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 ...

Here Comes the F-Word…Frost!

You probably won't need me to tell you that the weather's about to make a change for the colder in the next few days. It's that time of year when you listen to weather forecast waiting to hear the first use of the f-word – 'frost'! Here's the temperature map provided by the Met Office website for the morning of Saturday 27th October: We've all had those guilt-ridden conversations that happen when the cold weather threatens to catch you out – the ones that concern whether or not we've put the right rug(s) on that night. Many people are lucky enough to stable their horse at home and can at least go out and put on a heavier stable rug if they feel they've been particularly caught out by the plummeting temperatures. Others face an unscheduled car journey or a rather apologetic call to a friend. It's also a time for many people to think about making some adjustments to the front of the stable, in an attempt to keep the cold air out, as much as possible. Keeping horses warm and comfortable is obviously the top priority when the mercury falls but it doesn't end there. Keeping yourself prepared for sub-zero temperatures is just as important. Make sure you dig out a good pair of gloves and keep them in the pockets of your warmest winter jacket. It's probably a good idea to keep a spare jacket in the car, just in case you get caught out by a sudden cold snap – or, worse, stuck somewhere! Don't forget to keep your head warm and ensure that you're properly equipped with a trusty woolly hat for when you're not riding or a helpful headband to wear under your riding hat if you're in the saddle – we were all told to keep our ears warm, as kids, weren't we? Just as important are your feet: Have you got enough thick socks or boot liners to get you through the winter? And if you'd quite like to feel your toes, whatever the weather, what about investing in a pair of boots designed just for cold weather? Don't forget your dog! Of course, not all dogs are keen on wearing a dog coat but when it gets really cold, you might find that your dog starts to feel a little different about the idea! Just throw in some thermal underwear, a couple of re-usable hand-warmers and maybe even some toe-warmers and you'll be ready for the worst that the British winter can throw at you! If you've got all that at home, it's time to dig it out of the cupboard. If you need any of the above, simply follow the links and order it as quickly as you can – the North wind is getting ready to blow!

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.

Show Ring Attire for Horse and Rider

Its spring and the start of the show season, which for people new to showing can be daunting as you work out what classes your horse can do, how to turn him out and what to wear yourself. This will give a rough guide to what classes there are and a general idea of turnout for both you and your horse. Mountain and Moorland classes are well known and popular, with any of the nine hairy native type ponies who can be registered fitting into this. Welsh ponies, Dartmoors, Connemara ponies, and Shetlands are welcome in this class. In small local shows, your horse is unlikely to have to be registered, or full bred but it is always advisable to check each particular show’s rules. Most native type horses are kept natural, with a full mane and tail, and no trimming, but some breeds do permit a bit of tidying. If unsure, check out your horse’s breed society website.   There are also show pony classes usually divided by height. The type of horse who can enter this is usually fine built and pretty, normally a native crossed with a finer breed. Trimming of any hairy bits is advisable, so ears, muzzle and heels should all be tidy. The horse should be plaited through its mane and forelock and have a pulled tail.   Another well known class is Cob class. At larger shows these are divided into show cobs and traditional cobs. Show cobs are trimmed up, have their legs clipped and are plaited or more commonly hogged. They should also have their tails pulled and cut straight to just below the hock. Traditional cobs should have as much mane and tail as possible, and have full feather. They shouldn’t really be trimmed but a bit of tidying around the ears and muzzle can create a neater appearance. Both types should be stocky and well built, not too tall and have good manners. Around 15hh is about ideal for a cob class.   Hunter classes can be divided into 4 sections at larger shows, small, lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight, and classed using height as well. At small shows, classes may be combined, and are sometimes generalised to hunter type. For this class, your horse should be smartly turned out, with plaited mane, pulled and straight cut tail and trimmed heels, ears and muzzle. There are also working hunter classes, divided into lightweight and heavyweight and then again by height. The horse is required to jump in these classes, and turnout and type of horse is the same as ridden hunter. You’re also allowed a few blemishes on a working hunter as knocks and scrapes are expected on the hunting field.   Arab classes can be entered by full Arabs, part bred and Anglo Arabs, but are often separated into the different types. Full Arabs should be kept natural, with a full mane and tail. Some people hog the mane from behind the poll a few inches down the neck to emphasize the necks arch but this isn’t essential. Part bred Arabs should be plaited, trimmed and have their tail straight and pulled.   The hack classes are usually entered by thoroughbreds or similar breeds with a tall and elegant stature. They are plaited, trimmed and have the tail pulled and cut straight. These horses should be really well mannered and obedient, as you will be severely marked down for disobedience. Most other classes overlap with these, for example in a coloured class, you turn your horse out as you should for his breed or type, so a traditional cob would still be natural and a show cob would still be pulled, plaited and trimmed. Equitation classes are the same, as are novelty classes. Tack For most classes, a well fitting straight cut saddle is ideal as it allows the shoulder free movement and shows your horse off better. For hunter classes, a working hunter saddle is better. Pick a girth to suit your horse’s colour, so a white girth on greys, brown girth on chestnuts etc. Your tack should ideally be brown but black is ok at local level shows or if it suits your horses colouring better. If you have to use a numnah, make sure it matches your horse and tack and is inconspicuous. Your bridle should suit your horse's head and the classes you are showing in. A hunter and cob bridle should have a wide, flat noseband and browband, while a dainty show pony or Arab should have a similarly dainty bridle with rolled noseband and, dependant on your class, a smart ribbon covered decorative browband. Most novice and junior classes require a snaffle bridle, but classes like ridden hunter and cob prefer a double bridle or Pelham. Working hunter allows different bits and martingales, but if it comes down to two horses, the one with more traditional tack will be favoured. Also no change of tack is allowed between the jumping and showing phase of this class apart from the essential removal of any boots your horse is wearing.   For pure Arabs, a rolled Arab slip is correct for in hand with a leather lead. For foals and young stock, a smart head collar or foal slip should be used, or a white webbing halter. Some mountain and moorland types can be shown in a rope halter at any age. Any other types should be shown in a riding bridle with reins or an inhand bridle with a leather coupling and lead. Riding bridles shouldn’t be used with couplings. Use your tack to the benefit of your horse’s appearance. It goes without saying that it should all be clean and in good condition, but you can also pick specific styles to enhance your horse. For example if your horse has a long back, a long saddle will make this appear shorter, where as a short saddle will only make the back appear even longer. For a horse with a long face, try to choose a suitable wider noseband to shorten his appearance. Now for you… A lot of classes overlap with what they want the rider to wear, which is great as it means less rushing about getting changed and less money having to be spent on different outfits. Ridden Classes First off are jackets. For a lot of classes, a good quality, well fitting tweed jacket is required. Mountain and moorland, hunter and cob specify this as the only jacket permitted. Hack classes give tweed as a specific for men and an option for women, along with black and blue show jackets, which are more popular and correct. Arab classes give the option of tweed or blue show jackets. Show pony classes specify that a navy jacket must be worn, but most others allow tweed. Classes that overlap such as coloured, lead rein and equitation require you to wear what is right for your horses type so if you take your mountain and moorland in equitation, turn out as if for a m & m class. Most show classes require you wear a shirt and tie, with some classes allowing stripy shirts but most requiring a plain shirt that complements your jacket. Your tie should also co-ordinate with your jacket, any button hole, browband or hair scrunchie you choose to wear should enhance the overall appearance but not be so eyecatching that it detracts from the horse and rider themselves. Judge’s tend to prefer a neat and tidy, traditional look and disapprove of excess glitter and sparkle that can creep into the showing world. Jodhpur specifications vary between classes, but a neutral colour like beige is allowed in most classes. Canary is allowed in m & m, hunter, show pony and Arab, and hack allows yellow and cream as well. Cob classes specify that beige must be worn. As a general rule, under 16’s should wear short boots and jodhpur clips and over 16’s should wear long boots and garter straps if the boots have no rear zip. A few classes specify brown to be worn, such as show pony classes but you should wear what suits the rest of your outfit and your horse. Your hair should be tied back and in a hairnet, this creates a neat and tidy look. Jewellery shouldn’t be worn apart from tie or stock pins and gloves should be worn that tie in with your outfit. Leather show canes matching your outfit and tack add the final touch. In hand classes Generally for in hand classes you should wear a tweed jacket or waistcoat, a complementing shirt and tie and if you can, trousers and short boots or shoes. Trousers should be a contrasting colour to your horse so light for a horse with dark legs and dark for a horse with light legs. Riding attire is allowed but looks less professional. Gloves should be worn, and a cane can be carried. For any class, ridden or in hand it is recommended you wear a properly fitted, current standard riding hat with a harness. This is preferably blue velvet. You shouldn’t be marked down for being safe over wearing traditional headwear. Beaglers and bowlers are traditional for some classes such as hunter but offer no protection. These are the basics of what turnout is expected of your and your horse, however there are variations and what is acceptable at local level showing would get you marked down at higher levels. If you aren’t sure, ask someone you know who is experienced in the show ring, or go and watch before you go and see what is commonly worn. Above all, the main aim is for you and your horse to have fun and maybe even win something, and at a low level turnout isn’t as strict so don’t worry about getting it too perfect.

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.