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 ...

Bits, Bitting and Mouthpieces

With such a wide range of bits on the market, choosing the right one for your horse can sometimes be difficult. Having a vague idea of what style mouthpieces your horse would suit and the types of action he might like is the first step in the right direction of finding a bit to suit both you and him. Before you begin choosing a bit it is essential that your horse is up to date with his dentistry. It is recommended that your horse has his teeth checked and rasped by a qualified equine dentist once every 6 months, so if your horse isn’t up to date, address this issue before trying new bits. Even a bit that would ordinarily be perfect for your horse can appear not to be if he is in any discomfort, and the ‘need’ for a bit change due to strong or bad behaviour can be eliminated through having your horse’s teeth checked. Mouthpieces When looking at bits, it helps to know the types of mouthpieces that would suit your horse. To do this you need to assess your horse's mouth conformation and check how fleshy your horse’s tongue is and how much space he has in his mouth. Cobs, Irish Draught Crosses, Dutch Warmbloods and Welsh types have large tongues, making thick mouthpieces uncomfortable for them as they have little space in their mouth anyway, so although thin mouthpieces are usually considered harsher, in the case of fleshy tongued equines they can sometimes be kinder. For soft mouthed horses that have enough space, thicker bits are preferable as they distribute any pressure over a larger area. The next thing to think about in relation to mouthpieces is what type of joint, if any, you need. Single jointed bits act on the bars of the horse’s mouth and the corners of the lips depending on how the horse carries his head, as well as having a ‘nutcracker’ action when pulled as it flexes in the middle and squeezes both sides into the lower jaw. Double jointed bits or French links are milder than the single jointed bit as they lie across the tongue and only act on the bars of the mouth and corners of the lips. This type of mouthpiece has no ‘nutcracker’ action. Straight bar bits have no joint and act predominantly on the tongue and bars of the mouth. If the bit is ported, this can alleviate tongue pressure and put more pressure on the bars of the mouth. Waterford mouth pieces are like a thick snaffle with lots of joints, which wrap around the tongue and can prevent horses from leaning on the bit; however they can also prevent them from taking a contact and working into the bridle, and can be quite harsh. Twisted mouth pieces are harsh and should only be used with light hands as they can damage the mouth if you aren’t careful. For horses with a low roof of mouth, single jointed bits can be painful as they can jab the roof of the mouth when used. It is common for these horses to be ridden in a flash strap to stop them opening their mouth which they do to avoid the discomfort and evade the bits action, however a better solution would be to use a double jointed or French link mouthpiece, or a straight bar bit. Ported bits are good for horses with fleshy tongues who don’t like jointed bits as they allow room for the tongue whilst still having the straight bar action, however straight bar bits can confuse the horse and aren’t very clear due to their lack of flexibility and the lack of ability for both sides to work independently. This doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a try though; some horses appear to like their action. The next thing to consider is the type of material your horse would suit for his mouthpiece. This isn’t something that can be easily determined without testing the different types of materials with your horse. As a vague guideline, horses who salivate normally and aren’t too strong in the mouth can suit most materials, such as stainless steel, rubber and sweet iron. Horses who have especially sensitive mouths or who don’t like the feeling of cold metal being put in their mouth may prefer a warmer metal such as copper or a rubber or happy mouth bit. Strong horses whose mouths are dry and insensitive can be encouraged to salivate and therefore become more sensitive by using metals such as sweet iron and copper, or by having a mouthpiece with rollers on it to encourage them to move it around more and therefore not fix their jaw against you. Overall this stage of bitting is down to experimentation as no one can tell you the sort of metal your horse will like. Types of bits and their action When it comes to what sort of bit and action your horse will suit, it is important to consider how strong your horse is and the situations your horse will use the bit in. For example, you may be fine schooling in a snaffle, but for hacking or jumping your horse may become extremely strong and require something more to aid control. Always use the mildest action that you can get away with in the situation whilst remaining safe and in control. The snaffle bit is considered the kindest bit as there is no poll or curbs pressure, it just works on the mouth. There are fixed ring snaffles which are considered standard and are very mild. For slightly stronger horses or those who lean on the bit, a loose ring snaffle may help stop this as when they try to take hold of it, the rings move. Hanging cheek snaffles suit some horses as they suspend the bit in their mouth and leave more room for their tongue. D ring snaffles give slightly more cheek pressure and can aid in turning as well as preventing the bit from pulling through the mouth, the same as a full cheek snaffle can. Snaffles are good to school in as they teach the horse to listen to a soft bit and a contact can be taken easily without creating other unwanted pressures. If a stronger bit is needed, a Pelham may be the way to go. This bit has 2 actions, it can be used as a snaffle on the top ring and has a second, bottom ring at the end of a shank which acts with poll pressure to bring the head down and curb pressure from a curb chain to stop the horse evading the bit. This can be found with any mouthpiece, and is useful if used with double reins for horses that will listen to a snaffle most of the time but do need a stronger action occasionally. This use is however taken away if roundings are used as the rider can’t decide to use the snaffle or curb rein independently, but both are used all the time. It is also useful for showing and classes where it is correct to use a double bridle or Pelham. The Kimblewick is quite a strong bit with a square cheek piece, curb chain attachment, and bit rings with slots allowing for different degrees of poll pressure to be used depending on how low you attach your reins, with more pressure being used the lower you attach them. This is a single rein bit meaning you can’t have different degrees of pressure on the bit like you can with a double reined Pelham but are always on the harsh setting. Some horses like its action and if used gently this bit can be highly effective. Gag bits can be harsh bits if used in the wrong hands, but can be effective when used correctly. The snaffle gag bit is used with double reins, one on the ring and one on the gag pieces running up to the head piece. This bit raises the head when the gag pieces are pulled as the bit lifts in the horse’s mouth. This should be considered carefully before using as it can cause horses to rear. However, if your horse is particularly strong, so long as the snaffle ring is the most predominantly used and the gag reins only used when the undesirable behaviour is displayed, this bit can work well. The Dutch gag or bubble bit works by applying leverage pressure to the horse’s poll and brings the head down, despite other gag bits working to bring the head up. When used with double reins this can be very effective as the snaffle rein works exactly like a hanging cheek snaffle and is mild, and then when you need the extra control, the bottom rein can give you this. These are most commonly seen being used with a single rein on one of the lower rings, however this puts constant pressure on the horse and there is no release reward as you would get with double reins. A double bridle is most commonly seen in dressage on horses of a level where extra collection and refinement is needed. This consists of two bits, the bradoon acting similarly to the snaffle and the curb bit applying poll pressure and curb pressure. This bit can also be used in the show ring or when jumping for extra control and refinement of aids. Finally, there is the bitless bridle. This can come in many forms, such as a Hackamore or Scawbrig bitless bridle, which both use facial pressure to control the horse. This can be a good alternative for horses with damaged or super sensitive mouths, or a variation for horses that are strong when bitted as it is uses different pressure areas and has no effect on hard mouths. Overall, it really is up to the rider as to how they think the horse has accepted the bit, but as long as the horse is listening to it and respecting it without too much force from the rider, and he isn’t backing away from it or evading, you’re probably onto a winner. And remember, a bit is only as harsh as the hands on the end of it, a novice rider with rough hands can make the mildest snaffle harsh, the same as a quiet handed rider can make harsh bits seem soft in comparison.

Which Horse Clipper To Choose

At this time of year, your horse’s sleek shiny summer coat can begin to resemble that of a bear, in preparation for the cold winter months. This effect can be lessened by early rugging; however some extra coat is still likely to be grown. This can impact on any working horse’s comfort, whether he is schooled and hunted hard, or just hacked once a week. Clipping your horse is a good way to minimise sweating, it can help a horse to cool down and dry more quickly after hard work and therefore he is less likely to become chilled. Whether you opt for a small bib clip or a full hunter clip, having the correct clipping equipment is essential to a neat and tidy finish. Before you start, ensure your clippers are correctly maintained and sharp enough to cut through the coat smoothly and without pulling, making it a comfortable experience for both the horse and you. If you are using mains clippers, always use a circuit breaker plugged into the socket so if your horse stands on the wire, they will cut out without harming anyone. Make sure the blades are oiled according to manufacturer’s instructions so they run smoothly. Clean blades thoroughly after use, removing all hair and dirt, then wash with a good quality blade wash. Oil the blades thoroughly then store in an oiled cloth. Before you clip also make sure your horse is clean and dry, a dirty or greasy coat can lead to clogged clippers and blunted blades, and could potentially lead to your clippers breaking prematurely. Whilst clipping, take regular breaks, about once every ten minutes to brush the blades and air filters ensuring no clogging and over heating of the clippers. This also gives your horse chance to relax. Make sure you have a spare set of blades in case they blunt half way through, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on which type blades are best – medium are usually recommended, but fine blades are available for horses with sensitive skin or fine coats, coarse blades are also available for horses with thick, long or dense coats. When clipping your horses head or face, wither hair and bridle path, small hand held battery trimmers are ideal. The Wahl Pocket Pro Trimmer is a small sized, quiet yet powerful trimmer which shouldn’t upset most horses when used close to their head, it gives a clean and neat finish and can be concealed in the handler’s hand if the horse is nervous about the clipping process.   For many nervous horses, quiet clippers with little vibration movement are best such as the Liveryman Element Rechargeable Trimmer which is a low noise and low vibration cordless trimmer which has a powerful cutting motion, although only lasts for 60 minutes which may be a problem with nervous horses who take longer to clip. Replacement batteries can be purchased to prolong the clipping time. A quiet, lightweight mains clipper is the Heiniger Handy Horse Clipper; this has a powerful, 120 watt motor and lasts as long as you need it to due to being mains powered. However many nervous horses don’t like the cord being near them, and if they are moving around a lot could become tangled in it and panic, it is probably safer for horse and handler if a battery clipper is used to avoid any accidents or injuries. For clipping a small area, such as a bib clip, it may not be necessary to use full sized clippers. Depending on your horse’s coat type, you may be able to use smaller clippers such as Wahl’s Pro Rechargeable Trimmer which has a 13 watt clipper speed. These may do for very fine coated types such as thoroughbreds but if your horse is super hairy, they won’t do for areas on the body. For hairy types, such as natives and cobs, even if they are rugged early a more heavy duty clipper is likely to be needed, such as Wahl’s Avalon Cordless Clipper, this has an 80 watt motor and therefore cuts through hair faster and is designed to deal with a thicker coat. For a larger area, such as a trace clip or low blanket clip, it is advisable to start with an 80 watt clipper or more. Again with cobs and natives, it may be advisable to go up slightly on the clipper’s power to 130 watt such as the Liveryman Blue Arena Clippers which are also lightweight so your arm doesn’t get tired! For clips which take even larger sections of the coat away like a high blanket, hunter and full clips the heaviest duty clippers are recommended such as Heiniger Delta 3 Clippers with a top speed of 180 watts and an option of 3 varying speeds for use on all areas. If you feel that you need to clip your horse this winter, ensure you take into consideration his workload, coat type and clip type when choosing clippers, and remember that good maintenance of both coat and clippers lead to a good quality and neatly finished clip.

Training Aids and How To Use Them

The light, warm summer weather encourages most of us to swap the confines of the sand paddock for long hacks and beach rides. When your leisure time starts to be restricted by lack of light or suitable weather conditions, these fun rides can be more difficult to fit in to your schedule. Having the motivation to ride in the arena again can be difficult, therefore think of the schooling as a way to keep both you and your horse fit, supple and healthy. It may help to plan a schedule that works towards a long term goal for you and your horse, and then you feel you are getting something worthwhile from your training sessions. Most horses will benefit from a structured programme that helps to re-establish the basic principles of obedience and submission. There is no substitute for good schooling but sometimes a little extra help is needed to encourage your horse to use his himself correctly. Training aids can assist you with achieving a round outline and self carriage, but it is important to know how to use each one correctly as they can cause more problems if used by inexperienced riders or possibly injure the horse.  Draw Reins are a simple and commonly used training aid which attach to the horse’s girth then pass through the bit (from the outside to the inside) to the rider’s hands. These are a strong gadget which should only ever be used by experienced riders and are unsuitable and unsafe for jumping in. They can be an extremely severe training aid if used wrongly and can force the horse into an incorrect and short outline, where rather than flexing at the poll and relaxing onto the bit, he ends up flexing at the 4th vertebra and curling himself back from the bit. If used gently and at a length where they only come into action if the horse raises his head, they can be beneficial to the horses head carriage. It is advised that only experienced riders and riders under instructors’ supervision use them, and they are not used for long periods of time. A similar training aid to Draw Reins is the Market Harborough which attaches via a breastplate and has 2 lines coming from the centre, passing through the bit on either side (from the outside to the inside) and attaching to specialised reins with 3 D rings on either side, spaced at regular intervals from the bit. The lines then clip to these D rings, with the rings closest to the bit being the mildest setting and the ones furthest away the strongest. Ideally the reins should be set so the head is carried slightly above the vertical so a correct head carriage encouraged. They should only come into action if the head comes above the desired position, and are good for use on strong horses as they come into action when a horse pulls or throws his head. This training aid is unsuitable for jumping in, and like Draw Reins it is advisable to use them in the presence of an instructor. The Chambon is an aid for use when lunging and has 2 reins which clip to the girth or roller between the front legs, come up and through rings on a special headpiece and then run down and clip to the bit on either side. This should be fitted loosely at first and the horse allowed to work on a large circle in a natural trot so he can get used to the poll pressure and raising of the bit when he lifts his head above a certain point. Once he has accepted and understood that the pressure is released when he relaxes down, the aid can be tightened gradually until you have the desired level of neck and head carriage. Again, this aid is unsuitable for jumping in. An advancement on the Chambon is the De Gogue which is quite a gentle training aid and can be lunged or ridden in. It consists of 2 reins which attach to a girth or roller between the horses front legs, go up to the padded headpiece and through the ring attachments, down alongside the cheek pieces, through the bit and then either attach to the end of the reins if riding or back down between the front legs if lunging. At first until you and your horse are used to this aid, it is advisable to ride with double reins, one set fixed to the bit and the other to the De Gogue rein. This rein encourages the head and neck to be down and relaxed, putting mild pressure on the poll and bit if the head is lifted above the desired position and releasing this pressure when the horse relaxes and works correctly. This is another aid that is unsuitable for jumping in and should also be used by experienced riders and in the presence of an instructor. One of the most advanced and highly recommended training aids is the Pessoa. This works on both the back and front end of the horse with a ‘pulley’ type system; a soft strap passes behind the back legs, this attaches to a rope which is fixed up to the roller, with another rope passing from the back strap through a clip attached to the bit. This then can be attached on 3 settings, either through the front legs achieving a long and low setting, suitable for use on all horses but especially those just starting out with a Pessoa. The second setting fastens to the side ring of a roller to bring the head slightly higher and encourage more back lift, and the final option attaches up to the top ring of the roller to bring the advanced and well muscled horse into more of a dressage outline. For most horses, the last setting puts too much strain on them and could end up causing muscle and skeletal injuries and stress, so it is advisable to work the horse up gently from the lowest setting to the middle setting. This aid should not be ridden or jumped in and should only be lunged in for very short periods of time, about 5 minutes on each rein as it can be very strenuous for the horse. Overall none of these aids will work properly and safely without good basic schooling being practised alongside them, and should only be used after reading their instructions. Remember, these shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix to tuck your horses head in, outlines start from the back and work their way forwards! Used correctly though, they can be a positive addition to a schooling session and help your horse understand better how to use his hind quarters to work correctly and comfortably over his back and neck. A horse in pain or discomfort won’t want to work properly, is likely to ‘giraffe’ along and is often naughty so always remember to check your horses saddle fit, teeth and back before looking to training aids for help. With the help of these and good schooling, a happy comfortable horse should quickly learn how to use himself properly and you’ll look like a dressage queen/king in no time!

Choosing a Suitable Riding Hat

Your riding hat is arguably the most important piece of equipment you'll ever buy, and to provide maximum protection it must fit correctly. It is a legal requirement that children aged 14 and under when riding on the road must wear a riding hat to at least the old standard of BS4472, but it is advised that a minimum of BS1384 is worn. What do the Safety Standards mean? BS EN 1384 is the basic standard that any riding hat should conform to, the BS prefix denotes the country testing the hat. It is worth noting that although there is in theory no difference in the standard of hats, British tests would have failed several hats that have been given this certification by other countries. PAS015 is seen as the most safe standard. It provides improved protection to the crown and intermediate areas which account for 75% of most riding impacts, hats with this level of protection tend to be slightly bulkier in design. This is the most universally accepted standard with the majority of organisations. ASTMF1163 is an American safety standard which allows for hats with larger ventilation slots. Kitemark is the registered trademark of the British Standards Institute. Hats bearing this mark are regularly tested to ensure they still meet the standards required, all testing is overseen by BSI. Some organisations stipulate rider's hats must carry the kitemark as well as any other relevant safety standard. When choosing your new hat, ask for it to be fitted by a member of staff that has attended a BETA hat fitting course. If you are intending to wear the hat at a riding school or event you should check what the particular organisation's safety requirements are so you can buy the correct hat for the discipline you choose. Your chosen hat should be a firm fit, whilst not being so tight as to cause discomfort the hat should be sufficiently secure to remain in place on the head during the motion of riding at significant pace. Never be tempted to buy a second hand riding hat as you don't know its history and it may not offer adequate protection in the event of a fall.If your hat receives a severe blow either during a riding fall or through an accident where the hat is dropped on the floor, it is wise to replace it even if there are no visible signs of damage. Always take good care of your riding hat and store it carefully, out of direct sunlight and inspect the straps and fittings regularly for signs of wear or damage.

Horse Boots for Travel and Exercise

There is a wide range of leg protection available for your horse, but it can be difficult to know which if any is best suited to your horse's needs. Although many horses do not need any extra support for the level of exercise they do, boots can offer protection from accidents that can happen to anyone. It is extremely important to ensure any boot or bandage fits correctly so it can't rub or slip on the horse's leg. Brushing boots are an excellent all round boot, they offer minimal support to the leg but are perfect for horses with a close action or times when the horse may move his legs too closely together. The striking pads offer protection to the horse's vulnerable fetlock joints, this can be especially useful for young horses who haven't perfected their balance under the saddle. Brushing boots are an excellent boot also for lunging, the constant bend that the horse is working on can mean he catches one leg with the opposite hoof. Teaching and riding lateral work is also a time when it is advisable to provide extra protection to your horse's lower legs. Confusion in aids and resistance can result in the horse striking himself as he moves, the use of brushing boots again on all four legs can protect against painful knocks and grazes. Competition boots offer support or protection and sometimes both to a horse's legs whilst jumping or competing. The most popular boots for show jumping are tendon boots, these offer protection and support to the tendons but still allow the horse to feel the pole if he knocks a fence. Eventing tends to require more protection for a greater proportion of the horse's lower leg. Sports Medicine Boots and Eventing Boots are a popular choice by many riders to support their horse's legs. Although not allowed in competition, dressage horses are usually schooled in bandages as their riders often believe these provide better support and protection than boots. Some horses have a tendency to over reach with their hind legs, meaning they can inflict injuries on themselves by striking their coronet band with their hind foot. To prevent this you can fit over reach boots to offer protection to the vulnerable area. These boots come in many styles, the cheapest being pull on rubber but these can be difficult to put on and have a tendency to invert rendering them useless. More technical styles are also available ranging from velcro fastening rubber to carbon reinforced, anatomically designed boots. Horse's legs are particularly vulnerable whilst travelling, they can easily knock themselves in the loading process or during transportation. It is essential therefore that we use some form of protection to the lower legs to guard against injury. Travel boots provide a quick and easy padded covering to the horse's legs, usually from above the horse's knee to below the coronet band. They usually have a tough outer fabric to prevent tears and a reinforced bottom section to give extra protection to the heel and coronet area. Most travel boots have wide velcro straps making them easy to put on and remove. Some people feel that travel bandages offer better protection and support to their horse's legs so use padding secured by bandages. Care must always be taken to ensure there is no uneven pressure on the legs and that they are firmly secured so the bandages can't become unravelled during travelling. Whilst providing your horse's legs with extra protection is always a good idea you must consider whether your chosen boots are appropriate to your horse's needs and most importantly that they fit correctly. No boots should be left on for a prolonged period of time and care should be taken to remove dirt and grease by regular brushing or washing. Any signs of wear or damage should be swiftly identified and repaired to prevent accidents or injury.

Protect your horse from flies

Its time to prepare for summer and the flies that come with it! We all love to tack up our horses and head out for a relaxing hack when the sun starts to shine after a long, cold winter but it seems flies and midges also love to follow us and our horses wherever we go. The flying insects at best can be a nuisance but at their worst they can result in utter misery for your horse. Don't despair though, there are lots of ways you can repel these pests and make your horse more comfortable and happy throughout the summer months. There are lots of products available on the market to help alleviate the irritation from insects and repel them from landing on your horse's skin. Fly sprays and repellent wipes are a good start to helping reduce the amount your horse suffers from flies. There are also physical barriers, in the form of rugs, masks and nets which actually stop the fly from landing on your horse's skin. A fly sheet will help to protect your horse, there is a large range of styles available and they range in price depending on coverage and the level of protection your horse needs. Basic fly rugs are often made from a nylon mesh and fit in the same way a summer sheet would, these offer general protection from flies by creating a barrier between your horse's skin and the flies. The soft mesh will allow your horse to stay cool in the summer and won't hold water if there is any rain. More specialised fly rugs are also available which often give more coverage and some even have insect repellent treatments impregnated into the material to help further repel unwanted flies. Deciding what kind of rug you buy depends on your budget and your horse's needs. Bear in mind that these types of rugs are all a mesh type fabric so they do tear more easily than a turnout rug, although the mesh material does make them easy to repair yourself. Some horses suffer more than most through the summer, sometimes developing sweet itch, which is an allergic reaction to the saliva in the bite of a species of midge called Culicoides. Horses who suffer from this condition can significantly harm themselves as they scratch to try to alleviate the irritation caused by the bite. Although there is no absolute cure to this condition, there are several treatments which can offer the horse some relief. Try to limit the horse's exposure to the midge, stabling one hour each side of sunrise and sunset, as this is the time when flies are most active. Kill the flies that are attacking the horse using insecticides that contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Prevent the horse from itching; specially designed sweet itch rugs stop the fly landing on the horse's skin. This will mean the horse won't scratch as much as the irritation will be less. Following these preventative measures should help to relieve your horse's symptoms, whether it be sweet itch or just flies in general. Some supplements, garlic, for example, are known for their fly repellent qualities but these don't always help all horses. Try to keep muck heaps to a minimum and situate well away from any areas that your horses spend much time. A clean yard and horse will always mean that there are less flies in the area so regularly bath your horse and disinfect as much of your stable as possible.

Horse Bridles

A vital piece of tack to any horse rider is their bridle, it offers you greater control either from the ground or whilst riding. Traditionally, bridles are made of quality leather but there are increasingly large numbers of synthetic nylon and leather look styles on the market which can be significantly cheaper and arguably are easier to maintain. It is always worth bearing in mind when purchasing a new bridle that synthetic tack has a much higher breaking point than leather. Once you have decided on your budget and material for your bridle it is worth considering the shape and type of head your horse has. A chunky, cob type horse tends to have a large, broad head which is best suited to a bridle with wide straps and noseband. Similarly a fine arab or show horse's head will be complimented by a more delicate bridle with thinner, more detailed leather. Most horses will need nothing more complicated than a simple snaffle bridle with a cavesson noseband. This bridle whether leather or synthetic provides control of a well schooled horse without any complicated noseband variations. Some riders feel they need a little more control and choose a flash bridle, it is worth remembering that a flash should only ever be used when it is needed to prevent a horse opening his mouth and thus evading the contact with the bit. If your horse doesn't open its mouth when riding, remove the flash strap from your bridle. You should never use a piece of tack just because it happens to be part of your bridle or because you think it makes your horse look nicer. Some riders who are at a higher level in their training or competing in showing classes will wish to ride in a weymouth or double bridle. This bridle differs from a snaffle bridle because it has an extra strap called a sliphead, this allows for two bits and reins to be attached to the bridle at the same time. This type of bridle is for experienced riders only and will require some practice in perfecting the use of two sets of reins independently. Again, you may wish to consider the type of horse you will be using the bridle on before purchasing, elegant heads will be suited to finer bridles and cob type horse will be set off by a more chunky bridle. It is possible to convert a snaffle bridle to a double by buying a converter set, consisting of a sliphead and extra set of reins, this allows you to then attach the second bit to your normal bridle. It is always essential to pay close attention to the condition of your tack as worn stitching, or rusty buckles can cause an accident if they break whilst riding. Leather tack needs to be regularly cleaned and oiled to keep it supple, synthetic nylon tack should be routinely washed to prevent deterioration of the material. There are a wide range of products available to care for your tack, from quick, convenient wipes which are great for day to day cleaning, through to saddle soaps and tack conditioners for a more thorough clean. Specialist synthetic tack cleaners are also available designed specifically for leather look tack.

Horse Conformation

A horse with good conformation should be the aim of every person who intends to breed a foal. Breeding from a stallion or mare with anything more than minor faults in their conformation should be avoided. Correct conformation enables the horse to carry out the work required by humans with the least amount of stress on their bodies and joints. They will be less prone to lameness and give a more comfortable ride. Assessing whether a horse has perfect conformation can be a difficult task, but it is in every horse lovers interest to be able to ascertain an overall impression of good conformation in a horse used for general riding activites. Initially look at the horse as a 'whole', does he look like he has been built in proportion? There should be no one part of the horse's body which looks too be greatly over or under sized in relation to any other. The horse should have an alert expression with bright, wide set eyes, the neck should be proportional to the body and a convex arch between the withers and poll. Look for a good, sloping shoulder as this will give the horse a longer, flowing stride, the horse should also have well defined shoulders which form a widening V down into the shoulder. The chest area should be MEDIUM WIDTH allowing plenty of heart room and allowing the fore legs to be far enough apart to prevent brushing.The fore legs should run in a vertical, straight line from the top of the leg down to the foot, whether looked at from the front or the side. The horse should have a deep body, allowing plenty of room for the heart and lungs, the back should be of medium length to carry the rider's weight comfortably and without strain. Well rounded quarters and broad hips provide power and allow the horse to move forward with good impulsion. The horse's hind legs should be formed so it is possible to visualise a straight line running from the point of buttock, through the point of hock, down to the fetlock and the ground. The forelegs should be straight from the top of the leg to the foot when looked at from the front, and also from the top of the leg to the fetlock when viewed from the side. The forearm should have well developed muscles, and be longer than the leg below the knee. The leg below the knee is preferably fairly short as this minimises the strain on the ligaments and tendons. The knees should be in proportion with the rest of the leg, they should be broad, flat and deep as this then gives enough room for the attachment of tendons and ligaments. Cannon bones should be short and straight, this again allows room for tendons and ligaments meaning they are less liekly to become strained. The fetlock should appear flat rather than round, any lumps are usually a sign of work, age or brushing. Pasterns should be neither too long or too short; long, sloping pasterns give a springy ride but can be liable to strains. Short, upright pasterns tend to be strong but give a bumpy ride, this extra concussion can cause lameness. With the horse's hind legs it should be possible to draw an imaginary straight line from the point of buttock, through the point of hock down to the fetlock joint. The hocks should be fairly large in size, with a flat, clean point at the back of the joint. Any lumps or swellings are a sign of injury. Sickle shaped hocks have a more acute angle to the hocks. Hocks out behind can indicate that the horse is a good jumper but they will struggle to gallop or perform dressage well. Straight hocks will often give a horse the ability to perform dressage well but there is less leverage for jumping. Some horses with straight hocks can suffer from a slipped stifle especially at a young age. The hind quarters when viewed from behind should give the appearance of being rounded with plenty of mucle providing power. If the hind legs are placed too far apart the horse may be limited in its length of stride, in rare cases this can lead to increased concussion and ringbone. Hind limbs that are close together can be underdeveloped, making them weak and prone to strains, the closeness can also cause brushing injuries. Bowed hocks have the points of hock wide apart, the toes are turned out and the foot is likely to screw as it comes into contact with the ground. This conformation can lead to bone spavins, bog spavins ot thoroughpin. A horse with cow hocks is often a good jumper but is liable to brush, the points of hock come close together, and the toes are turned out. When assessing conformation it is essential to judge the horse as a whole and develop an 'eye for a horse'. Try to look at many different types and breeds of horse to compare the variations. Remember there is no such thing as perfect conformation, but you should avoid any serious deviations from the 'norm' as they can lead to excess strain and injury. For more information about the finer points of equine conformation, we recommend the Threshold Picture Guide #19: 'Conformation'.

Winter Horse Management

Winter is well and truly here and you may be feeling that your visits to the stables are pure hard work and toil. Stable yards tend to be in quite exposed areas and so can be subject to severe weather, it is therefore wise to take as many preventative measures as possible to protect yourself, your horse and your stables from the effects of the wind, rain and cold. This time of year is always the most difficult, with wet, windy or cold conditions to contend with, and sometimes all three! We've come up with some handy hints and tips to help make your Winter easier and more comfortable for you and your horse. Filling haynets and preparing feeds is a time consuming chore, why not buy some extra nets and feed buckets then, when you have extra time, you can bulk prepare hay and dry feeds to save time after work/school. Don’t add any water/sugar beet or other wet feed components though. Keep feeds covered and remember to store them somewhere that isn't damp and where rodents can't get to them. If you need to soak the hay you are feeding try to arrange for a water container to be left in a barn or feed room where it is slightly warmer than outside, this will help to prevent the water from freezing. Keeping your tack room and feed room tidy and organised will help you to find what you need quickly and easily. It will also mean dirt and mud from the floor doesn't end up in your grooming kit and on all your other equipment.   Using an exercise rug will mean your horse stays warm when out on slower hacks, waterproof sheets are perfect to keep your horse dry if you get caught in a sudden wet weather, and will prevent you having to wait for him to dry off before you can put his stable or turnout rug on. Cut down on the washing of bulky rugs by putting a summer sheet under your stable rug, this will collect all the dirt and grime from your horse's coat, then you can quickly and easily wash this thin rug whilst your stable rug lining stays clean. Riding out in winter often involves a lot of roadwork, if you find your horse slips on the tarmac it may be worth asking your farrier about fitting stud holes to your horse's shoes. You can then fit small road studs when you want to hack out, these will provide your horse with extra grip. You will have to take care to keep the stud holes clean and free of debris when studs aren't fitted. Brushing boots and knee boots also provide protection to your horse's legs in the case of an accident. Always try to avoid riding out if there is any frost or ice though, to limit the risk of injury to you or your horse. When you are short of time, try putting lightweight, waterproof layers over your normal clothes. You’ll stay clean and dry but still be able to do all your horsey jobs with ease. Wearing the right clothes for the weather makes a huge difference to how warm and comfortable you are. In cold weather put a thermal layer under your usual stable or riding clothes, this will help to keep you snug no matter how cold it gets. Keep several pairs of spare gloves handy so you can swap if your hands get wet whilst doing your chores in the rain. Similarly you may find that wearing a pair of wellies or muckers will help to keep your feet dry on the yard, and then change to your usual boots for riding. Keeping some hand cream at the stables will mean you can replace the moisture lost in cold, windy weather.   Hot water is vital in winter time to help defrost taps and water buckets. Having a kettle on hand also means you can have a nice warm drink on cold days too! Prevent pipes being exposed to the cold weather as much as possible by wrapping all visible pipes with lagging (available from most DIY stores). If you find that the water in your field troughs keeps freezing, try leaving a football in the water, this causes constant gentle movement of the water and helps to prevent it from freezing. Smooth concrete yards and paths can become very slippery in cold weather making it dangerous for you and your horse when you try to walk over it. Try not sweeping the straw and debris up, this will then freeze to the surface creating a more textured surface. Heavy rain over prolonged periods of time can penetrate even the most waterproof of rugs, try to keep at least one spare turnout rug to use whilst your other dries out. Hanging your wet rugs somewhere they can be spread out as much as possible will help speed the drying time. When turning your horse out in snow, try greasing the inside of the hoof with Vaseline, this will help to prevent the snow balling up inside the hoof which can be painful for the horse and make it difficult for him to walk. Take care when the weather does warm up as this can produce a flush of fresh grass which could trigger laminitis and colic. Wet weather can mean fields become waterlogged and unsuitable for turnout, this often results in horses remaining in their stables for prolonged periods of time. Stable toys can help to relieve the boredom this creates, various designs are available. Some toys are designed for your horse to pick up and play with, others can be filled with treats or pony nuts which are slowly released as it is pushed around the stable. Various holders are also available which can have stable licks placed in them.  A stabled horse provides a lot of extra work for you, regular skipping out of the stable can greatly reduce waste bedding, ask friends at the stables to skip your horse out if you're not there and do the same for them. This prevents droppings being trampled in to clean bedding, you may also find that with frequent skipping out throughout the day you can then just do a full muck out at weekends or when you have time. In very cold weather it is possible that the water in your horse's stable can freeze up, try carefully packing some extra bedding all the way round each bucket, this will help to insulate it and keep the water above freezing point.  With some careful planning and a little help from your stable friends, wintertime doesn't need to be all hard work, try to be as organised as possible to save your time and energy. I always try to make sure I don't walk along the stable yard empty handed, this means I make the most of every second I'm there and get time consuming jobs done more quickly. I then have more time to do the fun things with my horse that so often get missed in winter. If you can make sure you and your horse are warm, dry and comfortable you are sure to enjoy your time at the stables more and the chores will seem less hard work.

Cavesson, Flash, Drop, Grakle and Kineton Nosebands

  There are various types of nosebands, all of which have a different purpose. It is important to choose the most suitable for your horse and not simply put the noseband on because it happens to be part of your bridle. Always ensure that any noseband fits correctly and doesn't rub any part of your horse's face or jaw. A cavesson noseband is purely a cosmetic piece of tack which breaks up the horse's face making it look shorter and more aesthetically pleasing. The width of the leather on a horse's noseband can have a dramatic effect on the apperance of the horse's face. A wide noseband will enhance a chunky cob or more heavyweight horse while a thin, lightweight leather will be more suitable to a finer horse or one of an Arab type. The height of the hoseband should fitted two fingers breadths below the horse's protruding cheekbone and care should be taken to ensure it is fastened no tigher than two fingers widths between the jaw and the leather. A cavesson which is fitted too tightly can rub the horse resulting in painful sores under the horse's jaw. Flash nosebands are a combination of the cavesson and drop noseband, they allow flexibility in the way the noseband is worn. The separate flash strap can be removed for less demanding work allowing the horse a little more freedom. The cavesson part of the noseband fits as described above, the flash strap fastens below the bit and needs to be fitted tightly enough to prevent the horse opening his mouth, but ensure you can fit one finger between the strap and the horse's nose. When fastened the buckle should not be near the horse's lips or nostrils, and any excess strap should be secured in a keeper. Note that it is wise to always fasten the flash strap when the bridle is not in use as this or the keeper can easily be lost. The Drop noseband although not now widely used, is effective in preventing the horse opening his mouth wide enough to be able to evade the bit. Extreme care must be taken to ensure correct fitting as it can restrict a horse's breathing if it is too low. The top strap must lie on the bony part of the nose, not the fleshy part of the horse's muzzle. The drop noseband fastens below the bit and behind the jaw. The noseband should be fastened tightly enough to prevent the horse from opening its mouth but not so tightly that it is uncomfortable or painful. Care should be taken when fitting to ensure all buckles are positioned towards the middle of the horse's jaw thus reducing the risk of rubbing. The Grackle, sometimes known as Figure of Eight or Cross Over nosebands have a similar action to a drop or flash noseband but act over a wider area of the face. As well as stopping the horse opening his mouth, this type of noseband is also effective at preventing him from crossing his jaw which can make control very difficult. The grakle fastens higher on the head than a drop or flash noseband so is less likely to affect the horse's breathing. The headpiece should be adjusted to end on or just below the horse's cheek bone, the two straps of the noseband fasten immediately below the cheeks, then cross over the horse's nose through a padded keeper and fasten below the bit. The straps should be tight enough to allow just one finger between the strap and horse's face. Kineton nosebands are not widely used and are suitable only for strong horses, ridden by experienced riders who need extra control. The noseband transfers some of the pressure exerted on the bit to the bridge of the horse's nose. It is similar in appearance to a drop noseband but it features two metal loops in place of the strap that fastens under the chin on a drop noseband. The metal loops fit round the mouthpiece of a snaffle bit between the bit rings and the horse's mouth. The centre strap of the noseband is adjusted to sit on the bony part of the horse's face. This noseband can be extremely strong especially if used incorrectly or by an inexperienced rider, it should always be used with a snaffle bit.   All of these nosebands and indeed any tack must be fitted correctly, and kept clean and well oiled to ensure comfort for your horse. Badly cared for tack not only looks unsightly but will quicky become cracked and weak making it more likely to break. The condition of your tack is your responsibility and it is yourself and your horse that risk serious injury if it snaps whilst riding. Check the condition of all tack and stitching regularly and repair or replace any worn tack immediately. It is good practice to get into the routine of cleaning your tack every time you ride, a quick wipe over of all the leather with tack cleaning wipes is sufficient to keep the worst grime at bay. A thorough clean and oil of tack each month would then keep the leather in tip top condition. It is important to clean the bit after every use, if you rinse it under a tap straight after riding, any saliva or food left on the bit is still soft and easily removed.