Stop the spooking!

Bombproofing your horse is an incredibly important part of forming a good relationship. Many of us find spooky horses nerve-wrecking and stressful, but working on bombproofing your horse will help to improve the spooky behaviour. Though it is important to ascertain that the spookiness is not pain-related before you begin to change the behaviour. If the spookiness has come on suddenly or has changed it may be pain related, and it is worth having your horse assessed by a competent professional to rule out any pain issues.

Spookiness can be broken down into the different senses and into the different directions that the object can appear. As with all the work that we do with our horses, remember to break down the problem into small pieces and work through each area, building up confidence as you do so. The different senses are vision, touch, hearing, taste and smell. There are different techniques to approach each of these sense, but the basic premise remains the same, which is to break the problem down, and build up slowly. For example, if your horse is spooky out hacking, break that statement down into sections. Is he only spooky when ridden? Can you lead him along the same route? We believe that unless you can confidently lead your horse along the route which you want to ride along, you should not be hacking.

If your horse doesn’t like being hosed down, don’t start with trying to hose him down, break the problem down. Is it the water he doesn’t like? Is he happy being sponged down? Or is the hose he doesn’t like? Why not get a short section of pipe and work with that, before asking for more? Most problems are possible to overcome if you make the steps small, and think about each step in turn.

Horses react differently to perceived threats coming from different directions. Some find objects coming up behind them difficult, while others find anything above them a threat, including their rider! Again, try and ascertain which areas your horse finds the most difficult. If he dislikes objects coming up from behind, why not try long-reining, if it safe to do so, and then introducing noise from behind. It is better for us to introduce different noises and conditions in a safe controlled environment, than simply holding our breath every time something comes up behind us.

There are some extraordinary feats of trust from horses, such as jumping through fire hoops, cantering with balloons trailing behind them. Remember those horses were built up slowly gaining trust at each step before they were presented with the next level of difficulty. You won’t get there overnight, but by laying strong foundations you will be able to improve the bombproof levels of your horses, giving you a safer, and more enjoyable ride. You can’t always control the conditions around you, but you can work on training yourself and your horse to respond in the best possible way.

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The dangers of mounting

It is well known that riding is a dangerous sport. Indeed, the statistics for brain related trauma shows 14,446 horse related injuries for the year 2009 in the USA. (1) During studies into horse riding accidents, many of the accidents are deemed to be preventable, usually through better training. Mounting is one such area where it is possible to improve the safety of the situation through training. When you consider that scientific reports show that 40 – 60% of accidents are considered to be have been preventable, the importance of training your horse correctly suddenly becomes more imperative. (2)

Mounting can be a difficult moment, as both the horse and rider can be unbalanced by the mounting process. If you watch a rider mounting a horse, you can see the force exerted through the saddle onto the horse’s back. (3) It is not hard to understand why horses may dislike the mounting process. However, there are ways we can help our horses. Using a mounting block reduces the pressure to the back. Ensuring our own core strength is good, so that we are using our muscles to get on, not simply relying on the horse to hold us up.

When you consider the pressure placed through the horse’s saddle and back, it is worth ensuring that your tack fits, and is tightened correctly. (4) Accidents routinely happen because people do not check their tack is safe. When was the last time you checked your girth straps for example? Your stirrup leathers are also subjected to great pressure when you mount, so make sure you swap your leather round frequently so that the pressure put through the leathers is equal.

Riding is a great source of pleasure, and while the opportunities for accident are prevalent, using common sense and paying attention to the details can reduce the chances for accidents significantly. So, the next time that you mount think. Is your horse on flat, level ground where he is unlikely to slip? Are you wearing the correct equipment, a hat, good boots? Are you standing on a secure, safe non-slip mounting block? Have you checked your girth? Do you regularly check your tack? Have you spent time ensuring that your horse knows what you are asking of him? Is he in a safe place, not too close to obstacles? If you answered “yes” to all of that, then you are ready to mount, and enjoy your ride.

 

References:

  1. org. (2018). A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Sports-related Head Injury. [online] Available at: http://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Sports-related-Head-Injury [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
  2. ca.uky.edu. (2018). [online] Available at: https://equine.ca.uky.edu/files/horse-related-injury.pdf [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
  3. co.nz. (2018). Saddle pressure study shows mounting issue | Horsetalk – International horse news. [online] Available at: http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/news/2008/03/014.shtml#axzz5Db1xyFi0 [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
  4. Expert advice on horse care and horse riding. (2018). Tack Safety. [online] Available at: https://www.equisearch.com/articles/tacksafety081097 [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018]

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My journey…part 2…

By Amy Craske

To that end, I am part of a team of volunteers from a remarkably diverse variety of backgrounds and experiences, all hoping to share that experience with the next generation. The Pony Club will initially be based online, to make it truly accessible, aiming to eventually partner with accredited Pony Club venues who share the compassionate Concordia ethos.

The website will have quizzes, games and activities to complete, and a wealth of educational material made both in-house and by some of our partner organisations such as The Equitopia Center. We are hoping to cover many of the subjects missing from the existing traditional children’s organisations, and take a much closer look at areas such as equine ethology and ideal habitats, which are often glossed over. We are also hoping to give a greater focus to areas of horsemanship that the non-competitive rider may be more interested in, and indeed for those children who choose not to ride at all.

The Club will also have a range of achievement certificates and awards, again covering a much wider area than traditional pony club groups, aiming again to make sure that there is something for everyone; higher levels for older children who want to specialise in a particular area, and simple challenges for younger children wanting to learn basic principles. The educational material we will provide will be, wherever possible and if relevant, backed up by the best available research.

Rather than follow any one particular method, we intend to be inclusive of all methods which have the pony’s best interests at heart. We most of all want to encourage children to THINK about what they are doing with their horses and ponies, to follow their consciences, and to decide for themselves which paths to follow. The website is currently under construction, and we are now beginning the mammoth task of creating the educational material to go in it – a bit daunting, especially finding the time around jobs and families, but I’m sure this is going to be an incredibly rewarding task!

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Image: by Florian van Duyn via Unsplash

Loading problems?

Lizzie Hopkinson

Many of the issues that occur with loading can be resolved by improving the relationship with your horse on the ground. Here we take a look through some exercises that can be done to help with this, and to build confidence both in yourself and your horse before you start going anywhere near your trailer or lorry.

A trailer or lorry is not an inviting place for a horse. We are asking that they place a great deal of trust in us to even place one foot upon the ramp. And the thing about trust, is that it is not a given, it must be earnt. If your horse wouldn’t walk over a strong piece of wood for you, why should he trust you to walk up the ramp into a trailer?

We must begin with ensuring that we are safe. Make sure you have on a hat and gloves, and a body protector if you wish. Ensure that you are in an enclosed area with no risk of the horse slipping or escaping. Horses can be dangerous, if you are struggling contact your local IHRT for professional assistance.

Before you take your horse anywhere near a trailer or lorry, they need to be able to stand quietly on a long line, and move one foot at a time, when asked to do. Time spent working on this will pay huge dividends later down the line. Once you have mastered this then build upon this by teaching your horse to move backwards, forwards and away from you.

Trailers and lorries do not have much space. Laying out a scale version of the space that you are operating in on the ground with poles can be really useful to help teach both you and the horse. The horse will learn that he can be safe in a small space, and you can learn where to position yourself in relation to your horse. Your horse needs you to be the leader, so your positioning is particularly crucial.

Doing basic groundwork around or near the lorry or trailer can be beneficial in teaching your horse to remaining focused upon you while in the vicinity of something that he dislikes. This in turn will benefit you in other ways, as being able to draw his attention back to you is an excellent skill to have.

Lastly, reward and repeat. Over, and over, and over again. Do not teach your horse to load the morning of a show. Practise, practise, practise, till both you and your horse are confident loading in and out of the trailer or lorry. Then a brief trip, then a journey to a nearby arena for a ride, and only then are you ready to load your horse up and go to a show. This process will take as long as it takes, but it will be worth it.

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My journey…part 1…

By Amy Craske

Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to meet and associate with some wonderful horsepeople, who have opened my eyes and helped me realise that the community of people who want to improve equestrian welfare is bigger than I thought; I am not alone! This has been through attending educational courses, local lectures and even through the changing attitudes of the people I’m lucky enough to teach. I have also been voraciously reading any interesting horse books and magazines I can get my grubby little hands on; there are many more ethical equestrian writers out there than I ever imagined, each adding a little bit more to my set of useful skills and ideas. It has also been through social media, my addiction to Facebook has come in handy at last! It was though Facebook that I became involved with the Concordia International Pony Club (CIPC) and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

The CIPC is a part of Concordia Equestrians, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of equines everywhere, and raising awareness of welfare issues. The founder, Milly Shand, realised that one vital way to improve the lives and careers of horses in the future is to speak to the grooms and riders of the future; to help them follow their natural empathy. Although there are already well-known organisations out there catering to pony-mad kids, an awful lot of the provision seems to be based on traditional modes of working with, training and riding ponies, following a very narrow path. The CIPC , headed by Natalie Bucklar, is aiming to be much more diverse, encouraging children to learn how to develop more compassionate forms of horsemanship. Milly has a vision that the Pony Club will be accessible and welcoming to children worldwide, even if they don’t or can’t ride, or have never even seen a horse in the flesh!

Read more next week….

Image: By Vincent Botta via Unsplash.com

Box rest boredom

Box rest can be a very stressful time for both you and your horse. Often the box rest has been created by an accident or injury. So, you have the worry over that, and how the injury will heal, as well as the worry about how your horse will cope with being on box rest as well. Remember box rest is a turn of phrase, it does not necessarily mean that your horse can never leave his stable – make sure that you discuss with your vet what the limitations are. Horses, just like us, are individuals and you know your horse better than anyone. If you are concerned about how your horse will cope with being on box rest, please talk to your vet.

One of the main concerns about box rest is that your horse will be inclined to put on weight, which won’t help if he is trying to recover from injury. Balancing out restricting feed with preventing gastric ulcers can be a tricky balance. Make sure that his bedding is comfortable and is not causing him to stand at a strange angle thereby placing more strain through his joints.

Keeping him mobile is a massive part of his recovery. There are various ways that you can do this. Simple mobilisation stretches are a great way to encourage gentle movement, as are baited stretches, provided that they are appropriate for your horse. Walking in hand can be an excellent way to help keep your horse healthy during box rest. Though discuss this with your vet and consider the nature of your horse. If he is going to be rearing and spinning while being led out then it probably won’t help his recovery!

Massage or grooming will be of great benefit to your horse. In the old days all grooms would strap their horses every day, essentially giving them a massage and giving the grooms the opportunity to know their horses inside out. In our fast-paced modern world, we consider grooming simply flicking the mud off so the tack doesn’t rub. If your horse is injured and you can’t ride, you can spend that time massaging and grooming him. This will improve your relationship with your horse, as well as helping him to heal.

Box rest can be difficult. Spending some time working out things to keep your horse entertained and building in mobilisation and massage time into your day, will help you to keep him happy and healthy during his recuperation period. Just remember that when you start riding again he won’t be as fit as he was and to start slowly and build up the work in small increments.

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Practice makes perfect…

By Amy Craske

The final part of the clipping series…

In practice, this takes several steps, depending on how nervous the horse is. If they’re terrified and dangerous, the process will obviously need to be much slower. The first step is to take your time; you don’t achieve anything by rushing.

With a slightly nervous horse I will wait a few minutes with the clippers running to gauge their reaction, then begin to move a little closer (this is the pressure mentioned above). If the horse begins to move away, I will move so as to remain the same distance from them until they stop moving; as soon as they stop, I move away (this is the release). It does take good timing, but if you are consistent enough, the horse will figure out that this scary thing won’t chase him, and he can control it by standing still.

Eventually you can graduate to keeping the clippers closer to the horse for longer, then putting them on, but the key thing is the HORSE controls the process. You only move as fast as they can cope with, and never keep at it because ‘there’s just that little bit left’! There are a few circumstances where I wouldn’t advise this process, one being the utterly terrified horse, as you may need to help them get used being touched by less threatening things first. The other is where there is pain, and the mud fever-wracked cob is a good example. You CANNOT teach a horse the clippers are ok and not threatening if they pull at the scabs and HURT every time they touch him! In this case I would personally always recommend using sedation so you can treat the problem effectively, and leave the training for when the horse is pain free.

 

I do a fair bit of clipping (in the East Norfolk area if anyone wants a clipper!😉) and, using this technique, have been able to improve the attitudes of horses who were previously frightened. I have managed to do several that previously needed sedation, although this has taken several sessions. As we find with so many things with horses, there is no miracle cure with instantaneous results! But a bit of patience, good timing and a bit of understanding, you can make a real difference to how horses feel about the process.

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Photo by Pexels from Pixabay

Mounting

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

Not being able to get on your horse is one of the most frustrating ridden problems that we come across. Often, we can happily catch, tack up, walk, trot, canter, and hack out, but struggle with the actual getting on. As with all problems we will start with breaking down the issue into smaller, more manageable portions. Is your horse happy standing at the mounting block, does he simply move when you get on? Or won’t he even go near the mounting block? Whatever your own situation we can help you to break down the problem into bite sized chunks.

The first step is ensuring that your horse can stand in a relaxed fashion at the end of a 12ft rope for up to 10 minutes. Unless your horse is happy to do this, it is unrealistic to expect him to stand at the mounting block. Often, if we simply work on this on the ground, it can be enough to overcome any mounting issues. Before you go any further ensure that your horse is not in any pain, that could be causing him to react to the rider mounting, once you are reasonably confident that this is the case, then you can introduce standing still beside the mounting block.

Once you have taught your horse to stand still beside the mounting block, then you can break down the process of mounting itself. If you have had a problematic horse, you may be quite nervous at this point, and breaking down the individual components of mounting will benefit you also. You can prevent the horse from moving sideways or backwards by using a fence, or handler, making sure that you and others are safe at all time. One of the most important aspects to teaching safe mounting, is to ensure that you are getting on from a safe mounting block. Mounting off chairs, plastic milk bottle containers, or anything that the horse can get his foot through is dangerous. Make sure your mounting block is safe and stable, and ask for advice if you are unsure.

Once you can mount, the key to good results, is repetition. Rather than getting on once, try getting on 20 times. Time spent at this point on mounting will stand you in good stead in the future. You never know when you may find yourself on a rainy hillside, trying to mount, and you will be so grateful that you took the time to establish good habits in your horse. Remember to make sure that you don’t let your horse move off before you have given the aid. Feeding him a treat after you have mounted both helps his flexibility (just remember to give him two – one from each side!) and gives him an incentive to remain stationary.

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Photo by Lindasay from Pixabay

Improving our horses’ clipping experience

By Amy Craske

Following on from part 1 of the clipping blog “Hairy Horses”

Ah, if only horses’ brains worked like that. If only I could explain to that little cob that she would be a lot less sweaty and sticky if she let us at her undercarriage. If only I could explain to the hairy little cobs I see quite a lot that the only reason I want to put that noisy buzzing thing on their sore, itchy legs is to help make them better. But they don’t; they aren’t being awkward, they don’t know you want them to stand still, they don’t understand that fidgeting makes it take longer to finish and makes being nipped by the blades much more likely.

I really believe they live much more in the moment and remember negative experiences more clearly. And of course, when you think about the ecological niche horses evolved to fill, this makes perfect sense. The world can be divided fairly neatly into things you can eat, friends, and things that can eat you! Horses have retained many of their instincts and survival skills during the process of domestication, some more than others.

So if you are fundamentally a prey animal, and you are presented with a loud buzzing vibrating thing which feels funny, you are EXTREMELY likely to want to run away and, if you CAN’T run away, defend yourself against it. If said buzzing thing STILL keeps coming close to you, you can’t escape and it scares the hell out of you, you’re fairly likely to remember that experience very clearly and try even harder to avoid it next time. If you add in pain from mud fever scabs being buzzed by the clippers, it’s no surprise some find it a very stressful experience.

 

So how can we improve our horses’ clipping experiences? Whether it’s making that first clip as positive an experience as possible, or helping a horse that IS frightened get its confidence back, there are several methods you can use.

One is good old-fashioned habituation; parking your youngster next to an older, calmer horse who is happy to be clipped, and allow them to become used to the noise and movement. You can create a positive association with clipping using positive reinforcement, feeding the horse something particularly tasty each time you bring the clippers close to it. I personally prefer (alongside the above as well) to use gradual desensitisation, using pressure and release to help the horse feel they have SOME control over the situation.

I will freely admit this technique is not remotely my own idea, but based on the principles I’ve been taught on Intelligent Horsemanship courses. I am not an Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainer (though I hope to finish the courses and become one in the next few years, but life keeps getting in the way!) but I have learned some really useful techniques that I think help me handle horses more safely.

 

Keep an eye out for part 3 coming soon!

 

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photo by Alexas from Pixabay

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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