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.

Horse Clips, Clippers and Clipping

As winter is fast approaching, you may well be thinking whether or not to clip your horse. There are pros and cons to whichever decision you make, and only you will know whether your horse will benefit from clipping or not. Remember that clipping should never be done just to make your horse look prettier, it should only be done to improve your horse's comfort and welfare through the cold, wet weather. A horse living in the wild will grow a thick winter coat to provide himself with the protection he needs from all the cold and wet weather he is likely to encounter. The grease and mud that builds up in the long hair will create a natural barrier helping to keep his skin dry and keep heat in. Domestic horses tend to lead a more sheltered life with warm rugs and snug stables to protect them from the elements. Therefore they tend to grow a less thick coat than their wild cousins but even this amount of hair can cause a problem for the horse owner. Most privately owned horses are used for some form of riding or exercise. This warms the horse more than is normal for him, and the thick coat means he's more likely to sweat. Although this in itself isn't a problem; it is the horse's natural way of cooling itself down, the sweat can cause the horse to become chilled as he cools down in the cold weather. Therefore many owners choose to clip some or all of their horse's coat to prevent them getting too hot during exercise. This does create a problem for the horse though as he now has no natural protection from the colder weather. Artificial coats or rugs are then needed to keep them warm when not exercising. Other benefits from clipping your horse include it being easier to keep your horse clean; meaning you can prevent skin conditions like mud fever as you can keep the skin and hair clean, dry and mud free. The extent to which you decide to clip depends on the amount of exercise the horse does, one that goes for leisurely hacks will often need a small bib or trace clip. Whereas a horse that hunts or is in hard work will be more likely to benefit from a full or hunter clip. Types of Clip A Bib Clip is suitable for horses used for occasional hacks or in light work. This removes the coat from the underside of the horse's neck and the front of the chest. The clip can be extended to include some or all of the underbelly area. This can be especially useful in muddy conditions as removal of the mud is easier from the shorter coat. As this clip only removes a small amount of the horse's coat, from an area that isn't overly exposed to the weather it can be possible to leave the horse without a rug. A Trace Clip is a popular clip for horses in light to medium work, who also live out for much of the winter. this clip was originally used for harness horses and followed the lines of the traces of the harness. The clip removes the coat from the underside of the neck and belly, and the upper part of the hind legs. A trace clip can be made higher or lower by adjusting the level to which you clip up to on the horse's side. You must always rug up a horse with this clip as a considerable amount of coat has been removed. A Blanket Clip is suitable for stabled horses in medium to hard work, most of the coat is removed apart from a small 'blanket' shaped area over the horse's back and flanks. It is usual to keep the clip line level with the bottom of the horse's saddle flaps. Some of the hair from the horse's head can be removed, its usually best to remove up to the level of the cheek pieces of the bridle, alternatively the whole head can be clipped. It is advisable to include a neck cover or hood when rugging up a horse with a blanket clip. A Hunter Clip is only suitable for horses in hard work, maybe competing or hunting regularly. The whole coat is removed apart from the saddle area and the legs. A horse with this level of clip will need several warm rugs and plenty of feed to help keep him warm in the winter months. Although he is still able to be turned out, it should only be for a few hours each day and with a warm outdoor rug including a hood or neck cover. When exercising, especially on slower hacks, it is recommended that you use an exercise sheet. A Full Clip is intended for horses in hard, fast work, competition and racehorses or those who hunt several times a week. As so much coat has been removed the horse should only be turned out for brief periods of time on mild, dry days. Even with a heavyweight turnout rug a horse with this type of clip is likely to become cold quickly, as there is minimal hair covering his legs and any exposed part of his body. An exercise rug should be worn for all but the fastest work. Types of Clipper There are many clippers on the market but they all basically do the same job. Your main considerations when choosing which to buy are how many horses you will be clipping, how often and how thick or coarse your horse's coat is. Mains Clippers - These are perfect for large yards or owners with more than one horse, as they can often complete several clips before needing time to cool. The disadvantage with these though is they can become quite heavy after a prolonged period of time. They are often noisy compared to smaller clippers and their size can make them quite difficult to clip legs and smaller areas. Battery Clippers - You may want to consider a battery operated set of clippers if your horse is nervous or hasn't been clipped before. These tend to be slightly quieter than mains operated clippers and the absence of a lead makes it easier for you to move around and eliminates the risk of your horse standing on the electrical wire. Battery operated clippers do have a limited charge time though so may not be suitable for clips covering a large area or if you want to clip more than one horse. Trimmers - These are perfect for doing smaller, fiddly areas or for tidying lines after completing a clip. They are quieter and smaller than clippers so can also be good for clipping the head and face area. Clipping Your Horse Clipping itself is not particularly difficult but time and care should be taken so you get a neat clip and do not stress or upset your horse. There are several precautions that you should take though as the process of clipping invariably involves electricity in some form. Always use a circuit breaker and make sure all wires are kept well away from your horse to help prevent accidents and injuries. Alternatively you can use battery operated clippers, these can be especially useful if a horse is nervous of clipping or it is the first time he has been clipped. Here are a few checks to make before you begin to clip Make sure that your blades are sharp and are adjusted correctly to ensure an even clip Thoroughly brush or ideally bath your horse to ensure the coat is clean and free of any mud which may clog the clippers Have a clean rug ready to put on your horse once he's clipped Arrange for a helper to assist you, they may need to hold the horse still or support a leg whilst clipping round the elbow Use chalk to mark the lines you need to clip to, for a Hunter Clip, place your horse's regular numnah on his saddle area and draw round it to achieve an accurate shape to clip round. Have a haynet handy in case your horse gets bored when you are clipping his body - don't tie this up straight away though as your horse won't keep his head still whilst clipping his neck and the hay will also get covered in hair. Bandage the horse's tail to keep it out of your way and so you don't accidentally clip any tail hair. If using mains operated clippers ALWAYS use a circuit breaker attached straight into the plug socket How To Clip I'd always advise wearing overalls whilst clipping, this will prevent you getting too much hair on you which can be extremely itchy and irritating to the skin. Always introduce the clippers to a horse slowly, even if he has been clipped several times before. With the clippers switched off allow the horse to look at and sniff the clippers, switch the clippers on and allow the horse time to become accustomed to the noise. Again, allow the horse to sniff and approach the clippers with his nose, preventing him from actually touching the moving blades. Once your horse seems comfortable and relaxed about the noise you can move the clippers slowly towards his body. If he appears agitated at any point, stop and wait for him to relax again. With the clippers running, place the hand holding them against the horse's shoulder, he will then feel the vibration from the clippers through your hand. If he appears to not mind this sensation you can then proceed to clipping. Always clip in long lines, going against the hair growth, the horse's skin needs to be taut to avoid dragging of the blades and potential cutting of the skin. Ask your assistant to move your horse's head slightly away from you when clipping his neck as this will prevent any wrinkles in the skin, alternatively you can place your free hand further down the area you are currently clipping and slightly pull the skin downwards. This will also tauten the skin and aid you to clip more easily. Always slightly overlap each line you are clipping to avoid track lines from the clippers, try to keep the blades parallel to the skin with an even, light pressure against your horse's body. Regularly brush excess hairs from the clipper blades and air vents during clipping, ensure you switch the clippers off whilst you do this. Switch the clippers off at regular intervals to allow them to cool slightly and also apply clipper oil to keep the blades lubricated.  When clipping along the mane area, ensure all the mane is on the opposite side of your horse's neck and clip with the blade angled slightly away from the mane to avoid clipping any unwanted hair. When clipping around the horse's front legs ask your helper to hold his leg up and slightly in front of him this will help to keep the skin tight and allow you to access the area with your clippers more easily. Take care though that your horse does not pull his leg down again as you may be in the way and could get kicked. Also ensure that any loose hair is swept up from the floor surrounding you and your horse as it can be very slippy. Tidy up any stray hairs with trimmers and check that any clipped lines are level and straight. Once your clip is complete, groom your horse with a soft body brush to remove any stray hair and put on a suitable rug depending on the weather and level of clip. Sweep the area thoroughly and place the loose hair on your muckheap. Remove all hair from your clippers paying particular attention to any air vents and between the blades. Wash the blades in a suitable solution and check for any broken teeth or blunting of blades. Package the blades carefully if they need to be sharpened or oil them thoroughly and replace onto the clippers if sharpening isn't required. Clipping will need to be repeated every 6 to 8 weeks throughout the winter months depending on the level of hair growth, try to do your last clip no later than a few weeks into January otherwise you can affect the new summer coat that is starting to grow. As long as you take your time and don't rush you should encounter no problems from your horse throughout the clipping process. Subsequent clips should be easier and less time consuming as the hair will be less thick and you can follow the lines created with your first clip. Remember to rug your horse well especially if he has a significant amount of hair removed and keep checking that he is not cold by feeling the base of his ears. If these appear cold regularly you may need to consider adding an extra rug or a less severe clip next time. For further information about clipping and trimming your horse, we'd recommend the Threshold Picture Guide #2: 'Trimming and Clipping' or the Allen Photographic Guide #1: 'Clipping'.

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.

How to prevent and treat Mud Fever

As winter seems to be fast approaching, we are all starting to think about the colder, wet weather and what effect this will have on our horses and their lifestyle. Our fields are beginning to become softer, and mud patches are developing especially in areas that receive a lot of traffic, eg gateways and around water troughs. These areas not only look unsightly but can harbour a bacterium that thrives in wet, muddy conditions; Dermatophilus Congolensis. Although you may not be familiar with this term, many horse owners will have seen the effect of the infection it can cause; Mud Fever. In drier weather conditions the horse's skin (epidermis) acts a barrier, stopping the bacterium from entering the system. With persistent, wet weather this waterproof layer of the horse's skin can become weakened, allowing the bacterium to penetrate the surface. Horses with a lot of feather can be particularly prone to this infection as the thick hair will remain damp for many hours providing the perfect conditions for the bacterium to thrive. Catch it early Mud fever is much easier to treat, if caught in the early stages. Closely monitor your horse's legs for any inflammation or reddening of the skin. This damaged skin can then develop weepy sores which will turn to scabs. If your horse is showing any of these signs it is essential that you remove them from the source straight away, wait until the legs are completely dry then remove all the mud with a soft brush. Clip the hair from the affected area as much as possible to allow you to clean the leg thoroughly, this will also speed the drying time of your horse's skin. Moisten the scabs using a diluted mix of antibaterial solution, then gently remove all traces of the scabs and dry the area thoroughly. But better still, Prevent It! The old adage of 'Prevention is better than Cure' is most definitely true for Mud Fever. Try to keep your horse's legs as clean and dry as possible when they are in the stable. Allow mud to dry completely on your horse's leg and then brush off thoroughly, it may be advisable to remove any thick feathers by clipping the fetlock area, this allows better access to your horse's skin and will help prevent the hair harbouring mud and damp. Using a barrier cream can help to strengthen the skin's natural defence against bacteria. Apply to the whole area likely to come into contact with mud. Alternatively there are boots designed specifically to help prevent mud fever, covering from just below the knee or hock down to the vulnerable heel and coronary band. These need to fit your horse closely to prevent mud penetrating up the inside of the boot.  These boots are to prevent mud fever though and are not recommended for a horse already suffering from the condition. Alternating paddocks to limit the traffic on the ground will help to prevent mud developing, fence off any areas which are particularly muddy, laying down hard core around gate and watering areas can help to prevent muddy patches. If the wet weather persists, it may be advisable to avoid turnout completely for a short while. This will allow the field time to recover and also mean your horse won't be exposed to the conditions likely to trigger Mud Fever. You will need to find a way of providing your horse with an alternative form of exercise each day though. Stable toys are also an excellent way of alleviating boredom if your horse does have to be stabled for longer than usual. With careful management and prompt action, mud fever should just be an ailment for you to constantly watch out for.

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.

Prevention, Treatment and Maintenance of a Laminitic Horse

It is well known that springtime brings with it the threat of laminitis, there's lots of information available on this disease along with supplements, and gadgets to help limit the risk of your horse suffering from it. As an owner of a horse who suffers from this condition myself, it is a subject close to my heart. My aim with this blog is to explain laminitis in a simple easy to understand way, whilst giving you links to investigate further. Laminitis is a disease of the digital laminae of the hoof (foot of an ungulate). It is commonly thought of as a disease of small, fat ponies who have access to too much rich spring grass, and not enough exercise. This is not the case, it is a serious condition that can affect any equine (or cattle) at any time of year. My own horse is a lean thoroughbred cross, who at 19 contracted laminitis for the first time whilst in medium work on sparse grazing. Knowing what triggers laminitis can help you to prevent the onset or deal with the early stages effectively. Although it is not known for certain what causes laminitis, there are common situations which seem to bring laminitis on in some horses; prolonged hard work on unsuitable surfaces, some corticosteroid drugs given to susceptible horses and most commonly overeating. Trying to prevent any of these triggers will help to keep laminitis at bay. Knowing your horse and what is 'normal' for him is your biggest tool in helping to prevent and catch laminitis at its earliest stage. If your horse seems to be not quite himself, unwilling to walk or turn in his usual way, showing slight colicky signs or just generally uncomfortable on his feet he could be experiencing early signs of laminitis. These indicators will all usually present themselves before you notice the typical 'laminitis stance', heat in the feet or change to the digital pulse.   If you even suspect laminitis act immediately as delay can seriously hinder your horse's recovery. If possible stable your horse on a deep bed of shavings, but don't force him to walk. Allow him to lie down if he wants to as this will alleviate the pressure on your horse's feet. Seek veterinary advice as soon as possible, laminitis should be considered as much an emergency as colic to prevent the condition worsening. Preventing laminitis by careful management of your horse and his environment is vital. Slowly introduce him to the spring grass, starting with just an hour at first and gradually extending the time. Try strip grazing if you have a large field as this will limit the amount of grass your horse has access to. Make sure you also adjust your horse's hard feed to allow for the extra nutrition they are getting from their grazing, many horses won't need any more than grass at this time of year. If you do feel that he needs his diet supplementing be careful to choose a low starch, high fibre diet which is appropriate for his level of work.  The Laminitis Trust provides detailed information on the disease, look out for their Approval Mark on your horse's feed bags. By being vigilant and with correct management your horse should stay healthy and happy throughout the summer months. Act quickly if your horse starts to show signs of weight gain by restricting his grazing or fitting a grazing mask. If you are at all worried about your horse's health or you suspect the onset of laminitis ring your vet straight away. Laminitis is a serious disease which can cause long term damage to your horse's feet. Careful management of your horse's welfare will help to ensure that your horse stays safe and sound throughout the year.

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! �