Step away two or three steps after petting him.
  • Pet your horse with your hand up and down his back and sides. Step away two or three steps.
  • Pet your horse with your hand and lead rope up and down his back and sides. Step away.
  • Reach the rope with your right hand over your horse’s back and give a firm tug (do not yank or hurt your horse). Step away again.
  • Be sure to stand in a safe position. Reach your right arm over your horse’s back and your left arm around the girth. Give your horse a quick hug and step away. Take care and know if your horse is one to kick out. Maintain a safe position and make sure you have completed all previous steps with your horse maintaining their calm.
  • Drape the lead rope over your horses back and bring it up underneath as if it were a cinch. Give a firm, quick pull and instantly release and step away. You must repeat this step until you can pull the rope with your horse standing calmly.
  • Put your pad and saddle on your horses back. If your horse flinches you must go back through the previous steps until you can place your saddle without your horse flinching. Stand at your horses left shoulder and pull the cinch up to your horse’s belly and instantly release the cinch. Step away.
  • Standing at the left shoulder, bring up the cinch against your horse’s belly quickly and this time hold it there for a few seconds and then release.
  • Once your horse does not react to you bringing the cinch up, slowly increase the time you hold the cinch against their belly. Aim to be able to hold it there for 20-25 seconds calmly.
  • Run the cinch through the latigo one time. Take out the slack in the cinch quickly so it comes to the horse’s belly and release it as soon as it touches.
  • Increase the time the cinch is applying pressure to your horse’s belly just like you did with the rope. Repeat this step until the horse can handle 20-25 seconds of pressure calmly.
  • At this point you will be able to secure the cinch. Once the cinch is secured, calmly take of the halter and step away from your horse at a 45 degree angle. Some horses will buck at this point and maintain a safe position.
  • Once you can cinch and step away with your horse remaining calm, ask them to move around in the round pen.
  • Repeat step 12 twenty to thirty times and if your horse can do this you are ready to saddle up your horse firmly.



The key to this exercise is to remain calm through every step. Your horse will feed off from your demeanor. Do not take shortcuts, and do not rush your horse through the steps. The goal of this exercise is to create a safe environment for you and your horse that will allow them to overcome their fear of cinching up.


With thanks to guest blogger Frederick Barr of Frederick has raised and trained quarter horses his whole life, including showing and training for AQHA. His website provides articles on equine health and training. As with all training advice, please ensure your safety at all times, and seek professional advice if you are in doubt.

Please remember horses can be dangerous, Ethical Horse Products accepts no liability for training exercises shared via their blog.

Photo by Lindsey Bidwell on Unsplash