Won’t Ride, Will Horse

Back in 2018, when I was recovering from my hip replacement, I wrote a guide called “Can’t Ride, Can Horse” with some suggestions for things you can do relating to horses when you can’t ride.  Nearly 2 years later, we are ALL in a fairly similar situation.  The BHS have said

“We advise that it is not appropriate to put unnecessary pressure on the emergency services and everyone should make their own individual decision as whether riding is necessary at this time.”

Personally, as you’ll see from my March Madness post, I decided to stop riding a few weeks ago but I have found plenty of things to do instead and have lots of ideas that I haven’t got to yet.

Most of these assume you can still see your horse/go to the yard. Under current UK rules, you are still allowed to tend to your horses -as that is essential to their welfare – unless your yard owner says otherwise or you are ill/shielding/self isolating as long as you follow social distancing rules.  I am in no way encouraging anyone to travel unnecessarily.  Please use your own judgement as to which of these are suitable for you.

Exercise

With the health of your horse in mind, if you are not riding anymore and intend on roughing them off, you need to decrease their exercise slowly.  If you are hoping to continue to exercise your horse – while the government still permits it – these ideas work too.

  • Walking in hand – I am aware that this isn’t an option for everyone but if it is safe to do so, walking your horse in hand is exercise for both of you!  Make sure you use a bridle rather than a headcollar if you are actually going somewhere!
  • Lunging – Lunging is generally considered to be a pretty safe way of exercising your horse (as long as you wear gloves and a hat).  Just be careful not to do too much as going around in circles does put strain on your horse’s joints.
  • Groundwork/Liberty/Trick training – There are so many activities you can do with your horse on the ground to improve your bond and have fun!
  • Stretches – If you don’t already do this with your horse, now would certainly be the time to start!

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Help

  • Buddy up – With key workers working more than ever, parents having their children at home and travel being restricted it might be worth buddying up to help others with their yard jobs. At my yard we are spreading our visits through the day and sharing some of the jobs while there is no staff
  • Adopt/sponsor – Some equestrian businesses have lost nearly their entire income probably for the rest of the year but still need to feed and care for their animals.  Many – my yard included – have set up adoption or sponsorship schemes so if you have a few pounds to spare, this might be something you can get involved with.

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Spring clean

  • Grooming – Now is the time to help your horse to lose their winter coat and to get rid of that winter grime.  I’ve tried out a lot of shedding tools but my favourite is the SleekEZ.
  • Bathing – The weather has improved and now seems like a good time to be giving them a spring bath.  Even though we won’t be going out to any lessons or competitions, I can’t wait to get my Carr & Day & Martin Stain Removing Shampoo out to turn Pea’s brown legs white again and set her up for a cool summer rather than a sweaty, hairy one.
  • Brushes – If you’re going to get your horse clean, now would also be a great time to clean your brushes.  I have some much loved Eqclusive Haas brushes and I just hand-wash them in a bucket of warm, soapy water then hand them on the washing line to dry!
  • Leather – Give your tack and your boots a “birthday”.  If you’re not going to be using them for a while, it makes sense to give them a thorough clean and think about how to store them without the risk of them getting mouldy.  Carr & Day & Martin do a product called Ko-Cho-Line which has been produced for this very purpose.
  • Rugs – If you have got the skills and equipment, now would be a great time to mend and wash your rugs but at the very least you can sort them and store any that you won’t need for a while.
  • Washing – It is not just rugs that need washing.  If you are not riding, you’ll be free to wash all your numnahs so that they are squeaky clean for use on the other wise.
  • Trailer/Lorry – We won’t be using our horse lorries and trailers for a while so it is a good opportunity to tidy, clean and sort them out (if you are able to access them without breaking government rules).  It is also worth considering the security of your vehicles as, while there are less people out and about, there seems to be a rise in thefts.

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Other

  • Photos – As well as sorting out your own photos (getting some printed and backing them up) why not check out official competition photos from previous events and order yourself some.  I’m sure the photographers would appreciate it in these tough times.
  • Evaluate – There is little point in planning a competition schedule at the moment because we have no idea when we might be out and about again but it is a good time to look back at the last year/season and reflect on what went well and what you intend on doing differently next time around.

Tried and Tested: Derby House Medium Rug

I’m a big fan of letting horses be horses but I’m also very much a believer that if we expect our four legged friends to be athletes and perform for us then we have to treat them accordingly. As you will know from In Too Deep, I clipped Pea in preparation for the Area Qualifiers and when a layer of natural rug comes off, a layer needs replacing. Luckily, my favourite rug brand Derby House had very kindly lined us up with a medium weight rug to replace Pea’s lightweight when the time came.

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I chose the Pro Frenchie Print Medium Combo Turnout Rug – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you can’t have cute patterned rugs when you’ve got a cute little pony, when can you?  They even have accessories to match!  If you’re not a dog fan, they also have Christmas designs, unicorn print, plain colours as well as black and frequently add new prints to their collection (you might have seen last year’s cow print that Pea had!)

Derby House say this rug is “crafted from a tough 250gr diamond weave print that is durable, waterproof and breathable and 200 gram of warm polyfill you can be sure that your horse will be warm, protected and dry no matter what the weather has in store” and Pea would certainly agree.  She has been wearing hers for over a month now; we have had periods of torrential rain, a night of snow and a whole heap of mud and she has stayed warm, dry and clean throughout.

Leaning over wire fences and being a generally mischievous little scamp has challenged the ripstop outer of the rug.  It is scratched but the waterproofness hasn’t been compromised yet though it will need mending at the end of the season.  The classic Derby House design has robust neck buckles and chest clips.  In all the Derby House rugs I have had, I’ve never had an issue with the hardware and this rug is no different.

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If you are in the market for a cosy, well-designed rug for your four-legged friend this winter I highly recommend you give Derby House’s website a visit.

Your Horse Live 2019

This year’s Your Horse Live was my fourth consecutive year!  It has me going back each year to see the demos and peruse the extensive shopping stands.  This year I was lucky enough to get a complimentary ticket but Alex was keen to come (can you believe it!?) so I paid for him to come along too.

I was highly restrained when it came to the shopping (especially compared to Badminton) and although there were lots of beautiful things, I only came away with a trailer-tie bungee and a new competition whip.  I would have liked to walk away with the ponies from the Rescue Village too but that wasn’t to be!

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Alex was particularly keen on the 3.5 horseboxes and the Ifor Williams trailers but made do with a pork roll instead!

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Charlotte’s demo was what I really wanted to see.  It was interesting to see her coaching one of her riders.  She kept telling her to go more forward and really go for it, it was somewhat reminiscent of my lessons!  It was also a good reminder of the importance of transitions – I get too lazy when it comes to that but if Charlotte says I should.. I should!

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At the end she brought Valegro around for everyone to pat – is it sad for me to say it was amazing to be so close to him and to touch him?  I’m sure for a lot of people he is just a horse but I’d rather meet him than any A list celebrity!  The way she jumped on him bareback while the jumps were being set up and the arena was being harrowed just highlighted what a special guy he is.

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We stayed with the demos to watch a bit of Jonty Evans jumping with Padraig McCarthy.  Jonty’s big fall was just before my hip replacement and I’m in awe of how he spent 6 weeks in a coma, suffered a brain injury and is now back eventing.  What is really incredible is how effortless his riding looks considering how the injury has affected his thought process and speech.

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We left that demo early to go to Charlotte’s signing; I had taken my copy of “The Girl On The Dancing Horse” to get her to sign but unfortunately the queue was shut off just as we arrived.

We managed to catch some of Sharon Hunt’s cross country demo with Karla (from Muddy Mayhem) riding.  If you don’t already follow her, she is hilarious and the way she pinged round the tiny arena with tight skinnies was so brave!

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Our last watch was Ben Atkinson’s behind the scenes demo.  Last year we watched his proper demo – I was totally in awe of what they did then so it was really interesting to get more of an insight into how they train their horses to do that.  You clearly have to be very calm, brave and confident to do the kind of liberty work they do.  I would love to give it a go but I think I would need to do a course or something first.

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I had a thoroughly enjoyable and educational day (and Alex enjoyed his pork roll!)  I can’t wait to see the line up for next year – I’m already thinking about who I hope will be on their demo line up!

In Too Deep

Last week just didn’t go to plan.

Thursday

I had decided after our last lesson that Pea was going to need a clip before our next competition and especially before the Riding Club Area Qualifiers on 27th October!  She’s not a fan of the clippers so I got hold of some sedation from the vets (which I have used before) and set myself up on Thursday evening.

I had a ‘mare!  She still wouldn’t let me get her legs because when I put the clippers on one (having already done a good chunk of her body easily) there was a moment of explosion and without even knowing it was happening I ended up on my bum with my head against the concrete wall.  It was my left side that I landed on and I have to say I sat there for a moment wondering whether my hip was ok – ceramic hips can break – but apart from a bump on my head, bruises on my thigh (presumably from a kick) and a sore bum I was ok!  Feeling a bit panicked, I popped my hat on and got on with it albeit slightly shaken.

I merrily continued until there was another explosion while I was doing the back of her tummy (evidently too close to her private parts!)  This time she got my wrist.  I honestly thought it was broken – it was shaking and I couldn’t lift my hand.  I called Alex in flood of tears who arrived to find me crying and clipping with my left hand – I didn’t want the sedation to wear off and I wanted to finish!

I just kept saying “why am I doing this?”  “Whose stupid idea was this?”  After the drama continued with faulty clippers I eventually ended up with a fully clipped pony and went home to lick my wounds.

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Friday and Saturday

I did no riding on Friday.  My wrist felt worse when I woke up but I did still have to take a pair of scissors to her feathers to try to complete the sleek look – ouch!

On Saturday I went out on a little hack as my wrist was feeling better.  I roped in Alex to walk with me as I was feeling a bit nervous.  She was keen and a bit rude (probably reacting to my adrenaline) but we were fine.

Sunday

I knew Sunday was going to be hard when I woke up and looked out of the window.  Rain isn’t ideal when you need a clean pony and white jods!  The plan to bath Pea got thrown out of the window and instead she had a hot water sponge bath in the stable and a speedy leg and tail wash at the hose.

Things were going fairly to plan until I realised we hadn’t left quite early enough and there was going to be a panic when we got to Lower Haddon.  There was a panic!  I tried to swap my boots and get my hair sorted but a horse came past us and Pea started bouncing around in the box.  We got her out but she was really unsettled while I was tacking her up.

I tried to get my head back in the game for the warm up but each canter was a bit ropey, I couldn’t feel whether Pea was on the right leg or not, I didn’t realise how deep she was getting (it all looks different without a fluffy mane in front of me), I was too worried about the other people warming up and the massive puddle in one quarter of the school!  As you can see from the photos, I need not have bothered washing her legs in the morning!

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The next challenge was getting into the arena.  We’ve had this situation before.. twice.  It was worse this time, she was backing up and diving sideways but we made it in after a lot of leg and a smack!

After that, the biggest fail, I’d got myself so frazzled that when I went down the centre line I turned the wrong way!!!  Once we had restarted it didn’t improve much.  The cantering was a flop, the trot was awful and of course she stopped every time she went past the gap where the door was.

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I cried my way back to the trailer.  I did stick around to collect my sheet but I almost wish I hadn’t.  We got 52.27% – my lowest score EVER!  Not what you want two weeks before your first Area Qualifiers!

The only thing that brought me out of my cloud of frustration at myself (because we all know it was me that lost the plot and let it all go wrong) was reading the general comment from the judge

“Sweet pony sadly today not show HIS true self when you can get the canter work and HE’S working more forward HE will be lovely”

Apparently Pea’s buzz cut makes her look like a boy!

Tried and Tested: Derby House Lightweight Rug

Sadly the summer is over and the days of fly rugs seem a distant memory.  With the drop in temperature and the on/off torrential rain we have had recently, I decided it was time to get Pea in her waterproofs!  Luckily, back in the summer, Derby House (my favourite rug brand) very kindly gifted us one of their lightweights – perfect for this time of the year.

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It is a classic example of Derby House’s excellent rug design with a 0g weight and 600 Denier diamond weave fabric which is waterproof and breathable.  Pea can vouch for how waterproof this rug is because she’s been out night and day in all sorts of weather over the last few weeks. It has buckles on the neck (velcro would be useless in the winter) and adjustable clips on the chest (easy to secure or remove).  It is consistent with the fit of the other Derby House rugs I have had – I always know what I am going to get with them.  It doesn’t always completely cover Pea’s mane – she seems to shake it down but maybe that’s just the way she wears it!

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This particular rug is bright blue with a yellow trim.  Although this is from their summer collection and that is probably the reasoning behind the colours, I think it is great that when I drive past Pea early in the morning when the sun hasn’t yet come up, I can look for the blue and I’ll be able to spot her!  Check out the Derby House website to see their latest eye-catching rug designs (though if you’re looking for something more subtle they cater for that too).

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A little side note – Derby House are really passionate about improving their sustainability. They have 95% plastic free outbound packaging and have abolished plastic ‘windows’ from their rug bags.

Mid Year Goal Review

We have passed the halfway point of the year – can you actually believe it!?  I thought it was about time I reviewed my 2019 Goals and set myself some new ones to carry me through the rest of the year.

Old Goals

1. Get Strong

This is still somewhat of a work in progress – I’m far stronger than I was and the effect of having two legs that work has certainly had an impact on my riding!  There’s still plenty of room for improvement but the intention is all there with my exercise plan (which in practice is a bit hit and miss).  The problem I am finding is that I so often wipe myself out by doing too much and then don’t do enough the next day.. and the cycle continues!

2. Compete

I managed this one pretty well!  We’ve got two “away” competitions under our belts and two of the summer shows at home done.  There is one more summer show at home coming up and then I’ll need to start going further afield again!

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3. Move On

This was the not so subtle intention for us to buy our first house and as you may already know, we viewed four houses on the 4th January, did a second viewing on the 7th, after some toing and froing had an offer accepted on the 9th and got our keys on the 5th March.  Our house has space for the guinea pigs and is near to Pea; this goal is well and truly ticked off.

A more unexpected part of “moving on” was that I have just got myself a new job!  There isn’t much moving to do as it is in the same school as I have been working in since the end of October but it is a new role – back to full time teaching!

New Goals

1. Reduce

I’ve made a start on this goal but I think it is worth sharing.  Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly interested in becoming a bit more environmentally friendly.  My sister in law has grabbed this bull by it’s horns (in a kind, animal friendly way) and if you want to go all in, her Instagram is worth checking out.  If you’re a horsey being you should also check out Honest Riders and their “riders on a mission” hashtag.  On a personal level, I have swapped to solid shampoo, conditioner and soap from Lush, bought (and am using) a glass water bottle and am trying to make smarter shopping choices eg. buying a big pack of biscuits and splitting them rather than buying individually wrapped biscuit bars for packed lunches.

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So there we go!  I’m going to continue to try to get stronger and more fit, keep getting out and competing (despite having some real giving up thoughts around the June and most recent competitions), get stuck into my new job and continue my journey towards being more environmentally friendly.

If anyone has any environmentally friendly recommendations they would be much appreciated (particularly clothing brands!)

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?

April Dressage

Finally Pea and I got out competing again today (for the first time since January). I had a bit of a dilemma about whether to go to the show because there were other things going on today but I’ll address time management and prioritisation in another post coming soon!

The day started at 6 o’clock when I was rudely awoken by my alarm. I went to the wonderful wedding of one of my friends last night and danced the night away, only getting home at 1.30 so as you can imagine, I wasn’t keen to get up! Nevertheless I managed to get Pea looking semi presentable (it was too cold for a body wash but I did her legs, mane and tail!) and off we went.

It was my second time at Lower Haddon Livery so I was feeling pretty chilled about the whole experience. My parents had come to watch too which was amazing as my dad has never seen me ride properly before.

Pea warmed up really well. Even my mum, who isn’t horsey, commented that she was going better than she had ever seen her before I had my hip replacement.

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It was feeling promising.. until we went into the dark indoor school with the noisy door and the glass judging window.

You may be familiar with Prelim 1, which was what we were meant to be doing today however this is the test we did..

Overshoot the centre  line at A in wobbly trot, proceed down the centre line and at C stop dead, stare at the floor and seriously think about backing up.

Turn right but don’t go anywhere near the scary door corner.

At A, trot a figure of 8 and stop after X to pretend you are going to do a poo just before avoiding the scary door corner.

Pull it together and change the rein KXM.

Stay away from the scary door corner, seriously consider cantering a circle at C but opt for a flashy trot instead.

Change the rein FXH and decide not to really bother cantering another circle at C.

After B, give up on even trying to canter.

Just before A, collapse into walk (early!)

Change the rein in sluggish walk on a long rein (K to B and B to H).

Trot from C to B and motorbike around the corner to X.

Halt somewhere along the centre line, look a bit shell shocked for a moment, just about remember how to salute, pat Pea, laugh at the whole sorry experience and say an apologetic ‘thank you’ to the judge!

So there we go, not our finest hour! Pea still got lots of cuddles, carrots and polos because we all love her regardless.

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I got 3s on my canters, 57.8% overall and 4th out of 4! More importantly, my comment said ‘very well done, nice pony with lots of potential, just a shame you couldn’t get the canter today’. I’ll take that! Canter has been our nemesis and will continue to be for a while. We have been working on it and I know we need to continue to so no nasty surprises there.

I’m very grateful for the lovely smiley ladies from WORC who made me feel so welcome today. I would certainly go to more of their competitions if I can. I am also thinking of going to an outdoor venue for our next competition to see what excitement we can find there!

Top Barn Challenge Summary 2019

If you have seen my Top Barn Challenge 2019 post you will have seen that I took on the challenge of committing to 3 hours of riding/horsemanship a week for 12 weeks.  The 12 weeks ended today and I’m pleased to say that I completed the challenge!  Not only did I rack up the hours but I ticked off some of the mini challenges and I also feel like taking part in this has helped me in so many ways these past few months.

Dressage

Quite early in the challenge I ticked off the dressage competition mini challenge and the new venue one to boot!  Reaching for the 3 hour time target each week has helped me to commit to making my schooling sessions a bit longer than they used to be.  I’ve discovered the magic of putting the time into a proper warm up which has undoubtedly helped me to achieve more schooling wise.  The proof was in the pudding in our last lesson when my instructor was impressed with how much progress we had made with accepting the contact.

Hacking

Hacking has probably been the biggest success of the challenge.  I’ve been riding out on my own so much more and not just for little half hour hacks but for proper hour hacks (and occasionally longer!)  I am so much more confident hacking out and have embraced the challenges that bad weather and spooky changes in the environment have thrown our way.  I’ve also finally got around to cantering out for the first time since my hip replacement!

Groundwork

I intended on doing more groundwork than I actually managed during the challenge but I’ve been much better at doing stretches with Pea.  I’ve also played around with getting her to stand and stay as well as follow.  She was pretty well behaved before but she just keeps getting better!

After The Challenge

I’m going to try to keep up the 3 hours a week (although probably won’t keep track) and hopefully I can  I want to keep building Pea’s fitness and my own so the hacking will continue and, all things being well, I will keep my solo hacking confidence!  Obviously our dressage goals still very much stand and I’m hoping to get competing again in April.

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