Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Riding can often require a range of skills and owning horses is a massive responsibility. This is our resource to help you get the most from your passion with regular updates to deal with topical ...

Fly Rugs

Flies have to be the most annoying part of summer, but they don’t have to put a negative on what would otherwise be the best part of the year. Even if your horse suffers from sweet itch, a good specialist fly rug can ease the irritation enough to let summer be the horse’s favourite time of year too. When picking a fly rug you should go for something that’s light weight and super airy so your horse doesn’t sweat up underneath it, but one that suits your horse’s specific needs. This might mean that you can’t get away with a cheap basic one and really need to go all out and get an expensive one with more coverage. You can pick a basic fly rug up pretty cheaply to help protect your horse in the field. The majority of these are full neck and the same design as your average full neck turnout rug with cross surcingles and a tail flap. These are fine for basic fly protection on horses that don’t have sweet itch and aren’t too bothered by flies. For the sensitive types who make more of a fuss over flies and owners who want to protect their horse a bit more, there are rugs with extra protection built in. You can get some with a full belly panel instead of cross surcingles, like on the Masta Mesh Fly Sheet which prevents flies from landing on the horse’s underside and irritating them there. You can also get them with UV protection and even a waterproof top panel such as on the Performance Maxi Flow rug so if there’s a summer shower your horse and his rug don’t get soaked and left soggy. Then there’s the horse with sweet itch and other skin allergies affected by flies and the sun. These are the hardest to rug properly, they need extra protection from the flies and their itching, and tend to destroy rugs much faster than horses without sweet itch and allergies due to them rubbing against things and ripping the rugs. Horses who have super sensitive skin and burn easily also need a special design of rug.   Ideally you want to make horses with sweet itch comfortable so they’re hardly itchy and don’t feel the need to rub, so preserving your rug. For these cases you can get tightly fitting rugs with complete belly and chest wraps and a full wrap around tail flap such as the Anti Eczema Sheet. A rug like this helps stop any flies getting anywhere near skin that’s easily irritated. This along with good fly spray and careful turnout management can help stop the itching and stop the horse rubbing the rug. The rugs that are most beneficial to these horses tend to cost a bit more too but it’s worth it to keep your horse happy. Horses that burn easily or have other sun and fly affected skin conditions also need a quality rug like the one mentioned above. This should have UV protection and would ideally be in a darker colour but with good ventilation and wicking properties to make sure he’s comfortable. Fly fringes are great for the average fly affected horse and some even come with built in ears such as the turnout fly and ear mask to protect two sensitive areas at once. Full fly masks are good for even more sensitive horses who want more fly protection as there’s no way a fly can get near their eyes. You can also get these designed for riding in such as Net Relief with Ears which the horse has excellent vision through and also ear protection built in. For the horse with sunburn, sweet itch and other conditions, a full fly mask with ears is the best way to go. The Field Relief mask comes with a removable muzzle protector too to protect further against sun burn and has UV protection to look after sensitive skin. A combination of a good fly rug and mask should keep your horse happy and as irritation free as possible, especially if you think carefully about what he needs and tailor your rug shopping to him.

Give your horse a Spring clean!

Coming out of winter your horse is rarely looking his tidiest, whether he is clipped and stable kept, or natural and grass kept. Clipped horses are growing out and often in an in-between stage due to it being too late in the year to re-clip and tidy their coat up. Unclipped horses tend to be hairy and moulting, with most horses having a few stable, grass or mud stains, even those who have full neck rugs seem to manage to get a bit of muck in there somewhere! It’s still too cold for a bath really, unless you’re lucky and have access to warm water and a wash room, but there are other ways you can make your horse look vaguely presentable even if it isn’t show standard.   If you have a hairy beastie who’s currently moulting like mad, using a shedding blade to take some of this coat away can work wonders for appearance. These lift any loose hair from the coat, and should be used gently on round areas, avoiding bony bits like the spine and point of hip. This can be done on any moulting horse or pony whether they live in or out, but be cautious using it on more sensitive breeds such as thoroughbreds as they grow less coat and may find the process uncomfortable. After shedding, going over the coat with a rubber curry comb to bring any dust and dirt to the top of the coat then brushing the dust off with a dandy brush can work wonders for giving a coat extra shine. This also gets some of the staining off them without having to bath. For mucky legs, if they are muddy wait for them to dry before brushing the mud off. Washing wet mud off can make the legs and heels cracked as it removes the protective oils from the legs. If your horse suffers from mud fever, there are barrier creams to help prevent this which means you can stop antagonising the problem by having to wash the mud off daily. Washing legs occasionally shouldn’t do any harm though, but in winter try to do it without shampoo or soap, just cold water and dry them afterwards with a towel. This will make your horse look slightly more presentable and like someone owns him, even if he doesn’t end up with sparkling white socks. A well kept mane and tail look better too, but regular brushing can easily snap hair which can take up to 2 years to grow back so this isn’t recommended. However, going through manes and tails a few times a week with your fingers or a soft body brush can keep them looking neat without thinning them or damaging the hair. Mane and tail sprays can help keep them detangled and easy to maintain daily as well as shinier and sweet smelling. Natives and Arabs should be kept with a natural mane and tail and untrimmed, but for other breeds a pulled mane and forelock make your horse look far better presented. To pull a mane quickly and neatly, first you should make sure it is tangle free and lay on the side it will be kept on. The off side is considered correct, however if your horses mane lies neatly and naturally on the near side, this is ok too. Then take the longer underneath hairs in one hand, starting at the poll, and backcomb the other hairs away from them. Wrap them around the comb and pull them out with a sharp tug. This should be done with thin sections and after exercise so the pores on the neck are open and the hairs come out easier. The mane should be about 4-5 inches long after being pulled. If your horse strongly objects to having his mane and forelock pulled, you can get mane thinning combs which give the effect of a pulled mane without the pulling. To wash a muddy tail in colder weather, get a bucket of warm water and immerse the tail in it, with an assistant holding your horse if he’s unpredictable or you know he’s going to react badly. After a slosh about in the bucket, hold the tail below the dock and spin the tail in circles to dry it off before brushing it. To clean a muddy mane, using a water brush you can wet it slightly and it will appear cleaner when it’s dry, but you shouldn’t soak it as obviously your horse probably won’t appreciate a freezing cold wet neck! Another handy way to clean up your horse's appearance is to do a bit of trimming to tidy up small sections. Trimming whiskers can be done but your horse does use these for feel so it may not be fair to trim those who live out. Trimming beards tidies up the horses head and can be done with small quiet clippers so the horse is unlikely to object. As well as this trimming outer ear hair looks neat, being careful not to trim the inner ear hair as your horse uses this hair for protection. Using scissors or trimmers, you can take the wispy bits down a horse's leg off, even if he has heavy feather that you want to keep, you can give the leg a much neater look by trimming down the leg so all the hairs lay straight and the same length. You can also get dry shampoo for horses, which is a fab winter stain remedy, although it won’t work as well as bathing. Usually you just spray this on, rub it into the stain then brush it out a few minutes later and the stain has usually at least faded. Use of this as well as good daily grooming can help to keep your horse vaguely the colour he is supposed to be, far easier with a bay than coloureds and greys though! Keeping feet picked and oiled not only keeps them healthier and means you can check for any bacterial infections and problems but also means they enhance your horses’ appearance further. All this grooming, shedding, pulling, washing and product applying not only makes your horse appear neater and looking the best he can coming into spring and summer, but also help you make sure you know your horses body, what’s normal and what’s not. This can help spot rain scald, mud fever and other infections sooner, as well as help you monitor your horses’ weight and mood. This also means that if you show there is less work to be done to get your horse looking show worthy. It’s also great for bonding, and exercise on your part, grooming is hard work!

Thief Proofing Your Horses and Stables

Horse thefts are rare but harrowing when they happen, fortunately putting some extra measures in place to combat potential thieves is relatively simple and inexpensive. Making sure your horse is passported and micro chipped is a must, as it is a legal requirement now to have a current passport for equines. From July 2009, if you apply for a passport your horse must be micro chipped as well to provide a permanent link between the horse and his passport. This makes it infinitely harder for thieves to re register horses as the passport must be vet approved and they will check for microchips and linking passports. So even if you got your passport before the mandatory micro chipping, you should get your horse chipped and registered for extra caution. You can also get them micro marked, this is a tiny horse shoe mark on your horse which visibly shows that he is micro chipped, sending a warning to thieves before they even try.  Saddles can now be micro chipped as well, adding security to them. To show they are protected, a small stamp is added and a D ring tag attached to the saddle to show it has been chipped, deterring thieves. Yard owners who live on site at the livery yard provide a permanent presence which can be enough to put off opportunist thieves. Added security in the form of CCTV is a highly effective deterrent but can be an expensive option. Fake CCTV cameras can be a good option, they look exactly like real ones but cost loads less, and some even have a flashing red light on them to authenticate them to passers by even more. These can prove a great deterrent, but obviously aren’t going to be as useful as a real camera if anything does get taken. Sensor lights which come on when they sense a movement are good too and if you or the yard owner lives on site, these will alert them to someone outside. Guard dogs can be a great idea, but for safety purposes, if they are genuinely vicious should be chained and kept away from anything or anyone they could do serious damage to, even thieves. Sometimes, a huge dog making a serious racket can be enough to deter someone, as well as dogs being loose on the yard. The thief doesn’t know they’re softies if they’re barking their heads off at him and trying their best to climb the gate to get to him, even if it is just to say hi! SOLID yard gates with secure padlocks are obviously the ideal, even though plenty of places don’t seem to have them. A yard gate that’s falling off its hinges and wouldn’t keep anyone out is clearly no good and will need replacing. Again, you need to have a chat with liveries and yard owners if you don’t own where your horse is. Gates are an easy and effective deterrent; a thief is going to find it a bit harder to inconspicuously jump the padlocked gate on a horse than just walk straight off the yard through an open space or unprotected gate. Whatever you do, don’t padlock your stables though! If anything happened, such as a fire, and you weren’t there with your key to let the horses out there would most likely be a fatality. If you turn your horses out day or night make sure fencing is super secure, something most people do anyway to stop the horses escaping, but make sure it can’t be pulled up easily and be especially aware if your horses field is right near a road. Double fencing, with one solid or wire fence on the outside and electric fencing on the inside makes it harder to just take horses from the field, even better if they’re both electric! Just make sure they’re clearly sign posted as being electricified and read up on law requirements to make sure you’ve complied with them. Regarding tack, rugs and other possessions, as much as it can be unsightly they should be well marked with your identity in a way that is really hard to get off. There are tales of people having rugs stolen off their horses backs in the field which might have been avoided had those rugs been marked with something to identify them. This can even be made to look quite nice, in the form of embroidery of your horses name which even if unpicked leaves a marked patch and if your horse likes a roll, a clean bit! This is removable identification, but is likely to make people think twice about theft. Similar things can be done to head collars, numnahs, travel boots and other minor possessions. Grooming brushes and similar things can be personalised with yours and your horses names, making it clear who’s they are. Obviously, your things should be locked securely up and insured. You can get tack lockers if you don’t have a tack room to padlock, which can be adapted by you to either chain to a wall or bolt to the floor so no one can pick them up and carry them off. If there’s nowhere safe to keep your tack at the yard, make sure you take it home with you as most tack insurance will be void if the tack isn’t kept securely but check your house insurance to see if it covers your tack whilst in the house. It often just takes a phone call to add your valuable equestrian equipment to your home policy. Overall, common sense is the answer to good yard and horse security. Open gates and poorly fenced fields are an invitation to thieves, as are bits of tack left lying about on the yard and unlocked tack rooms and storage spaces. A lot of thieves won’t bother if they can see plenty of deterrents in place; it’s too much effort and risk. Obviously some still will, but by making it as difficult as possible for them makes them less likely to try and more likely to be caught if they do.

Safe Winter Riding and Horse Care

The super cold weather we’re all experiencing at the moment combined with your horse spending more time stabled in winter months, makes for a fun recipe of spooks and sharpness. This can potentially mean when you’re riding accidents may be more likely and you might end up in hairy situations more often than you anticipated! To help control this behaviour, give your horse as much turnout as you can, if you can’t use a field, try to use the arena so he can still stretch his legs and burn off some energy. Lungeing can be a valuable form of exercise in winter, either before you ride to get rid of any initial sharpness or as an alternative form of exercise when riding isn’t an option. The use of a lungeing training aid can also encourage your horse to work in a correct outline and engage his hindquarters without the hindrance of a rider. If you are able to ride, you may have to take things slightly slower than usual so use this time to work on your horse’s obedience and impulsion. The best way to do this is with transitions, transitions, transitions. Remember that we are all working to have our horses responding to the lightest possible aids whether that is the leg or hand. Any pace and transition you ride should be springy without being rushed and really forwards from your leg. This helps ensure your horse is listening to you, he will burn more energy and it helps to keep you and him really interested in what you’re doing. Plenty of serpentines, transitions, figures of eight and changes of rein are really good for getting your horse listening and then keeping his attention on his work. As well as this, lateral movements such as leg yield are great for keeping your horses mind on you. Calmers can make a huge difference to your horse’s winter attitude, with loads on the market such as Global Herbs Super Calm and Mag Calm which are a daily supplement to keep your horse relaxed. These paired with regular exercise can really help to keep your horse chilled out and easier to handle. Most calmers manage to do this without dulling your horse or his personality, and just keep him with a controllable level of energy with more of a willingness to listen to you. Instant calmers are also available, useful for if your horse gets nervous and stressed about a certain situation, such as going to a show, travelling in a horse box or being clipped. You could even use them if your horse is fine being schooled but gets fizzy when hacking; the instructions usually just say feed a few hours before the calming effect is needed as a one off dosage. These can be really useful and can cost less if your horse only needs a calmer as a one off every so often as it means you don’t have to feed it daily at a maintenance level. Also make sure your horse's feed isn’t too sugary and starchy. If you have a poor doer, there are still feeds on the market that aid weight gain without fizzing them up, and gut supplements such as Equine Gold help keep your horse digesting to the best of his ability and therefore getting more nutritional value out of his food, keeping weight on. To help you stay safe through potential fizzy behaviour, you need to be thinking even more than usual about your safety around your horses which should be to a high standard anyway. If you don’t already use one, back protectors are an excellent investment for riding in, with level 3 of EN13158:2009 and BETA 2000 being the latest and highest standard. Despite common belief that back protectors are uncomfortable, restrictive and stiff, new designs and developed technology means that this is no longer the case and many now cater for various body shapes, with women in particular having protectors designed with the feminine shape in mind. There is no reason not to have one, and they can be life savers in some instances. They are definitely worthwhile, even if you think you have the most laid back, bomb proof horse in the world who only spooks once a year, horses are still prey animals with survival instincts which don’t take your safety into mind. Obviously riding hats are a must whilst you are riding and it is illegal in the UK for children under the age of 16 to ride on the road without one. When you are handling horses, though it is unfortunately not often seen, it is advisable to wear a hat, especially when leading your horse about, even more so in the ice and snow or if your horse is highly strung. By making sure your hat is up to standard, checked regularly and replaced if ever dropped, you are also increasing your standard of safety around your horses. Also wear good quality gloves when leading and handling as rope burns hurt and if you have to let your horse go because your bare hands can’t keep hold of him, he could end up in a nasty situation which could have been prevented. Also, when you lunge you should wear a riding hat and gloves as well as tough boots, not trainers or similar, these offer little resistance to a horse accidentally stomping on your feet!  Even though some of these precautions are time consuming, mean you might have to buy something else new and may seem unnecessary, if they were the life saver in a situation, you would be grateful to have used them. In the same way, if you don’t use them and something happens, you are left with the “what ifs”. If you follow this advice along with a good bit of common sense, a nice, safe and even pleasant winter with a saner than usual horse is likely, which will hopefully continue to help with the joys of spring until your horses are too hot in summer to be bothered bouncing about. Roll on the sunshine, and in the meantime do everything you can to keep safe and have fun!

Horse Stable Toys

The current weather conditions are a nuisance to everyone but to the horse owner they mean an extra headache. Do we allow our horses in the field for a chance to relax and move freely or do we keep them in their warm stables? Many owners understandably choose to keep their horse stabled rather than risk walking them out over the ice rink conditions of a tarmac yard. Fields, too, can be icy or at best rock hard with uneven surfaces that can cause injury and strain on your horse's legs. How then, do you keep your horse occupied when he is spending a much longer period of time than usual in his stable? For some horses this can become too much and they may start to display bored or stressed behaviour, from just not being able to settle or appearing unhappy in themselves to developing permanent and damaging stable vices. One answer to this is kitting your stable out with plenty of horse toys and distractions to keep their mind occupied thus keeping bored behaviour at bay. There are loads of stable toys out there, with one of the simplest sorts being toys which hang from the stable roof, such as the Jolly Apple and Horse Play Stable Ball. The horse knocks the toy with his nose but can’t usually get hold of them, as hard as he might try. This is especially effective with the Jolly Apple as it is also scented so he thinks it could be food and tries his hardest to grab it. Some horses with the right type of personality can get quite enthralled with this type of toy others can find it frustrating so its best to monitor your horse closely when you first introduce this type of toy. Other good types of stable toys are those which have edible distractions. There aren’t many horses out there whose stomachs don’t rule their heads, so food toys tend to be good for occupying equine minds. A simple and cheap yet effective stable toy is something like the Best Mate or Likit Holder hanging treat, these have an outer holder which hangs from the roof of the stable or a tie ring and holds the treat. This can keep the food obsessed horse happy for hours and can last for ages depending on how greedy your horse is! A similar hanging toy is the Likit Boredom Breaker, which is a hanging attachment for your stable, holding 3 likits, 2 small ones and one large one. This means the toy moves around as the horse tries to lick the treats, and as you could have 3 different flavours in there if you wanted to, gives a variety of tastes therefore making him less likely to become disinterested. The Likit Tongue Twister works on a similar theory as the Boredom Breaker. It’s a door or wall attachment which holds 2 little Likits, giving a variety of flavour, and spins round when the horse tries to lick it, making it a difficult task which a horse can easily get enthralled in. Other stable toys are for use on ground level, which puts the horse into a natural, relaxed grazing position which can help relax the stressy types more than a treat dispenser above the ground. Most of these come in the form of feeders, such as the Snack Ball that you fill with treats which are released as the horse rolls the toy. For more intelligent and highly strung horses this can be an excellent way of keeping them occupied. For those who are even more clever and can empty the easy rolling ones within half an hour, there are strangely shaped ones available such as the Rock N Roll Ball, Equine Decahedron and Amazing Graze, which are all designed to be more difficult to roll and don’t roll in the direction the horse wants them to. This makes the horse think a bit more, and sometimes have to forage for the treats as he isn’t just picking them up as they fall out right in front of him. These may last longer than ball shaped feeders, but the horse may also become disinterested if he doesn’t have the attention span or patience for them. Tub licks are also good for boredom breaking, such as Paddock Likit and Five Star Lick, which are a tub that can be put on the floor and your horse can use them as he pleases. Again this encourages a natural and relaxed posture, good for calming horses down and distracting them from boredom or stress inducing factors. They can also have medical benefits such as the Respiratory Stable Lick, so have more advantages than just keeping a stressed horse calm. For the horse who craves other equine company and needs the feeling of security he gets from being in a herd, the best idea is to keep him where he can see, hear and touch other horses to try and keep him happy. However this is not always possible and some horses even get stressed if they can hear and smell other horses but can’t see them, as in some stable situation where there are full walls separating horses. Stable mirrors are an excellent way of solving this problem and can calm even the most herd dependant animals if they notice their reflection. For horses with short attention spans and horses who get easily stressed when stabled, a combination of ground feeders, hanging toys and stable mirrors could be the only way to keep them happy until they’re next turned out. Stable toys are always a good idea for the stabled or partially stabled horse as even if they may seem quite happy in the stable, toys help promote a healthy and busy mind, and can keep horses calm, happy and vice free.