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 ...

Winter Coats and Riding Jackets

Winter is definitely here and we are all reaching for our warmest winter coats. Equestrian activities place some specific demands on the outer wear you choose. There are a variety of quilted or waterproof coats designed for the equestrian market, and all of them will help to keep you warm and comfortable whilst riding and doing your stable work. Riding coats may look very similar to any other outdoor jacket but they do have some additional features which are designed to make you more comfortable in the saddle. Hip length jackets always offer more protection against the elements but that extra bulk can create problems when in the saddle. The vents at the back or side of a riding jacket open up to leave a split in the jacket, thus allowing the jacket to flare out over the saddle. Adjustable or elasticated cuffs on the sleeves of riding coats keep the riders hands uncovered allowing unhindered contact with the reins. Hoods are excellent for keeping you dry on the yard, but they can become a problem when out riding, with the potential flapping causing a horse to panic and become difficult to control. Because of this, many riding coats feature hoods which are detachable or fold away. Bulky overly padded coats although extremely warm are not practical in the equestrian world as they restrict movement. Advanced high tech materials are often used instead as they provide warmth without excessive bulk. WPS is an innovative system used by leading equestrian clothing manufacturer Mountain Horse. It combines waterproofing and breathability to provide a varying degree of protection from the weather. WPS Advanced offers the most advanced level of wind and waterproof protection. WPS All Purpose protects against the wind and heavy rain whilst still being breathable. WPS Comfort give good windproof and water repellent protection in moderate weather. Some jackets are designed to be adaptable to the varying seasons, they can offer up to 3 jackets in 1. A removable inner fleece or gilet allows you various options within one coat. Riding coats and jackets need to be practical and tough so bear this in mind when purchasing your winter coat. Check for any specific features you need from the jacket and remember to leave plenty of room for the extra layers you wear in cold weather. Try to look after your riding coat as much as possible by regularly washing and using a specialist waterproofing treatment periodically. Remember to check out our extensive range of equestrian clothing to find a variety of winter wear.

Horse Turnouts and Stable Rugs

Many horse owners will want to put a rug on their horse at some point over winter. The type of horse rug chosen depends on many factors ranging from the temperature and weather conditions, a horse's lifestyle, his age and what breeding he is. When shopping for a rug you may be surprised by the vast choice there now is on the market, but basically there are two main types; Stable Rugs and Turnout Rugs. Stable Rugs These are typically quilted rugs designed to be worn in the stable only, they have a varying amount of polyfill which will alter how warm the rug is. Lightweight stable rugs tend to have 150g or less of polyfill, these are great for chilly Spring or Autumn nights. A mediumweight stable rug tends to have slightly more padding and is suitable for most unclipped horses in Wintertime. Horse who have been clipped or who have a naturally thinner Winter coat may need a little more warmth from their rug, as may the more elderly horse. Heavyweight rugs have between 350g and 450g of polyfill and will keep your horse snug and warm in the coldest weather. If you need to provide your horse with extra warmth in his stable, rugs are available in full neck styles, these give your horse maximum coverage from ears to tail. Turnout Rugs Although a quilted rug will keep your horse warm and comfortable in the stable, it can't offer protection against the wet weather your horse encounters in the field. For this you will need a turnout rug, these come in different weights like a stable rug but have the added benefit of a waterproof layer to keep your horse dry. The outer material also tends to be made from a tougher fabric than a stable rug to help prevent tears and rips that can be caused by horses rubbing on trees and fences or whilst playing with other equines in the field. Lightweight turnouts are great for use in summertime when you want to ensure your horse stays dry but you don't need to provide any extra warmth, typically they are made with a soft lining, no filling and a waterproof outer fabric. Heavier turnouts are more suitable for winter weather and are available like stable rugs with a varying degree of filling to enable you to choose a rug suitable to your horse's needs. Again full neck turnout rugs can be purchased to keep as much of your horse warm and dry as possible. Alternatively you could buy a standard turnout rug along with a separate neck cover, this enables you to choose whether to add the extra coverage or not depending on weather conditions. It is worth remembering that a degree of common sense has to be applied to the performance expectations of your horse's rug. No rug (or human coat) can be absolutely waterproof when subjected to hours of torrential rain, today's high tech materials will withstand and repel a high level of rain and weather but will eventually begin to allow some water through. With this in mind it is highly advisable to have at least one spare turnout rug to use on your horse whilst the other is drying in a barn or tack room. Similarly although many rugs have tough, 'ripstop' outers this does not mean that the material will never rip. Horses are large, powerful animals and their scratching or rubbing on branches or fences in a field can result in rugs being damaged. It is also worth rememebering that you are putting a foreign object on your horse and then leaving him unattended whilst wearing it. As such he may attempt to remove the rug if he becomes too hot or uncomfortable, this can involve intense rubbing which in turn can mean the rug becomes entangled on an object in the field. The horse will always attempt to free himself if restrained, rugs therefore have to be designed to rip or give way when put under a large amount of pressure. If you had a choice between an undamaged rug or an undamaged horse, which would you choose? When asked this question, you realise that a ripped rug is a very small price to pay after your horse's exploits in the field! A good quality horse rug should last for many years, accidents permitting, but in order for them to last they do need to be cleaned and turnout rugs reproofed, preferably at least once a year. Regularly check for wear on buckles and fastenings and repair any small holes promptly before they become large tears. Remember to store your winter rugs securely when not in use so they don't become affected by damp or suffer damage from mice.

Equestrian Clothing - Riding Boots, Jodhpur Boots and Half Chaps

When you first start out in riding everyone is told to wear boots with a small heel. Many riding schools have riding boots that you can borrow for your first few lessons. Your safety is absolutely paramount so investing in boots designed specifically for riding should be something you do as early as possible. Although wellies and walking boots may look like they are suitable for riding they are most definitely not. Both have very thick treads which can easily trap in the stirrup and in the event of a fall this can result in serious injury. There are many types of riding boot on the market so you can be sure to find a pair to suit your pocket and help make your riding as comfortable as possible. Years ago the only riding boots available in a suitable price range for a young novice rider were long rubber riding boots. Although these are still popular with many riders they can be hot in summer, sometimes too long in the leg for smaller jockeys and can make keeping your heels in the correct position difficult. The advantages of these though are they are inexpensive, tough and waterproof so keep your feet dry in wet weather. This makes them a good all round boot for yard and riding wear. The more modern alternative are short leather jodhpur boots teamed with half chaps or gaiters. These short jodhpur boots allow more flexion of the ankle but the chaps still support the lower leg and give protection from stirrup leathers. Although initial outlay for the two items may be slightly higher than a rubber riding boot, chaps can often be kept for several years as a young rider's calf size will not increase as quickly as their foot. The most expensive and in my opinion, best form of footwear for riding are long leather riding boots. These allow flexion of the ankle whilst still providing support to the whole foot and lower leg. They can last a lifetime if cared for correctly and are suitable for every riding activity you may wish to partake in. Although some leather boots are expensive there are many cheaper versions available which may fit a more modest budget, they are undoubtedly worth the money and can drastically improve your riding. This may sound impossible but wearing boots that actually allow your ankle to move freely will mean you can keep your heel down, which in turn keeps your lower leg more still. This will help to establish the rider in a more correct, thus secure position. Once a rider's position is secure, control of the horse is much easier resulting in a more positive outcome for horse and rider. Specially designed equestrian clothing will make your riding as safe and comfortable as possible. Take your safety seriously as accidents can and do happen, horse riding is a high risk sport. Limit your chances of injury by always wearing correctly fitted safety clothing and buy the best equipment you can afford. It can quite literally save your life.

Horse Colic

My previous blog regarding Laminitis proved popular with many readers. Having experienced laminitis first hand, some felt compelled to respond to the blog, and their stories and advice were both appreciated and helpful. These replies have led me to write again about an illness which I'm sure even more of us have dealt with at some time; Colic.  This illness can vary vastly in its severity but is always a cause for great concern to the horse owner. In its most basic form colic is the veterinary term for the symptoms of abdominal pain in horses, this is most often caused by distention of the intestine. The horse's digestive system is very complex, it is designed to process small amounts of food frequently, when living in the wild this creates few digestive problems. The way we require our domesticated horses to live and work means they often need more than just grass to meet their dietary needs. Our busy schedules can also make it difficult to allow horses access to small amounts of food repeatedly, instead he is often fed a large amount of hay, often only once or twice a day. Colic is a descriptive term for the symptoms a horse suffers when in pain from his abdominal tract. Depending on the severity of the colic, behaviour can vary greatly. Any colic though should always be treated as an emergency and veterinary advice should be sought immediately. Common symptoms include Loss of appetite Limited or no droppings being passed Turning to look at belly area Persistant rolling Constantly lying down and getting back to their feet again Kicking at stomach Shivering Sweating Abnormal temperature, fast breathing and heart rate Excessive urination  If you suspect your horse has colic, try to make him as comfortable as possible whilst waiting for the vet to arrive, remove all food and try to put him somewhere that is safe if he decides to roll, so he won't cause further injury to himself or you. Be careful to keep yourself safe as a horse in pain can become unpredictable. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is certainly true of colic. Here are some tips for helping to prevent colic from occuring Feed a well balanced diet containing plenty of fibre to promote good gut mobility. Ensure any changes in diet are made gradually; enabling the horse's gut to become accustomed to the new feed slowly. Use only good quality feed which has been stored in a vermin proof container. Ensure all feed is locked away to prevent horses gorging if they escape from their field or stable. Adhere to an effective worming programme, this will reduce the risk of damage to the digestive system which would make a horse more susceptible to colic. Introduce any changes in your horse's workload gradually and ensure you thoroughly warm up and cool down your horse. Regularly have your horse's teeth checked by a qualified technician to ensure he can chew food effectively. Maintain a routine to your horse's lifestyle, keep his diet, exercise and turnout as regular as possible. Keep all buckets, feed containers and your horse's stable clean. Colic can be a fatal condition so always consult your vet, giving as much detail as possible. They will then be able to determine whether the case is serious enough to need a visit. If you are at all worried though that it is not just a mild colic, request they come out anyway. The call out fee will be well worth it to put your mind at ease. It is also advisable to check the small print on your horse's insurance policy to ensure colic surgery is covered, as this can be a very complicated, expensive procedure. With good equine management, colic is unllikely to occur but always seek veterinary assistance at the earliet signs to ensure your horse's best recovery.

How to... Buy a Horse or Pony

There are very few riders who do not yearn to have a horse of their own. It isn't as simple as going out and handing over your hard earned money though. You need to consider whether you have the time, money and expertise to take on this huge commitment. Do you have the time? A horse needs to be checked at least twice a day and this will usually involve a car journey to the stables and back, so you will have to find time before and after school or work to fit this into your daily routine. You will also have to allow time for unexpected delays as horses have a knack of causing you extra work by knocking over water buckets or damaging rugs, fences or even themselves! Horses are creatures of habit and like a set routine, changes to this can cause some horses great distress and anxiety. Your weekday lifestyle is likely to dictate the routine you set for your horse, so you will have to be prepared to stick to this on your days off too, even if that means you lose your weekend lie ins. It is worth remembering too, that any holidays you plan to take will also involve finding a capable and knowledgeable person to care for your horse whilst you are away. Can you afford the expense? When deciding what your budget will be to buy your horse, remember to take into account all the extra costs that are involved with buying your first horse. Although you will hopefully have the correct riding kit, you are unlikely to have everything you need to be a responsible horse owner. The most basic equipment you'd need to be able to care for your horse is as follows Headcollar and Leadrope First Aid Kit Grooming Kit Bridle and bit Saddle, including girth, leathers and irons Feed bucket Water bucket Haynet Total cost £209.95 Bear in mind, this is the very minimum cost for basic equipment and you are highly likely to need more kit than is listed here. Most horse owners want to rug their horse up when the weather turns wet and cold. Its advisable to have at least two turnouts so you always have a dry rug to put on your horse, and at least one quilted rug for when your horse is stabled. Owning a horse involves a huge financial commitment every month, in the Northwest of England you're likely to pay the following: DIY livery charges £25 per week Worming £12 every 6-8 weeks Shoes £50 per set of 4 Dentist £30 Booster Vaccinations £30 Feed £7 per bag Bedding £6 per bale of shavings and vet's fees... unlimited costs Do you know your limits and aspirations? Finding the perfect horse is impossible, they just do not exist, finding the perfect horse for you is achievable but you must be realistic in your expectations and requirements. Its always advisable especially when buying your first horse to seek the advice and guidance of an experienced person. You must be sure of your riding ability and your competence in handling a horse from the ground (this is something first time horse owners often have very little experience of). Its likely that you will also need to broaden your knowledge of horse care and stable management. There are courses designed especially for horse owners, these will provide potential owners with the basic knowledge needed. It may help if you write a list of all the qualities you would like in your horse, working from the most important at the top of your list, down to less important but desirable characteristics near the bottom. Be careful not to be too ambitious, thinking you can learn to ride a more advanced horse, this will undoubtedly result in an accident and possibly injury to yourself, your horse or both. Finding the right horse for you can be a long process, don't be tempted to rush into buying the first horse you see. It is likely that you will have to view several horses before you find your ideal equine partner. Can I buy a horse at my local tack shop? This may sound like a silly question but the answer could be 'Yes''. Although Robinsons don't actually sell horses themselves, they do have a notice board which advertises horses and equestrian related services so this may be a good place to start your search. Also try checking the facebook group, Robinsons Online Riding Club, as members can also advertise their horse for sale there. There are many magazines and newspapers too which feature equestrian adverts. Also try asking any horsey friends you may have, as they may know someone who is selling a horse that is suitable for you. Avoid sales and markets, as you have no idea of the horse's history and even the most experienced horseperson can be caught out. Horse dealers and traders can offer trial facilities, but beware, as not all are reputable. Although they may offer to exchange an unsuitable horse, they will rarely refund you. Try to get several recommendations from satisfied customers before you visit any dealer. Ask lots of questions Once you have identified some horses that sound right for you, ring the seller for more details. Compile a list of questions to ask on the phone so you can determine some more details and be more confident that you aren't going to have a wasted journey. Here are some basic questions but many more can be added depending on your specific requirements. Ask why the horse is for sale - but beware that you may not always get a truthful answer. Confirm the horse's age, sex, height and cost - a mistake in the advert could make the horse unsuitable for you. Has the horse had any serious or ongoing illnesses or injuries? Does the owner have a passport and are all vaccinations recorded on it and up to date? Does the horse have any vices, whilst stabled or ridden? Are tack and rugs included in the price? Will the horse hack out alone and in traffic? What is the horse like to catch, load and clip? Confirm that someone else is prepared to ride the horse before you. Although you may feel like you are bombarding the seller with questions, the answers could help to prevent wasting your time and theirs with a visit to a horse that is unsuitable for your needs. If you still think the horse sounds right for you after you've asked all your questions, arrange a viewing and make sure your advisor is able to go along with you. Ask for detailed directions as stables are rarely on a map or easily located street. Viewing a horse When you arrive to see the horse, ask to see it being led in hand at walk and trot, observe whether the horse remains calm when asked to trot. Run your hands over its body, starting with the neck and going down each leg in turn. Observe how the horse reacts to your touch and whether he objects to having his feet picked up, enquire how any lumps or scars have occured. If you are happy with what you have seen so far, ask to see the horse tacked up and ridden. It is perfectly acceptable to ask to see the horse ridden in walk, trot and canter on both reins, jump a small fence and be ridden on a public road. If the seller is not willing to do this, ask why as these are all things you will want to do if you purchase the horse. Once you are happy that the horse is safe and is of the right standard for your riding, ask to ride the horse yourself. Again you should ride the horse in walk, trot and canter on both reins and try a small jump. Your first horse should be well schooled with good manners so check this for yourself by riding several circles and transitions. Once you feel satisfied you've asked all the necessary questions, thank the owner for their time. If you feel that the horse is not right for you, tell them politely as they will appreciate your honesty. If you think the horse is suitable, don't make a rush decision. Instead, tell the owner you will be in touch and discuss your feelings with your advisor. Buying 'THE ONE' When you are happy that you have found the right horse for you, it is strongly recommended that you ask a vet to carry out a pre-purchase examination. This will check that your potential new horse has no ailments or health concerns. Be sure to tell the vet exactly what you will want to do with your horse, and enquire exactly what the vet does and does not check for so you are confident that the horse chosen will be fit for your chosen discipline. Providing you are happy with the vet's findings, you can now complete the purchase of your first horse. It's advisable to request a receipt from the owner and possibly a contract of sale which includes The sale date and price paid Signature and name of the owner and yourself A brief description of the horse bought along with any Freezemark or Microchip number the horse may have Make sure that you receive the horse's passport at the time of the sale and that you send it off straight away to amend the ownership details. Allow yourselves time to adjust Try to arrange for your horse to arrive at his new yard during a quiet period of the day, and allow him to get accustomed to his new stable without an audience of admirers looking over his door. Remember that it may take at least a few weeks for him to feel completely settled in his new surroundings, so spend the time getting to know his character and let him get to know you. Once you have both built up a relationship you can enjoy fun rides together, and maybe join a local riding club. Always try to keep up regular lessons with a qualified Instructor so you can improve your experience and neither you nor your horse develop bad habits. Enjoy your new horse and the adventures that come with it.

When it all goes wrong...

We all love riding and caring for our horses and thankfully mishaps are few and far between, but riding and being involved with horses, is a risk sport and accidents can and do happen. Its easy to be complacent, and think that a serious accident will never happen to you or your horse but what if it does? Are you prepared? Do you know how to treat a cut on your horse? Do you know what to do if someone falls off whilst on a hack? PLAN! Knowing what to do in an emergency and having a plan of action already set up can mean you are less likely to panic. There are many organisations around that run First Aid courses, and attending one of these will give you all the knowledge you need to cope in any emergency situation. The BHS run Equine Specific First Aid courses, which are designed to deal specifically with the sort of injuries you are likely to encounter when dealing with horses and riders. Any first aid course you attend will always tell you the first priority is to assess and minimise any risks. When an accident involves horses you always need to be sure that more complications aren't going to arise from a loose horse, so ensure that someone immediately gains control of it to prevent further accident or injury. PREPARE! A human first aid kit's contents depend on how many people you need to cater for and where you are keeping it, but always make sure you keep supplies regularly checked and topped up. If you know where your first aid kit is, and how to contact the required emergency services you are far more likely to be of valuable assistance to those in need. Having a first aid kit will mean you know where all your medical equipment is and you won't have to run round looking for things in the event of an accident. You may decide to have separate kits for horses and humans or just one kit that has supplies for both (first aid equipment does tend to lend itself to man or beast!) A basic equine first aid kit should include the following Vet's telephone number Cotton wool Antiseptic solution eg Hibiscrub Sterile non adherent dressings Bandages Scissors It is advisable to also keep a clean bucket that is only used for cleaning wounds so you can avoid the risk of infection and contamination. SEEK MEDICAL ASSISTANCE Whilst most falls and accidents around horses incur only minor injuries, it is important to remember that a horse is a very large, powerful animal and any kick or fall can be serious. If you feel at all unwell after an accident it is always advisable to gain professional, medical advice. If a horse is injured, it is important that you know how to treat the injury.  Try to gain assistance so you have someone to hold the horse whilst you assess and treat the injury. Even the most placid horse can react violently when in pain which could result in injury to those around. Initially assess the wound and contact your vet for advice if you are at all unsure. Advice can often be given by them over the phone once initial information has been provided. Veterinary assistance is essential if: there is no one on scene with sufficient knowledge to assess the wound or injury there is excessive bleeding the wound is more than skin deep or more than a few cms long the injury is close to joints the wound is very dirty the horse is not vaccinated against tetanus  If you do not feel that veterinary attention is required, or whilst you are waiting for him to arrive you can clean the wound using clean water or a very dilute solution of Hibiscrub (approx 1:20), cover the wound with a clean non absorbent dressing, cover the wound with a firm bandage which isn't so tight as to restrict circulation. When applying bandages ensure that this is done over padding and the pressure is even throughout, there must be no wrinkles in the bandage and all fastenings should be at the same tension as the bandage itself. Take care not to position the fastening over the injury itself. AND LAST BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST! There are many ways to limit the risk to you and those around you whilst dealing with horses. Always stay responsive to potential dangers, don't leave a horse unattended on the yard even when tied up, accidents happen in an instant.  Don't leave any avoidable hazards on the yard, ie pichforks, wheelbarrows, empty bags. Remember to always wear a current standard hat whilst riding or handling horses and a body protector, if appropriate, as these can help reduce injury in the event of an accident. Most importantly, treat all horses, no matter how quiet or how well you know them, with respect, as they can ALWAYS take you by surprise. Even the smallest shetland pony is stronger than any man.

Happy Hacking

Now summer is approaching we start to think about hacking out for longer and further, even visiting places further afield for a change of scene. There's nothing better than tacking up your horse and going for a relaxing hack with friends, or even just out on your own. The happy chat on horseback, or exhilarating gallop makes you fall in love with riding and horses again, and forget all about the chores waiting for you back at the stables. Load your horse up and go for a day out with friends somewhere further afield when you have the time. Living in the Northwest means I have loads of places to choose from, the Lake District has some fantastic places to hack whether you have your own horse or want to visit a trekking centre.  There's also the Yorkshires Dales and plenty of beaches to choose from. Wherever you live there's sure to be somewhere that you can visit that has great off road riding. You can still have fun hacking in your local area, bridleways are a great place to ride but are often not maintained as well as they should be and aren't well documented. Many ancient bridleways are becoming lost, riders everywhere can help to keep these rights of way, contact your local Bridleways Agency to find out how. Remember that bridleways often cross private land so be responsible when using them by ensuring gates are securely closed again if you've had to open them to ride through. Keep to the bridleway and avoid soft land so your horses hooves don't cut the surface up. Always make sure you ride slowly through land that has livestock in and stop if they appear disturbed and start to run. If you are keen to ride out but don't have anyone to accompany you why not try asking for a riding buddy on horse forums, there may well be other riders locally who have the same problem. Its always more fun and safer to ride with someone else.   Wherever you are riding it is highly likely that you will have to encounter a certain amount of road work at some point. Always make sure that you and your horse wear reflective high visibility clothing so you are easily seen by other road users. Take a look at this photo taken in daylight when you'd normally think there's no need for reflective gear. How long does it take you to see the second horse and rider?Finally, refresh your knowledge of the highway code, paying particular attention to any parts relating to horses. Riding two abreast is fine but you should only do so when the road conditions make it safe. Ensure you know all hand signals and use them appropriately, if you can't take a hand off the rein to thank drivers, try to at least smile in acknowledgement. Happy hacking always comes as a result of riding responsibly and making sure you stay safe in the saddle! �