Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Show Season - Preparation

It is well and truly show time, our horses and ponies are being preened and polished, and stress levels are at an all time high. You spend all day before the show cleaning tack, boots, stables, and horse. You try to cover every square inch of your horse so he stays clean overnight, especially if he's grey, only to get to the yard in the morning to find a huge stable stain on his face or his coat all ruffled and refusing to lie flat. If by chance your horse has stayed clean you can be sure that the weather is now appalling, so all your hard work and effort is totally wasted as he will be filthy again as soon as he steps out of the horse box. How do you get your horse clean for a show and then keep him that way? My advice after competing with a grey pony and then a horse with four white stockings is start early, and be prepared to finish late! However long you estimate your preparations will take, they always end up at least double that amount of time! Try to ride and then turn out your horse in the morning so he is worked and then had some relaxation time after. There's nothing worse than fighting with an anxious horse thats been stabled all day, keep your riding relaxed and just go through the basics of making sure he responds to your aids and is obedient. Any other schooling will make you both tense especially as you are thinking of the show, you can't make any massive improvements in your horse on the day before the show. Whilst your horse is turned out do all your usual stable work, and have a bit of a general spring clean of any equipment you intend to take with you. Make sure you take a break and have something to eat yourself so you don't get over tired and hungry. Remember that you have to keep yourself calm in order for your horse to behave in the same way. Once you have everything ready, bring your horse in from the field and give him a good groom. This will remove any surface dirt from his coat and make bathing easier. Don't forget to thoroughly pick his feet out, there's no point having a spotless lame horse because of a stone in his foot. If you're intending to plait up and you've time, wash your horse's mane a day earlier as this will avoid it being too slippy. Otherwise wash his mane before anything else as this will give it a little extra time to dry before you need to plait it. Try adding a little hair gel to your horse's mane whilst still damp as it will help to keep it tidier. If you're leaving your horse's mane and tail natural add a little Cowboy Magic Detangler, it helps keep the most unruly hair tangle free and shiny. Next wash your horse all over using a good quality horse shampoo, Gallop shampoos come in a range specially designed to enhance your horse's natural colour. Always saturate your horse's coat thoroughly before applying shampoo, this ensures the shampoo penetrates the surface of your horse's coat and gets all the scurf and dirt out. Remove all traces of shampoo completely using plenty of water, there should never been any bubbles left in your horse's coat after rinsing as this can irritate your horse's skin and make him itchy. Remove as much water as possible using a sweat scraper; the hard plastic side is ideal for fleshy parts of your horse, whereas the softer rubber section can be used on legs and more sensitive parts. Once you've removed any excess water, spray your horse with coat gloss but be careful to avoid the saddle area if you will be riding as it may make your saddle slip. This initial coverage of show shine will help to keep your horse's coat soft and smooth, it will also make grooming easier on the morning of the show as dirt won't stick to your horse's coat as easily. If your horse has any white on his legs use a shampoo designed specifically for white horses, take care to follow the user instructions though as they can irritate your horse's skin or cause staining of your hands if used incorrectly. Rinse thoroughly, then dry his legs using a towel, whilst the hair is still damp use a chalk block generously on all white parts of his leg. Immediately cover as much of your horse's lower leg as possible. Stable boots are a quick and easy way to do this, alternatively you can use leg pads and stable bandages but you need to be sure that you apply them correctly, as incorrect use can cause injury. They can also leave unsightly creases on your horse's legs which are almost impossible to get rid of before a show. Finally, I would always advise to rug your horse before a show, not only to keep him clean but also because his coat will have lost some of its natural oils after bathing so he won't be able to keep himself as warm as usual. Make sure your rug is clean and dry though otherwise any dirt will be transferred back onto your horse. I always keep a rug specially for show nights which I can easily wash after each use so I can be sure my horse stays as clean as possible. Although these tips will help you to get your horse clean, there is no way of guaranteeing he will stay that way overnight! Horses seem to have an inbuilt desire to get stable stains only on their white parts and often only on the night before a show. Remember that you're not alone in your struggle to get your horse clean and the way your horse behaves is much more important. Keep calm on the morning of a show, as a worked up rider will result in a badly behaved horse who will never win a class no matter how clean he is.

Staying Safe in the Saddle

Following on from my previous blog about basic horse riding equipment, I have some more hints on extra gear that may prove helpful in your riding and help to reduce injury in the event of a fall. These aren't essential items of riding gear but can help your comfort in the saddle. It's always important to make sure your clothing and equipment fits correctly, otherwise they could prove inneffective or unsafe. Half Chaps - what are they? Half chaps or gaiters are basically a shaped piece of material, leather or suede, they fit around your lower leg and over your short boots. Wearing these can help to keep your lower leg more stable and help prevent it slipping against the saddle or horse's side. Half chaps usually have a reinforced, shaped panel designed to be worn on your inner calf. They often have an elasticated strip to allow a snug fit , this goes around the back of your leg and a full length zip fastens along your outer calf. Half chaps either made from suede or synthetic suede will help reduce the amount your legs slide against the saddle. Gaiters are very similar in design to half chaps but tend to be made from leather and give a slightly more refined look. When worn with jodhpur boots they are similar in appearance to long riding boots. Body Protectors - extra protection It is well worth considering investing in a body protector, these will help to reduce injuries sustained from a fall, however no body protector can prevent serious injury in certain accidents. Although there are 3 levels of protection available I would always recommend that riders choose the highest standard - level 3. These give a level of protection that is considered appropriate for normal horse riding, competitions and for working with horses. Protectors to this level should: Prevent minor bruising that would have produced stiffness and pain. Reduce significant soft tissue injuries to the level of bruising. Prevent a limited number of rib fractures. You must always be very careful to check that a body protector fits correctly, the red parts of velcro always need to be completely covered, this ensures the fastenings are secure. Gloves - not just for warmth Gloves will help to protect your hands if a horse pulls against you. Rubber reins especially, in small hands can hurt the delicate skin around your fingers often resulting in painful rubs. Invest in some specially designed riding gloves which are reinforced where the rein sits in the hand. Lightweight gloves are available for summer, which allow your hands to stay cool but still protect them from the reins. Training Reins - for even rein contact It can be very difficult to make sure your reins are the same length whilst riding. Multi coloured training reins have different coloured sections of rubber along their length, these make it much easier, especially for small children to see where they are holding each rein. Riding Jackets - more comfort in the saddle Although it will hopefully soon be warm enough to ride without a coat, there are often times in summer when you need an extra layer. As soon as you try to ride in an everyday coat you will find that they can cause some major problems when you are on a horse. A normal loose cuff can slide over your hands making it difficult to have full control of the reins. Any coat or zip more than waist length will immediately cause excess bulk around the saddle area. Hoods are potentially dangerous especially on a nervous horse if they flap suddenly. Specifically designed riding jackets allow for all of these issues. A two way zip will let you keep your jacket fastened just to the required height, Adjustable velcro or elastic cuffs keep your sleeves comfortably around the bottom of your wrist. Hoods if present at all can be secured away in your collar. Longer length riding jackets have vents in the lower portion letting you undo them whilst riding which allows your coat to fall comfortably over the saddle. Safety Stirrups - extra safety Whilst still learning to maintain their balance in the saddle, many novice riders struggle to keep their feet in a secure position in the stirrup. It's often tempting to push your foot as far in as possible in an effort to keep it in the stirrup, you may well then feel that there's one less thing to have to concentrate on. As soon as you do this though why does your Instructor start shouting at you to move them onto the ball of your foot again, is it just so you look pretty? The answer is simple, it is extremely dangerous. If you were to fall off with your foot in this position, you can easily trap your foot in the stirrup and then potentially be dragged along the floor by your horse. Although saddles do have safety features built in to release your stirrup these don't always function immediately possibly resulting in serious injury. Take heed of what you're told and constantly work to keep your stirrups in the correct position. There are specially designed stirrups which can help to ensure your foot is released as quickly as possible in an emergency. Children can ride with peacock safety irons, these have one metal side of the stirrup replaced by an elastic and leather strap secured on a hook, this releases when pressure is applied from the foot in the event of a fall. This type of stirrup is not suitable for adults though as the stirrup iron itself is not quite as strong because of its design; the metal can bend under the weight of an adult rider overstretching the elastic and making it more difficult to release when necessary. Adults should instead choose a bent leg iron, this is an all metal stirrup iron with a bend in one of the legs, this ensures your foot doesn't become trapped in a fall. Both of these stirrups need to be fitted so the safety feature is on the outside of the foot. Any stirrup should always have 1/4" clearance on each side of the foot to ensure the correct fit. Make sure you always check all your riding equipment on a regular basis to ensure there is no excessive wear or damage that could make it unsafe to use. Although safety equipment can help to reduce injury, qualified instruction is the most effective way to reduce accidents and falls. Riding in the correct position with thorough control of your horse at all times will avoid injury to yourself or your horse.

Beginner's Basics

There is an amazing selection of equestrian clothing available now, however if you are a more novice rider how do you know what to buy? I often get asked why can't I buy a cheap second hand hat, why do my legs slide on the saddle as I ride, why can't I ride in wellies they look like riding boots, why do the reins hurt my hands? This and many other questions may seem extremely silly and have an obvious answer to the seasoned horse owner or experienced rider. For someone new to riding though, the equestrian world is daunting and often appears unfriendly. The obvious person to ask for advice is your Instructor, unfortunately it is often the case especially with children, that you are slightly scared of that person who stands in the middle of the school shouting at you at the top of their voice! Don't be, they are only being loud so their instructions are clear and easy to understand. Try speaking to them after your lesson to get any extra tips or advice you feel you need, whatever problem your having, someone else will have had it too. Any good Instructor should be able to give you advice on equipment and clothing that will help your riding. How do you know what to buy when the time comes to get your first full riding kit though? The answer's simple, request a Robinsons catalogue or browse online and buy jodhpurs, boots, and hat. That's all isn't it? If that was the case the Robinsons catalogue would be very small indeed! How on earth then can an enthusiastic new rider know what to select from the huge selection of riding gear on offer. Here's how... THE BASICS Why can't I buy a second hand hat? Riding Hat This is possibly the most important item of kit, but is often one of the last things a new rider will buy. Although jodhpurs and boots can make you look more like a rider I would always advise that the first item of equipment you buy is your own riding hat. When you learn that it is advisable to replace a riding hat after any fall that has involved the rider's hat sustaining any significant impact, you start to realise that a borrowed hat from your riding school is not quite as suitable as you first thought. You don't know anything about how many falls that hat has sustained, it is vitally important that the shell of a hat is not damaged in any way, as this can affect the protection it offers. Invest in your own hat as soon as you possibly can when you take up riding so you know its complete history. Check before buying your hat though to see what level of protection you will need as various organisations have different rules. Any hat you buy should have a three point under the chin harness with NO chin cup, it should meet at least one of the following safety standards; EN1384, PAS015, ASTM F1163/SEI and may also need to have a Kitemark. It is worth knowing that although riding hats are a recognised piece of safety equipment they are still subject to VAT, although interestingly cycling helmets no longer are. The BHS are trying to change this, if you'd like to add your name to this campaign please write to BHS Safety Department, Stoneleigh Deer Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2XZ, or email S.Hardy@bhs.org.uk with VAT in the subject box. Why do my legs slide on the saddle as I ride? Jodhpurs/Breeches Jodhpurs are designed to be worn with short jodhpur boots, they tend to be long in the leg and have a small turn up at the ankle which stretches over the top of your jodhpur boot. They will also often have an inbuilt elastic underfoot stirrup to help prevent the jodhpurs rising up. Jodhpur clips will also stop the leg of your jodhpurs slipping above your boot, this can be very uncomfortable, often resulting in rubbed and chafed ankles. Breeches are shorter in the leg, normally mid to lower calf length, they should be worn with long riding boots. The shorter length means you don't have excess material around your ankle which can be uncomfortable with long boots. For a more novice rider I'd always recommend that they choose a pair of jods or breeches with a full clarino or 'sticky bum' seat. All this means is the seat area is made from a special material that does not slide on the saddle quite as much as normal material. For someone learning to ride this extra little bit of security in the saddle is invaluable. Why can't I ride in wellies, they look like riding boots? Boots Although wellies and standard boots can look very similar to riding footwear there are some fundamental differences which seriously affect their safety. The main reason why these aren't suitable riding wear is the depth of tread on the sole, riding footwear should have a fairly thin sole, with a small amount of tread to prevent the foot getting caught in the stirrup in the event of a fall. Also avoid any boots with buckles or velcro as the same can happen with these. Although a heel is required on riding boots, it should be no more than about 1/2" in height. You initially need to decide between long riding boots and jodhpur boots, this is mainly your own personal preference. Long boots offer more support to your leg but some people find them uncomfortable and too restrictive. Jodhpur boots allow more ankle movement but you may find you need some extra protection from the stirrup leather. Long riding boots are available in economical rubber or quality leather. Both have advantages and disadvantages, rubber are cheap, hard wearing and waterproof but they can be inflexible and hot. Leather are expensive and high maintenance, but they allow easy flexion of the ankle. Jodhpur boots are particularly useful in summer months as they tend to be cooler than long boots. However the lack of support around the calf and lower leg can result in bruising and pinching from stirrup leathers. This can eased by wearing half chaps or gaiters. Technical stirrup systems have been developed which include the SCS3 system from Mountain Horse, this is a system of grooves built into the sole of the boot and on the SCS3 stirrup tread. When these grooves interact, they prevent the foot slipping forward in the stirrup but allow the rider to pull their foot back easily. Four grooves in the sole give a choice of foot position depending on exactly where you prefer the foot to sit in the stirrup. There are many other items of riding kit available and I'll go into these in more detail in my next blog but I hope this has helped you in your choice of essentials. Remember to always make your equestrian purchases based on the highest protection you can afford rather than the prettiest product. Whilst horse riding is an enjoyable hobby it can also be a high risk sport. �

Spring Is Nearly Here!!!

It’s safe to say that it is very nearly spring time. With the clocks going forward, the lighter nights and hopefully warmer weather to look forward to, we can at last start to think of a time when we can thoroughly enjoy our hobby again instead of horse ownership just being a labour of love. Of course, springtime brings its own troubles and concerns, so I’ve come up with a few useful tips to help you enjoy your horsey time to the full. Check fencing and field condition Although you may well be excited by the fact your horse can eventually go out in the field again, giving you a break from some of the mucking out, remember to check the condition of your fencing first. After several months of not using your field it is advisable to walk around the whole of the perimeter of your field, checking that no holes or weak spots have appeared in your fencing. If you use electric fencing test that the current is flowing through the tape all the way round your field, a line tester is a simple way to do this.   If any of your fencing tape looks worn or isn’t conducting electricity adequately, replace it now rather than waiting until your horse has escaped through this weak point. High visibility tape is available which has a thick plastic bead woven into the edges of it to make it more rigid and less likely to roll up. Alternatively there is a more economical choice of tape available, this still offers 8 conductors across its 40mm width but is not quite as heavy duty. Ensure also that all the posts are in a good condition, keeping the fencing tape taught and at the correct height for your horses. Replace damaged posts now to limit any inconvenience in summertime. It is advisable to also check the quality of water drinker in your field, as these will definitely need a clean after the autumn and winter months.  Check that the size of your drinker is sufficient for the amount of horses grazing in the field, and that the flow of water is clean and uninterrupted. Rubberised specifically designed drinkers are most advisable for field use, these minimise the risk of injury to your horse and also are less likely to get damaged if kicked. These are easily connected to the mains and will maintain a constant level of water. Once you are confident that your fencing and water supply are efficient, you just need to check that the pasture itself is fit and safe for your horses to be turned out on. Try to walk round the whole of the field looking for rabbit holes, litter and poisonous plants. Remove all traces of plants that are known to be dangerous to horses, be especially careful to remove the roots of plants such as ragwort to reduce the risk of re-growth. Fit a grazing mask to limit grass intake Spring grass is extremely rich in nutrients and can often trigger laminitis and colic. Limiting the amount of grazing time when initially turning out your horse will help to prevent this, as can strip grazing; sectioning off part of the field to limit the amount of grass available. Another way of restricting your horse's grass intake is by using a grazing mask. This is a bucket shaped device which is fitted over your horse’s muzzle, it is secured by nylon or leather straps in a similar way to a head collar. It has small holes in the bottom which reduces the amount of grass your horse can eat but still allows drinking. Care must be taken to fit the muzzle correctly. The Greenguard Grazing Mask and Halter are designed in collaboration with the veterinary profession for optimum horse comfort whilst effectively restricting grass intake. For a more economical solution try the Comfort Grazing Muzzle. Protect your horse’s legs with boots in initial excitement of turnout Turning your horse out for the first time after winter can be a worrying time. The excitement of being free to run and play can result in injury to your horse. Although it is impossible to protect your horse totally from accident, the wearing of some type of leg boot can help to limit the risk. The type of boot you choose depends on what type of protection you require. Brushing boots will help to protect against knocks and scrapes, but these will only really offer surface protection against cuts. Tendon and sports medicine boots can also help to prevent strains. Specially designed turnout boots can offer moderate leg protection and help in preventing mud fever. Care should always be taken when fitting boots for turnout use, as the extra movement in the field can result in boots moving out of place resulting in injury,. Mud and other debris from the paddock could also work its way inside the boot, causing rubbing or other injury. Over reach boots are often used for turnout as horses can tend to suffer from this type of injury in the field. Use a shedding blade to help coat loss The warmer weather in March invariably leads to coat loss; it can be difficult to effectively remove the large amount of hair that is coming out of your horse’s coat at this time of year. Brushing with a dandy brush quickly results in a clogged useless brush. An excellent tool to quickly and efficiently remove large amounts of hair is a shedding blade; this will effortlessly strip loose hair from the coat.  Keep rugs as hair free as possible too by regularly brushing the lining. Turnout head collar for catching your horse The initial freedom after months of confinement can be hugely exciting for your horse and it can be something that he is unwilling to relinquish easily. Your normally loveable equine can become your worst enemy when you enter the field to try to catch him again. Whilst it is highly amusing to watch someone get close enough to almost touch their horse, only to have him turn around and run away again just as you put the head collar to his nose, it is definitely not going to make the person doing the catching laugh. Turning out in a head collar is something that should always be done with caution, and you should NEVER turn out in a standard nylon head collar as these will not break if your horse gets it caught on a fence. There are however specially designed turnout head collars, which have intentionally weak fittings which will snap if your horse does become entangled, freeing him immediately. Always make sure you don’t lead your horse in a turnout head collar. The weak fittings will give way if your horse pulls against you; place a regular head collar over the top of your turnout one. This way you have control leading and then can just leave the turnout head collar on when you release your horse. Lightweight turnout/exercise sheet for wet, mild weather The warmer weather in spring means you can finally put away your thick quilted turnout rugs. A waterproof turnout rug with no filling though is fantastic to keep your horse dry if there is a sudden downpour. Always try to choose a summer turnout that is breathable so you can be confident he won’t overheat. Turnout rugs with just 100g of filling are great for those slightly cooler spring days when you’d like to just have a slightly warmer rug.     Having a dry horse when you arrive at the stables also has the advantage that you don’t have to worry about putting your saddle on a wet or damp back. Similarly using a lightweight waterproof exercise sheet will ensure your horse stays dry when you go out hacking. This means you don’t have to spend hours waiting for him to dry before you can put a rug back on him again. Of course you may still be keeping your horse stabled overnight so now is the time to start to lessen the warmth of those stable rugs too. A lighter weight stable rug can be more practical than switching to a fleece or cooler rug as bedding tends to stick to these less. Clean and reproof winter rugs How often do you come to put a rug on your horse at the beginning of winter and find either that all your rugs have broken straps, or that they have holes in them from accidents in the field. Make a point of being organised early and take all your un-needed winter rugs to be cleaned and if necessary re-proofed so you don’t have dirty rugs sitting around in your tack room all summer. You can then bag up and store the rugs away safely before further damage from mice occurs. Washing, reproofing and repairing rugs can be a costly business though especially when you have several that need doing at once so why not have a go at doing your own. Spring clean Finally make use of the nice weather to have a good old spring clean of your stable, tack and feed room. Give everything a clean down and replace any worn or damaged bits of equipment now, so you can have a fun and worry free summer. Why not reorganise your whole tack room too then you can always find exactly what you are looking for? With a range of bright colours you can even colour co-ordinate your tack room with your horse’s wardrobe. Bridle and saddle racks are available from as little as £2.10. Keep your grooming kit organised and clean with this swing lid grooming box, treat yourself to the exclusive Oster Grooming Kit or perfect your pony with the Slip Not Grooming Kit.