Horse Benefits Part 2: What They Teach Us

I’ve been thinking recently about how much horses bring to our lives (if you haven’t seen “Horse Benefits Part 1: What They Give Us” pop over and check that out before you read this). Although I joke to the parents who point out horses to their children “don’t go there, you’ll be poor” what I should actually be saying is “do it, I can’t think of many better ways of teaching your kids how to deal with life!”

Realism

Horses ground you.  You can’t become over confident because they will bring you back down to earth (sometimes literally!)  The very fact that half tonne animals allow you to sit on their backs and tell them what to do is humbling.

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Resilience

There are maybe more ups and downs with horse sports than with any other because there are always at least two “people” involved.  Health issues or injuries, confidence issues, falls and other challenges all require you to develop coping strategies, get back on the horse (again, sometimes literally) and keep going.  A valuable life skill!

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Discipline

As well as requiring commitment, horses need you to have self control.  You can’t let your emotions get out of control because that directly affects your horse.  You can’t spontaneously decide to go away for the weekend, stay out all night when you’ve got a show the next day or spend all your money on clothes.  You can’t just grab a horse and ride it, it involves so much more than that.  Which leads us on to..

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Commitment

Riding or keeping horses teaches you commitment.  You simply cannot improve in your riding if you don’t commit to it and as for having your own horse, you either have to make a massive financial commitment to get other people to look after your horse or commit excessive amounts of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears to do it yourself, whatever the weather!

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What have horses taught you?

A Guide To Shedding Tools!

It has come to the time of year when those of us who have unclipped horses are being punished for letting them grow their own rugs over winter.  Suddenly they are like bird nest machines, shedding hair everywhere and sometimes they need a little helping hand! Over the years I have used plenty of different gadgets to help Pea to shed her winter fluff so here’s a low down of our recommendations. All of these have been bought with my own money and my opinions are certainly my own and based on solid use.

The ‘Cheap and Cheerful All-Rounder’

These metal ‘shedding blades’ are pretty cheap (from £4) and effective at catching loose hairs and sweeping them away especially when you open them up like a scythe! I wouldn’t recommend using one of them on sensitive areas or legs but they do a decent enough job on the body and double up as an excellent tool to remove dry mud!

The ‘Sorry I’ve Found Better’

You know what it is like, you see a video on the internet of something looking amazing and you get sucked into buying it. That’s how my YO and I ended up ordering StripHairs from America a few years ago. When they arrived, although we were in slight shock that we’d spent so much money on what is essentially a rubber block, we thought they were great but they are hard work to use and have been far outclassed by more recent purchases! I know StripHair have changed the design of their blocks and I can’t comment on the new ones (they cost $39) but if I wanted a shedding specific tool I would certainly buy…

The ‘Best In Test’

I bought a SleekEZ two years ago with my Eqclusive brush pack (they cost £19.95 individually) and I haven’t looked back! It is so effective at taking out the hair that is ready to be shed and is so satisfying to use. The difference in all of our horses’ coats from the year before to the year we used these in the lead up to our riding school vet inspection was incredible. Because it is essentially a ridged metal blade coming from a wooden block, you have to be careful about pressure, particularly in more sensitive areas.

The ‘New Classic’

Although I use the SleekEZ on most of Pea’s body I turn to my Eqclusive curry comb (£7 each) particularly for her tummy and legs. It is the perfect reincarnation of a traditional rubber curry comb with a solid rubber structure but soft tips. In circular motions it teases all the ‘shed ready’ hair out of the coat, gets rid of any mud and provides a sort of massage for your horse.

Do you have any other shedding tools you could recommend?

Yoga For Horses

Before you read this, I’m not an equine physiotherapist, I’m just sharing what I’ve been shown over the years by various physios.  I try to do Pea’s stretches most times I ride and she’s pretty flexible (though she wasn’t when I first started doing them!)  Read on for my reasons for stretching Pea, my top tips and our routine accompanied by pictures from our soggy, sweaty stretching session after hacking and schooling on Saturday (please forgive the state of us!)

Reasons to stretch your horse:

  • Improve flexibility and range of movement
  • Reduce stiffness
  • Strengthen tissue/protect from injury
  • Warm up or cool down
  • A nice bit of bonding time!

Top tips:

  • Don’t tie your horse up – either get someone to hold them or do your stretches in an safe space like a stable or arena!
  • Start each stretch with your horse stood squarely (where possible!)
  • Repeat everything on both sides
  • Be gentle!
  • For the treat/carrot stretches, encourage your horse to mouth the treat/carrot before you give it to them, otherwise they won’t be holding the stretch long enough!
  • Don’t force your horse to do more than they are comfortable with
  • Don’t do anything that might aggravate an injury and if you’re unsure, ask your vet or physio before doing any stretches

1. I start with neck/back stretches.  For the first one, I use a carrot or treat to encourage Pea to bend her neck around as far back as she can.

Future-Poppy Edit – If your horse gets too ‘good’ at this and snatches around without stretching, make them reach wider.

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2. I then get her to stretch down to the outside of her front hoof.

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3. By far my favourite stretch is holding the treat between Pea’s legs, she really stretches down and backwards.

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4. The next stretch involves standing in front of Pea and holding a treat up high so that she stretches her neck up and out.  In theory she should stick her head out straight but we tend to often have a sideways tilt.. something to work on!

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5. I also get her to tuck her head right in to her chest.

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6. Recently I have introduced some leg/shoulder stretches into our routine.  Firstly I stretch her front legs forward.  It is really important to be gentle with this and support the leg rather than force it.

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7. I then hold her knee up in front of her.  This one is good when you have just put your saddle on as it gets any skin folds away from the girth!

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8. I also stretch her hind legs forward – this is where it is important to be in a safe space, have someone to help you or have full trust that your horse isn’t going to walk off!

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The next stretches to add to our routine are a backwards hind leg stretch and the tummy tickle which makes the horse lift their back (I’ve been trying to find the spot on Pea but haven’t perfected it yet!)

Do you have any stretches you do with your horse?

Finding ‘The One’ – Horse Buying Tips

Today is exactly three years since I bought Pea so I  thought I’d share my thoughts on finding ‘the one’ (of the equine variety!) Obviously Pea is my first so I feel quite unqualified to talk about this so I’ve consulted some of my favourite internet and real life friends to get their perspectives.

 

In an ideal world.. get to know them!

I was lucky. I had been leasing Pea for a year and a half before I bought her.  I knew her about as well as I possibly could and was sure she was the one for me.  My thoughts about buying her started long before I actually did.

Pea’s internet doppleganger Henry, from Henry Dressage Cob, had a similar story.  His mum Shelley said

‘I weekend loaned him for a while and riding school owner said he looked happy, so one weekend I asked her if you ever did sell him can I have him. That afternoon after having a think and chat with some people, she came to say yes you can have him!’

Buying from a friend or someone you know, having already seen the horse with a different rider, is also a good start.  The best Pony Club ponies get passed from family to family as their riders outgrow them and plenty of competition horses and ponies move on to people who already know them.  Although in different homes, with different riders, horses will act differently, the more you know about a horse, the more likely it is you will be able to make the right choice!

 

In the real world.. conduct a careful search!

If you are not lucky enough to have found a horse through your yard or friends you are likely to have to resort to looking for horses in the wider world!  For advice on this I hand over to Leanne, owner of Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre (my yard) and general horse guru!

‘1. Be realistic. The perfect horse does not exist, but one perfect for you does. Decide what’s most important to you and be prepared to be flexible on the least important.

2. Read adverts thoroughly and prepare questions to ask before wasting your time or the sellers. Listen to the answers and ask for more specific details – “goes around a set of showjumps” could mean literally that.

3. Someone else’s perfect pony might not be yours! The fact that Neddy tows his current owner to the nearest piece of grass at every opportunity might be acceptable to them, but not for you!

4. Research! Facebook is great for this! Ask someone in the pony/riding club/hunting field who might have seen them out and about.

5. Always take someone else with you to view, preferably someone more experienced, but a witness and an outside pair of eyes is always useful. Try the horse in the circumstances you will be riding in – in fields/alone/in company/ on roads, and always ride past home on your return to check for nappy behaviour if that’s on your unacceptable list. Ask to see the horse caught, tacked up, ridden – and look for signs that they might have been ridden or lunged prior to you coming- a freshly washed one might have been having sweatmarks removed!

6. Go back and try again- honest sellers will be as keen as you to make sure you match, dealers to protect their reputation and private to ensure their “darling” isn’t going to be sold on.

7. Get a vetting – but bear in mind point 1 when you get the results.’

 

General considerations..

Be open minded

If you are looking for a 15.2, bay gelding with four white socks and a star and a BE record, you’re likely to be setting yourself up for disappointment or at the very least, a massively restricted search.  Try not to rule out colours and breeds because you never know, you might miss out on ‘the one’ because of it.  Charlotte, from The Forelock Journal, said

‘When Hamish was advertised for loan at our yard I wasn’t actually sure about trying him. He’s a thoroughbred and I’d have classed myself as a nervous rider at the time. He was so calm, kind and patient from the moment I was around him and I just knew I wanted to take him on right away.  He just knows me and I just know him. I can put my finger on what it is, but we have a very special bond.’

Keep in mind the ‘stretch zone’ theory

For a bit more information about this theory have a read of Tips from HOYS but essentially, in my opinion, you want a horse that keeps you in the stretch zone rather than the safe or danger zones.  Pea and I have plenty to work on together and she can certainly keep me on my toes but I knew when I bought her she would never throw anything at me that I wouldn’t be able to cope with.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

When I started riding Pea, people used to ask me when I was going to get a ‘proper horse’.  I still get questions and judgements about the fact that I’m a 5’6 adult with a 14hh pony but I really couldn’t care less.  In my opinion, providing you are not too heavy for your horse, it shouldn’t matter if they are small, tall, fine or chunky providing that they are right for you.  I see far too many teenagers thinking they need a thoroughbred because that is the image they want rather than thinking about what horse is actually right for them – don’t fall into that trap.

When you know, you know

Most loving horse owners won’t be able to quite pin point how they knew their horse was the one for them, they just knew!  Francesca, from Country Frantics, said this about when she tried Buddy (her first horse)

‘I felt confident on him out on a hack straight away and he completely looked after me, it was like I couldn’t be without him now he had entered my life. I bought him 2 weeks later.  He understands me and is the male horse version of me in every way!’

And sometimes they chose you

When Francesca met Adie, her RSPCA rescue horse, he was the one in charge of the decision making

‘When I met him for the first time it was like he chose me, he put so much trust in to me and he couldn’t stop following me and rubbing his head over me.  I knew I had to take him home so I did!’

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Thank you to today’s contributors for sharing their experiences and advice. Please check out their links!

Shelley from Henry Dressage Cob

Leanne from Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre

Charlotte from The Forelock Journal

Francesca from Country Frantics

Winter Survival Tips

Some of these are equestrian specific.. others count for everyone!

Be Prepared

It is a bit late for this now and I’m regretting it. Must do better next year!

Have your rugs clean and planned out (I failed on this front. I haven’t got a no fill rug with a neck and that’s what I want now!)

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Establish A Routine

This has been a godsend for me.

Come rain or shine, Monday nights and Friday nights have been my concrete riding nights (bar one or two where I was poorly or had other commitments) and then weekend riding fits around everything else.  Three/four rides a week isn’t as good as I want but it is as much as I can manage.

Wrap Up

It is an obvious one but so important.  Cold and wet weather has always and will always affect my leg so I’ve become a bit of an expert on this.

Footwear – My neoprene Le Chameau changed my life last winter.  They are warm, comfy and the mud doesn’t seem to clump on the bottoms.

Thermals – I’ve got some old Helly Hansen thermal leggings which are so helpful in the winter.

Waterproof trousers – I have Mark Todd waterproofs for proper cold weather which are like wearing duvets on your legs – my top recommendation for snow!  I have thin Horseware ones and Ornella Prosperi for normal days!

Coats – This winter I am rocking my Mark Todd coat, with a fleecy inside and a high collar it has been keeping me properly toasty.  If I’m hacking out though I wear my high vis.

Headgear – I have bobble hats and headbands galore but this winter I think I might have to invest in some earwarmers for my hat.

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Go Alternative

If your outdoor activity is restricted, try something else – yoga for example, reading a good book (I’ll be reviewing Charlotte Dujardin’s ‘The Girl On The Dancing Horse’ soon) or check out Can’t Ride, Can Horse for more ideas.

Accept

Accept the mud, accept the darkness, bide your time because it will be over and before we know it we will be complaining about the heat and the flies!

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