Thinking of buying a new horse?

This is the time of year that many people start thinking about buying s new horse. Contemplating the forthcoming summer it seems like the perfect time. But it can be daunting, so take a look at our top tips, before setting off on your hunt for the perfect pony!

Before you pick the phone to book a viewing, and even before you begin trailing through adverts to find your ideal companion, make sure you consider these top three tips to help you when going to view a horse

  • Make a list. The action of writing down, helps us clarify our thoughts. Start off with putting down everything that you would like, then pull out the 3 most important points for you. For example; quiet, 14hh- 15hh, gelding. Next examine each of these and see whether they really vital, or if you could move on them. Gelding – you may have always had geldings, or have previously had a moody mare, but by only looking at geldings you are discounting roughly half the available horses on the market.
  • Be realistic. Assess yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you don’t feel you can evaluate yourself accurately (this can be very difficult, as we tend to either think we are better or worse than our actual ability) ask a friend, or professional for help. Constructive feedback can be useful in helping you make a good decision.
  • Consider your future horse’s living arrangements. What are the turnout, stabling arrangements at your yard? Will your horse be able to live out, or will the turnout be restricted? This is worth considering as while some horses are very adaptable, some are less so, and may struggle with moving from living out to living on a yard with limited turnout.

Going to view a horse for sale is rather like going on a date, both of you will be wanting to show your good qualities and gloss over your bad. And much like people, no horse is perfect. Your job when looking for a horse is to find one who fits you. Be realistic and keep an open mind. Often you can find the most wonderful horses buried under mountains of hair and mud!

Spring…it’s coming!

I just love Spring, and its nearly here! You can feel it in the air, despite the cold, that the sun is just starting to peep around the corner, the days are rapidly lengthening, galloping forwards into summer. It is wonderful!

But before you go out and saddle up and ride over the mountains for hours, leaving both you your horse aching and limping the next day, take a moment. Over the winter we spend more time indoors, sat down, wrapped up in layers of clothes. We don’t stretch (other to reach for more chocolate or the television remote) we huddle. We curl our shoulders against the wind as we haul sodden rugs across badly lit yards. We shrink our heads downwards to try and cradle some tiny remnant of warmth in our bodies. Then out comes the sun, and ta-dah! We throw our arms out wide, stretch and wonder why everything hurts…

Take it slowly, unfurl yourself from your winter ball, begin doing some stretches every day. This is for both you and your horse, there is no use one of you being all fit and supple is the other is creaky and stiff. Simple stretching exercises will help to get your muscles working again.

Build up your exercise gradually. Don’t suddenly go out for hours, I know it is tempting in the sun to savour every last moment but injuring either yourself or your horse will be far more frustrating than limiting yourself to one canter up that glorious sunny field.

Get your horse checked over by a trusted professional. The winter can be hard on horses, alternating between wet slippery fields and standing in stables, it is all too easy for them to slip or twist. Having your horse checked over before you start increasing their work load will help to prevent problems from manifesting. Likewise make sure that their saddle has been checked, their teeth have been checked. Ensure your worming and vaccinations are all up to date, so that you know that you are all good to go!

Spending some time taking it slowly in the early Spring, will help to keep you and your horse healthy and well, and make sure that you can enjoy all that the summer has to offer. Don’t go mad! Build everything slowly and steadily and you will have a wonderful time this year with your horse!

Little by little…

…one walks far. I love this Peruvian proverb, it seems so apt for the modern day and everything that we do. I have seen it on a necklace, that’s on the wish list!

It fits so perfectly with everything. Want to compete your horse in a dressage test when it won’t even trot?  Approach it one step at a time, rather than sitting down and giving up. Work on the walk, practice your trot transition. Aim for one nice trot stride, come back to walk and then praise. Gradually that one nice trot stride will become a whole long side, gradually you will be able to maintain a whole circuit. In time, you will be able to add in a canter transition and repeat the whole exercise. Next you simply take your horse somewhere else and practice doing it in a different environment. And, then you are ready to compete.

Everything is possible. Your filthy, muddy, hairy pony in the field can be transformed into a gleaming show pony. Your terrible puppy that chews and runs round you can be transformed into an obedient well-trained dog. Your incredibly long list of things to do, can be broken down into small parts, which you can tick off.

Remember a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Every rider you admire or look up to had to learn rising trot, no-one was born knowing how to make a horse Piaffe. You can do anything that you want to do, you can learn to be good at anything. Everything simply requires the building blocks of learning. If you try and make your hairy pony do a half-pass it probably won’t, but if you teach it to leg yield, and then a few steps of shoulder-in and then build onto that some quarters-in, suddenly a few steps of half-pass are going to be there, and before you know it, you will be half-passing happily from one side of the school and back again.

Nimbus and the Equicore

We love to hear from people who have bought an Equicore Equiband System and how it has helped their horses. This is a story about a horse called Nimbus…

11 year old Irish Sports Horse, 16.1hh, owned since he was 5yo.

From the beginning Nimbus was stiff, reluctant to bend, and either rushing or behind the leg. In the spring of 2016 I moved him from a livery yard to my own home. He developed concussive laminitis due to the grass being way too rich and barefoot. Vet concluded conformation wise he really needed shoes for support (as well as weight loss).

So we got the shoes back on and started to manage his weight. He had a good few months off to recover.

Education wise I guess this really only started in earnest during 2017 after he became sound and lost weight. (to be fair it took me a few years to find a routine that managed his weight successfully)

In Spring 2017 I engaged the help of an instructor and the first thing she did was to have me working on getting him going forward off the leg.

He improved but lacked real progression. The main issues were:

Tension in the jaw, leaning on my left hand, struggling to bend, unable to work in an outline and struggling to go up into canter. In fact his canter transition was awful – like trying to ride an enormous beach ball. He would throw his head, hump his back, throw you forward and upwards at the same time. He also didn’t track up properly in trot and dragged his hind feet making a right mess of the school. He tripped a lot which was also rather disconcerting and unbalancing. He had a tendency to hold his hind legs ‘straight’ with very little bend in the hocks or pasterns. He refused to lift his back – even if you asked him to by running a finger up & down his breastbone. He had massively over developed shoulders from doing all the work ‘up front’. Finally he was very anxious in the school and expressed this anxiety by pooing – a lot!

So.

• I tried different bridles, bits and saddles (and saddle pads) – no difference.
• I tried a physio. Nope.
• I tried a chiropractor. Another nope.
• Teeth & back – all good.

The dressage scores I was getting for Nimbus in 2017 and 2018 I think accurately reflect his physical difficulties at the time. They were consistently hovering around the low 60’s. The judges comments were typically (at Prelim level):

‘Lack of suppleness’
‘Lack of impulsion’
‘Lack of suppleness over the back’.
‘Falling in / out’ (on corners and turns)
‘On the forehand’
‘Laboured canter’
‘Lazy’ (ouch!)

The other thing was Nimbus randomly suffered from tender spots over his back and physically he had a very round flabby bum even after weight loss. It was worse on the right hand side – no muscle tone whatsoever in his quarters. I also noticed when on the lunge on the right rein his pelvis tilted alarmingly to the inside. He would also pull constantly on the lunge rein giving me a very sore arm!

In addition I noticed his poll and neck was remarkably stiff – he just didn’t have any flexibility here. Shoulder in and leg yield could be executed ‘just’ but by a clearly unhappy & unwilling horse.

In October 2018 I visited a clinic where there was instruction on polework and a chiropractor I hadn’t heard of before analysing rider balance / horse balance. The chiro took one look at Nimbus and said ’there is something wrong with him’. She came to see him a few days later, examined him and asked if she could speak to my vet. She did this because she wondered if he had neck arthritis. The vet then asked me to bring the horse in for a lameness assessment at the clinic. I took Nimbus, pointed out the stiff neck, tilting pelvis etc and the vet said well never mind that he’s also very slightly lame behind and recommended a bone scan. This was done and he spotted bone spavin in both hocks. A diagnosis at last!

This resulted in different treatments and physio. The aim of that treatment was control the pain and the aim of the physio was to strengthen the muscles supporting the hock joints – namely those flabby unused quarter muscles of his! Whilst on a visit to my own physio (not the one I use for Nimbus) I told her about Nimbus and she recommended the equicore as she had used it on her horses and client’s horses with good results, so I duly investigated. (she also warned me it was expensive!)

So in 2019 I purchased an equicore and embarked on a programme of work for Nimbus which involved:

• Equicore loose schooling (vet said lungeing was out of the question).
• Walking up and down the driveway (we have a driveway which slopes and is a real muscle burner) in the equicore
• Hacking (in walk only & no trotting because of the impact on his joints)
• Some ridden work in the school, slow steady work that encouraged him to ‘step under himself’ but not too much work in case it impacted his joints.

I then tentatively started doing a bit of dressage again in April 2019… and lo and behold his scores were now a healthy mid to high 60’s and NO comments about him lacking suppleness or being lazy! He even came first in his very first outing – to say I was stunned was an understatement.

Sadly it all went to pot when I fell off in July (practising a Novice test) and broke my tailbone so we only managed 3 dressage competitions in 2019. Bummer.

BUT despite hobbling about for months I kept up with his exercise programme (except for the ridden work where I hired my instructor for flatwork and an army of friends for hacking him out).

In 2020 I now I have a horse:

• With muscle on his derriere! (and neck). Actual REAL muscle! Ok not super defined like a body builder but definitely toned…
• Who can work much more comfortably in an outline (thank goodness – no more aching arms)
• Who doesn’t drag his hind toes as much and has a lot more bend and springiness in his hocks and pasterns.
• Whose pelvis no longer tilts inwards on a right rein circle.
• Who can manage a nice smooth upwards transition into canter – with a light uphill canter instead of the usual on the forehand, heavy labouring canter of doom.
• Who can also enthusiastically manage a respectable half pass & half pirouette. OK its in walk but we’re getting there and its pretty damn good for a horse who in 2017 & 2018 couldn’t go straight never mind sideways.
• Who is forward going and has a ‘proper’ trot which is of a consistent rhythm, with some nice hock lifting, and he even tracks up.
• Who no longer has back problems. His back muscles are pliable and not rigid or sore.
• Who can ‘lift his back’ while working. Amazing! You can even see his core muscles.
• He can also now rear which is something he could never do in the past and even though I don’t condone rearing it is actually a pretty good indicator that Nimbus’ hocks are not causing him pain!
• Who produces a lot less anxious poos. He now does only one instead of the usual 5 or 6 in a 30 minute session. Less poo picking = happy rider.
• He now emits a rhymical soft snorting as he’s working.
• No grunting noises from his ‘man bits’.

OK it is not all to do with the equicore. Why? Because I firstly had to manage Nimbus’ pain levels initially with steroid injections (didn’t work), then daily danilon and finally an Osphos injection.

He is still on one danilon a day and I also give him joint supplements. In the cold weather I keep his joints warm using hock boots and stable wraps.
He also gets regular physio and his work is carefully planned to focus on his hind legs. So I do a lot of quite frankly tedious exercises in walk in hand over raised poles and up and down the driveway, getting him to go sideways and backwards up the hill. I later started to use kinesiology tape and light pastern weights to improve his ‘step’. Recently I’ve started getting him to go sideways & backwards down the hill. His hacking also involves lots of hill work – all done in walk so his joints are not impacted.

But, importantly, any in hand and loose work is done in the equicore to make him work a little bit harder as well as more correctly.

Here are my thoughts.

People shouldn’t buy the equicore as a quick fix. It is NOT a quick fix. It needs to part of a PLAN, an exercise plan ideally worked out in conjunction with a vet and an ACPAT physio.

Things need to be taken SLOWLY. Especially if the horse, like Nimbus, has been in difficulty for years. The horse’s muscles and the way he carries himself will simply be wrong as well as deep seated. It takes time to undo all the damage and encourage the horse using his muscles correctly. So I don’t over do things. I never work Nimbus in the equicore for more than 20 minutes. He is warmed up in walk, in hand first. He is cooled down and praised afterwards. Baby steps!

Make sure whatever has caused the horse’s physical issues in the first instance is fixed. Otherwise you’ll only cause him more pain.

So what, if anything, is annoying about the equicore?
The straps – they are an absolute devil to adjust. But once adjusted its great. (I have been known to turn the air a vibrant shade of blue trying to adjust them)

Looking forward I will keep using the equicore to maintain Nimbus and hopefully 2020 will be ‘his’ year for dressage success. As I said to his physio the other day – Nimbus has now left me behind and I’ll have a job catching up with him so I can do him justice in the ring.

Go Nimbus!

Thank you for this brilliant story. If you would like to share a story with us, please email lizzie@ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk

Always ask questions

Small children ask endless questions. ‘Why does the moon stay in the sky?’ ‘Why do I have to eat broccoli?’ ‘Where do birds sleep?’ As we get older we stop asking as many questions, we get complacent about the wonders of the world, and awkward at the idea of making a fuss.

When I became a director on a Multi-Academy Trust Board I was told to actively ask questions, to challenge what I was told, not to simply go along with it. Now I find that having been told to questioning in one area, I have become questioning in other areas. This is not simply being difficult, but more a case of not just accepting what is laid down in front of you. I realise how easy it is to be accepting of what you are told, and not to question it.

There are so many areas where it is easy to go along with what other people have told you. From the ‘this farrier is great’ comments, to the ‘don’t buy a horse from that dealer,’ ones. The world is full of endless opinions that we should question. You don’t need to go round treating everyone as though you are in a board meeting (you would rapidly lose friends!) but it is worth just keeping in mind.

It is wise to simply raise the question in your mind, ‘if the farrier is so good, why is horse always lame?’ or finding out that the dealer had refused to sell a horse to that individual because they didn’t deem it a good match. We all slant the world with our own version of reality, so all comments will always be from that person’s perception, our challenge is to not always take that at face value, but just do a mental check.

Most people will try and offer you the best advice, most people are generally kind about others, but it is sensible to always remember to maintain a questioning mind, so that you reduce the risk of slipping into the complacency of never questioning what you are told.

Social media – friend or foe?

As so often the extent to which social media dominates our response to events has been highlighted by a crisis. The equine herpes outbreak has littered the internet, with stories rising thick and fast out of the calamities.

Social media is fantastic. It has a role to play, but as a fact finder, it is about as reliable as a bucket with a hole in it. In the “good old days” a yard would have had a disease outbreak. Gradually, through chatting, farriers and vets travelling from yard to yard, the people in the immediate vicinity would learn of this. They would then be able to take necessary precaution and the the outbreak would subside and everything would go back to normal. With social media the news travels at lighting speed. The messages become garbled,and the truth is often discarded along the way.

People, often in good faith, dole out information to others, but there is a reason that vets and scientists spend so long training…Remember, your mates hour on google, does not equal many years of scientific training. If you are ever on any doubt about what to do, please consult a vet. Most vets will offer advice on the phone if you are seeking advice on vaccinations or what do to in the event of an outbreak. Other trusted sources are the Animal Health Trust a charity, providing science and care for animals and Dr. David Marlin, a renowned scientist. You may know of others, and please use them!

We can only do the best we can, and our animals can get sick even when we act to the best of our knowledge. But remember there is no such thing as a stupid question and vets would rather you asked that question. A question may just save the life of your much-loved animal.

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.

Post surgery care is vital

In the USA, 90% of the sales of Equiband are with recommendation from a vet. The value in the Equiband for horses in rehabilitation from surgery, in particular Kissing Spine surgery, is particularly note-worthy. With horses, as in humans, the results from surgery are so very often down to how well the exercises recommended post-operatively are carried out. By ensuring that we give our horses the best post-surgery care, we increase their chances of a full and complete recovery. If the Equiband can help with this, then, for that alone, this system is priceless.

The Equiband system is ideal for use across a range of ages, and conditions of horses, not just for those in post-surgery rehab. The eventer Elena Hengel, 2016 USEA North American Junior & Young Rider Eventing Championships CICY2* participant who currently trains with Will Coleman, uses the Equiband system extensively; “While I ordered the band with a particular horse in mind, I now use it on all of my horses.”

Due to the design of the Equiband and how it clips onto the saddlecloth, it can be used for a period of time during work and then removed. Though it is important to dismount before removing the bands.  It is not designed to be used all the time, but instead to be used consistently as part of a program to improve the conditioning of the muscles. The use can then be reduced over time, as the back becomes stronger. It is suitable for the old or the young. The competition horses and the pleasure rides. It has been developed to help improve muscle function, and for this purpose it is perfect across an incredible range of scenarios.

The Equiband system is a unique system that has to ability to help build and maintain your horse’s muscular structure, so that he can optimise his movement and comfort. Due to the design it is not possible for the horse to “cheat” in anyway, so that he will be able to build good muscles, and good habits in the use of his body. This time spent correctly conditioning the horse’s back, will pay dividends over the years, giving you many hours of pleasure with your happy and healthy horse.

If you can’t warrant the expense of the Equiband system, but would like to be able to develop your horse’s core strength, then the exercises in the book and DVD by Hilary Clayton Activate Your Horse’s Core, will help you to achieve this.

To order your Equiband, please click here!

It’s only…

How many times have you heard the words “it’s only a horse” or “it’s only a dog”? Quite a few I would imagine, and those words are just as ridiculous every time you hear them. Yes, horses, dogs, cats, parrots (other pets are available!) are not human, but it doesn’t mean our connection to them is any less important, or any less deep. In fact, I have more conversations some days with my dog than other humans. She listens better as well!

Saying goodbye to humans and animals is always hard, the advantage with animals is that we can end their suffering, when we believe the time is right, whereas humans we have to wait while they wend their ways through their final days.

The love we feel for our animals is no smaller than the love we feel for people, it is often far less complicated. Grief around people dying is often entangled with guilt or anger, whereas animals don’t generally invoke such emotions, you simply feel sadness.

But grief is the price we pay for love, so part of the relationship with our animals must include grief at the end, else the relationship would not be the same. If we didn’t love our animals we wouldn’t grieve when then they died, but then we wouldn’t have enjoyed those years of fun. Terrible though grief, it is in fact a small price for the years of love. The alternative is not to love, and that would make the world a sad and lonely place.

The love you feel for your dog, horse, parrot is just as valid as the love you feel for a person. The one does not diminish the other, and an animal is never just a dog, or just a horse. They are the recipients of your love.

A good team

We talk a lot about the importance of having a good team around us for our horses, a good farrier, a good vet, a good physio, a good trainer, a horsey friend who will come and help hold a horse, or put the jumps up for you, or simply go for a hack, but in fact it applies to so much more. I was reminded of this recently when I changed the vets I use for my dogs.

The old vet was fine, I didn’t have an issue or a problem, but I felt that they simply looked the dog over, vaccinated it and gave me a bill. There was no chat, no discussion about the best ways to do things. So I changed. The new vet spent 45 minutes talking to me about different points of care, and things that may work better for my dog. The level of communication was impeccable and I left feeling much more reassured that the care I had chosen for my dog was correct.

The same applies to us. We need a team of professionals just as much as our horses. I was once told to pick a few people to turn to for advice, and use them. Don’t ask everyone, as that gets confusing, and don’t just ask anybody, as their advice might be rubbish! So choose your people wisely and go to them when you need to talk things through.

So remember we all need a team of trusted professionals, not just your horse, not just your dog, but you as well. For if you are not well, happy and functioning to the best of your abilities, the chances are no one else will be either! So take a moment to look at your teams of people, starting with your own. And if you don’t have one, find one!