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A Weighty Issue

08 September 2019 02:01

I wanted to enter a showjumping competition recently and was told I’d need to shed a few pounds to be eligible to enter on my 17.5 hands healthy horse. Now, anyone that knows me will realise I may be tall and well built, but I’m definitely not “heavy” in the sense of being overweight.  I was happy to comply, though, and did … but it led me to notice the ongoing contentious debate about big people riding horses! 

Is this, as many have contested, “fat shaming”, or is there in fact a limit to how much you should weigh in proportion to your mount before you go riding for welfare reasons?

There’s some science behind this controversial question, so I’ve looked in to it. It’s sad to think that there are some big people out there afraid to ride their beloved horses for fear of being shamed, especially on social media groups where posters are quick to post their opinion on the strength of a photograph with little information about the subject!

We should all be able to enjoy our horses, but none of us I’m sure would wish to cause them discomfort or distress, so let’s look at some cold, hard facts before we rush to judge.

The Weight Factor

Until a few years ago it was a matter of common sense to judge whether your horse was suitable for your size. Then came the controversy, sparked online, and suddenly organisations like the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and World Horse Welfare started taking note of the possibility that horses were being injured by carrying excessive loads. This at a time when obesity rates in general are increasing (64.3% in the UK are now reckoned to be overweight or obese).

Research proliferated, and many equestrian organisations – including the Pony Club and riding schools – started issuing guidelines on the horse/rider weight ratio.
The problem with research into this issue is that there are so many variables! 

Heavy riders carry their excess weight in different places, putting pressure on different points on their mounts, and they have different skill and fitness levels. Incorrectly fitting saddles and tack can also exacerbate the situation, and of course the build and gait of the horse itself can be a factor.

Concerned horse riders, especially those who carry a few extra pounds, are crying out for firm advice about whether their horses are happy carrying them or whether they’re saddling them with too much weight.

Well, sorry to say but although a myriad of vets, horse organisations and researchers have come up with horse/rider weight and size ratios, none as yet appear to be definitive – and they probably never will be!

The best we can say after reading dozens of studies and articles is that when a load (and this means rider and tack) exceeds 20% of the horse’s bodyweight, the horse will struggle and show physical signs of stress and soreness.

Exceeding the limits

All of this doesn’t mean that heavy people can’t ride … it just means that you need to be matched to the right mount, and have a correctly fitted saddle.

Different equestrian associations and different disciplines have their own weight rules for competition, which have obviously been carefully considered with the horse’s welfare in mind. No-one wants to deny anyone the joy of riding and competing, but the limits are there for good reason. If you’re asked to dismount at an event don’t take it as an insult to you personally – it’s just for safety’s sake.

So, what happens if you’re too big for your horse and ride on anyway?

Well most researchers seem to agree that horses carrying up to 20% of their bodyweight manage fine, but once this ratio increases they will begin to show signs of strain like laboured, fast breathing, higher heart rates and muscle soreness. There’s also evidence that gait and behaviour is impacted by riders that are too heavy for the horse.

All logical, it has to be said. But continually being exposed to such strain would obviously be detrimental to the animal in the long term. The type of exercise would also impact on performance – a horse with a heavy rider on a leisurely hack would obviously not take as much strain as the same pair tackling a cross country course.

I’m pretty sure that we’ve not heard the last of this weighty equestrian issue, but until there is more definitive scientific research on the matter let’s just be sensible and not overtax our horses and ponies, and avoid being judgmental of others.

Enjoy your riding, large or small, and if you need advice on any aspect of your riding or tack don’t hesitate to ask. Totally Tack is all about keeping horses and riders happy!

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Highways for Horses

25 August 2019 02:48

We may be profit-making  equestrian retailers based here in Somerset, but we’re not all about making money! While we earn a living by supplying horses and their owners with their needs, we’re committed horsey people ourselves so we have a philosophy of giving back to the local equestrian community who support our business.

One of the causes most close to our hearts is the MBBA …  the Mendip Bridleways & Byways Association, which works closely with the BHS (British Horse Society).
This very active and important organisation is engaged in keeping our bridleways clear and usable, and opening up new ones long forgotten, so we can enjoy country rides away from those hazardous roads.

We support the MBBA by paying to advertise in their newsletters, and we help where we can to clear bridleways. This blog post, which is aimed at telling you how the MBBA works, is free of any advertising on behalf of ourselves, as a commitment to show you we are serious in our support of this worthy cause.

About Somerset Bridleways

It’s sad to say that as a rural county Somerset is poor in bridleways, which is a matter of concern to us because it means that many are riding on roads. Even country roads are dangerous to easily spooked riders and their horses. There are, statistically, 602 miles of bridleways in the county, but many of these are dead ends and most of the miles mentioned are on Exmoor and the Quantock Hills.

The few that are usable are often under-maintained, choked with weeds and overgrowth. Footpaths in the region are well used and therefore well maintained, but our bridleways are few and far between.

The MBBA is trying to keep what IS available accessible to all, which is an often thankless task despite the many events and clearance projects it hosts. At least it has the support of Royalty … Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, came to witness a recent project courtesy of the BHS.
Funding is, of course, an issue even through the MBBA relies a great deal on volunteers. Nevertheless the organisation managed earlier this year to clear the Roemead Lane bridleway at Binegar, and the Southwood Bridleway at Lydford, which was heavily overgrown, and work is ongoing.

The MBBA’s stated aims are as follows:

“MBBA’s principal purpose is to increase the number of safe, off-road routes available to horse-riders, carriage-drivers and cyclists across Mendip. In addition to providing a range of membership services the MBBA’s constitution sets out its corporate objects as being:
a. To protect and preserve the character and status of Mendip’s green ways for the safe use and enjoyment of the widest number of supported users.
b. To advertise the existence of the tracks, droves and other ridden paths and to seek to develop them into linking and circular routes for horse-riders, cyclists and carriage-drivers.
c. To promote horse-riding, cycling and carriage-driving as safe and healthy leisure activities for all ages and backgrounds."

How you can Help

Here are some ways you can assist the MBBA’s endeavours:

·        Join the MBBA - the annual subscription is £15.00, plus £2.00 for each additional family member who would like to be in the association.

·        Attend the MBBA events which include fun rides.

·        Volunteer for the MBBA … there are many options where you can help, from admin to “gardening” on the trails to various forms of fund-raising activities.

For more information about the MBBA you can contact the chairman or secretary via email, visit the website at or write to MBBA, PO Box 3573, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 4XN.

Let’s ride safe, off road in our beautiful countryside! Support the MBBA to make that happen in our local area. If you’d like to know more about opportunities for helping local bridleway initiatives speak to us at … we’re happy to help!

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Prepping for the Dark Days of Winter

11 August 2019 05:38

It’s a horrid thought but autumn is almost upon us! Winter will be hard on its heels.
While your horses are still out enjoying the last of summer it’s an opportune time to prepare the yard and stable for over-wintering.

Be prepared for the worst of the winter weather, and you’ll manage it so much more easily. A leak-proof, cosy stable with a stock of clean, weatherproof rugs will make dealing with winter a breeze.

Sort the Stable

While he’s not in residence it’s the ideal time to give your stable a makeover.

·        Start with a deep clean. Strip it the space to the bone (and that includes any unfixed rubber matting) and scrub the walls and floor with a disinfectantto make sure there is no risk of pests or bacteria that could cause thrush and respiratory problems during the long, dark days of winter confinement. You can use a pressure washer if there is decent drainage. Make sure you let it dry out properly before you put anything back in place.

·        On the outside of the building make sure any guttering is clear and working well, so you don’t end up with a swamp underfoot.

·        If you have water piped to your stables make sure the pipes are insulated to prevent freezing in the event of extreme weather – repairing burst pipes can be costly and inconvenient. Use foam rubber sleeves or consult your local hardware store on the best defence you can take for your situation. Make sure you have large water buckets in good repair and measures in place to stop the water freezing – remember horses drink more in winter than in summer.

·        While your stable needs to be well ventilated, you don’t want cold drafts to penetrate through gaps in the walls or bad fitting windows. Clean the windows and check the hinges and catches, making sure they open easily, and caulk any gaps in the stable walls that shouldn’t be there. Assess the air flow and make sure it is adequate to keep your horse comfortable. Even when it’s very cold your horse needs some controlled fresh air ingress.

·        If you don’t already have them, consider adding rubber mats to the floors of the stable, not only to add insulation but also to keep your horse’s hooves off of the cold floor and out of any accumulated mud.

·        Check the lighting, making sure it is adequate for the dark mornings and evenings. Replace any fused bulbs and perhaps add more lights or lanterns if you struggled last year. Check that you have working torches with a good supply of batteries.

·        Make sure hay nets and hay racks are in good repair, and that you have enough to see you through the winter months. Keep feed in sealed containers to discourage rodents. You may want to lay in some stable toys to keep your horse happy during the long dark days.

A Word about Stable Painting

I know many people paint their stables, and are often in a quandary on what sort of paint to use and what colour is best. Just to say there are special anti-bacterial agricultural paints available, but you can use ordinary paint suitable for the surface of the stable –  matt is best, and something weatherproof (for external use) and washable. 
Don’t put creosote on wood, and make sure any paint you use is non-toxic.

As for colour …. Most brand-name stable paints come in white or black only, but the colour won’t matter much to your horse, who can only make out blue or green tones anyway. Best go for a neutral colour – or why not “poo brown” if you really want camouflage!

Safeguard the Yard

·        Get your order for grit in early to avoid the rush! Also put down pebbles in your gateways and entryways to avoid those muddy bogs.

·        Review your stock of yard tools, and make sure you have a good snow shovel at the ready, all neatly squared away and hung on hooks or racks where they’ll stay out of the wet.

·        Make sure you have at least two months’ supply of feed, haylage, grooming aids, medications and bedding in stock before the end of autumn, and somewhere safe and dry to store it all.

·        Replace any rusting or corroded fittings and fixtures and other hardware  – you wouldn’t want them failing on you in the dead of winter. It also won’t hurt to give your wheelbarrow an MOT!

Rescue your Rugs

It’s definitely time to take stock of your medium-weight and heavy-weight rugs. Give them an airing and assess their condition. If they need cleaning or mending, get in before the end of autumn rush and send them off to a professional as soon as possible.

If you’re local to Totally Tack in Frome you can drop them off at our shop for collection by our rug expert, Paul, who’ll get them looking like new. We also stock all the equipment you need for a DIY rug replenishing job available to order online – horse rug wash bags, spare clips, buckles and surcingles, reproofing spray and so on.

If your rugs are beyond repair, never fear – we’ve got a big range of new horse rugs and blankets of all sorts to choose from, to suit all budgets.

If you have any questions about over-wintering your horse, we have a wealth of experience and academic equine know-how .... Give us a call on 01373 22 8242 and we'll be happy to help!! 

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A Tale of Tails

28 July 2019 12:02

If you follow horse groups on social media you’ve probably noticed that one of the aspects of horse care that concerns horse owners the most is the condition and appearance of his tail.

When it comes to grooming tails receive a great deal of attention. When they’re ratty and sparse, we worry, and when it comes to competition or showing we dither about whether and how to bandage, braid, thin or bang (cut or clip) … tails are problematic!

To fully understand the treatment and care of a horse’s tail, let’s take a look at this beautiful and versatile caudal component of a horse’s physical make up, that evince properties far more important than just their good looks.

Anatomy of a Horse Tail

The horse’s tail is an extension of his spinal column. It is made up of two portions … the dock and the skirt. The dock is the solid part, made up of muscles and up to 18 vertebrae (the number varies), covered with skin. Below the dock long, thick hairs fall down, growing from all around the dock, making up the skirt. The dock is supplied with blood by two arteries, but because the dock is narrow it’s not well supplied so this is why injuries tend to take time to heal here, and injuries can be hard to cure.

The hair of the skirt is thick and coarse, made up of hard protein, each hair consisting of three layers and, although it seems smooth, the outer layer or cuticle has overlapping horny scales.

Depending on the composition of the twisted protein strands of the middle layer tail hair may be curly or straight.

Purpose of a Horse Tail

A horse’s tail is flexible and strong and nature has evolved it that way to fulfil various purposes, which involve protection and communication.

The most obvious purpose is evident in any horse out in pasture on a summer’s eve. He’ll flick his long, luxurious tail like a fly swat to keep away biting insects. In a herd he’ll do this not only for his own comfort but for his companions too. You’ll often see horses standing head to tail, swatting flies away from each other’s faces.

More important is the horse tail’s role in communication. The tail is a vital tool in relaying body language. It’s the way your horse talks to you and his companions, communicating his physical and emotional state.

Tail signals have an important role to play in horse life in the herd. Mares, for example, will lift their tails up and to the side to invite a stallion, and also once impregnated will warn the boys away with an aggressive swish of the tail.

The tail also sends a signal to be alert if danger threatens a herd … stallions become protective by lifting their tails, prancing and defecating.

A twitching tail is a sign of impatience with a youngster, who, once told off, will clamp his tail between his hind legs to signify subservience.

Horses speak to their riders and carers too using their tails. He’ll swish his tail in anger if he’s not pleased, or clamp his tail when he’s really angry, frightened or discomforted. Learning to read the tail signals is part of good horsemanship.

Here’s a simple guide to horse tail language:

·        Curled Tail – calm and relaxed
·        Swishing Tail – annoyed
·        Wringing or twirling tail – aggressive
·        High tail (lifted up) – excited, feeling good
·        Straight down Tail – apprehensive
·        Tucked in Tail – Afraid

Horse Tail Care

Now that you understand how important a horse’s tail is beyond just how it looks (and that’s important too!) you’ll realise the need for keeping your horse’s tail healthy, long and thick, as opposed to short, thin, dry or frizzy!

First of all, you should know that just like human hair, healthy hair comes from the inside. Proper nutrition is essential – healthy hair needs the correct balance of proteins and vitamins. Feed your horse a general conditioner to keep his tail sleek.

Use properly designed mane and tail brushes – especially wide-toothed combs and dandy brushes – when grooming his tail, and brush it infrequently. It can take years to reconstitute a tail hair that has been brushed out. Do, however, brush the dock every day with a dandy brush, to increase blood flow and stimulate growth.

If your horse is rubbing his tail, find out the reason. It could be that parasites or insects are making him itchy. Use insect repellants. If he has sores on his dock from rubbing treat them immediately and keep any wounds clean.

Keep your horse’s tail clean and moisturised, both the dock and the long hair strands, using conditioner.

Be careful when wrapping the top of your horse’s tail, so as not to cut off the circulation. When you have to wrap or bag the tail use a proper tail bag and leave it on for as short a time as possible. Also never turn him out with a wrapped or bagged tail, in case he catches it on a fencepost or other hazard, causing damage.

When releasing a tail braid comb out the kinks with your fingers rather than a brush or comb which will only leave a frizz. Never leave braids in for too long or the hair will break.

Always wash off any product you use for showing and grooming the tail as soon as possible … the residues can be drying and damaging.

Remember, normal horse tail hairs are naturally elastic and shiny because lubricating sebum is released from the hair follicles. If you notice horse tail hairs falling out in large numbers this is a sign of ill health, and its best to consult your vet. Interfere with the tail as little as possible to preserve the natural oils, and always rinse thoroughly if you shampoo.

.Your horse will thank you for taking good care of his tail … a vital part of his physical anatomy which means a great deal to him! If you need help with a tail problem, Totally Tack is here with advice and experience!

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Your FAQs Answered!

14 July 2019 02:25


 In case you didn’t know, us folk at Totally Tack are not only experienced horse owners (we currently have three Thoroughbreds) but we’ve also got academic equestrian and Master Saddlers qualifications, so we’re well placed to answer customer’s questions about horse care.

We thought it may be useful to share a sample of some of the most common questions we get asked, and the answers we give. Of course, everyone has their own experiences and opinions, so you’re welcome to disagree!

Here goes:


·        Q: What plants in the pasture are toxic for horses, besides Ragwort(which I
            know about)?

A: In no particular order, stay away from Deadly Nightshade (not fatal, but nasty!); Foxglove (a little can kill quickly); Buttercups (when fresh but okay in hay); Yew (leaves and berries); Privet (especially Box Privet); Acorns (cause colic); Sycamore (seeds in autumn and saplings in spring); Rhododendron (causes respiratory failure).

·        Q: Should I soak my horse’s hay? What are the benefits of soaking?
A:  That depends largely on the horse, and the hay! Some hay can be harvested in dusty conditions and baled with dust content that can become airborne when you use it and cause, or exacerbate, respiratory problems. Soaking reduces the dust particle concentration. Soaking also reduces the amount of sugars in the hay, so horses prone
to insulin problems or laminitis might benefit from soaked hay. If in doubt, ask  your vet.

·        Q: Can a horse eat too much hay?
A: Although horses are designed to forage frequently, in the wild they’d be walking to work for their food. Domesticated horses can become obese with all the attendant problems if allowed to eat at will. It’s best to use hay nets to encourage slow feeding, especially if your horse is greedy and/or has metabolic problems.

·        Q: Are green carrot tops bad for horses?
A: Not in our experience, and most experts agree. The horses generally seems to enjoy them. Like any treats though, feed very sparingly.

Horse Facts

·        Q: How do you tell a horse’s age from looking at his teeth?
A: It’s not a precise measure, but you can get a rough idea because as a horse ages the
angle of the teeth increases. A foal’s newly erupted permanent teeth are short and straight. As he ages they become longer, more angle, change shape (from the initial oval shape to more angular) and become more yellow and stained. An old horse may have lost some teeth, so he’ll need help in the form of a special senior diet and supplements to help him eat and stay healthy.

·        Q: When do horses stop growing?
A: This depends largely on the breed, but most will have reached their full adult height between 4 and 8 years of age.

Horse Equipment

·        Q: How do I know what size rug to buy for my horse?
A: Different makes of horse rugs have different proportions, but
generally they are sized horizontally in feet and inches with 3” increments. If you already have a rug that fits well lay it out flat and measure it, from the centre of the chest to the end, to get an idea of what will work. You should also measure your horse, horizontally from the centre of the chest to the end of the rump. Note, European manufactured rugs have different sizing. Not only is it in centimetres, but you need to measure from the withers, across the back to the top of the tail. Also take the build of your horse into account – a wide, bulky horse may need a size bigger to accommodate his girth. We’d ask you please, when you buy a rug, to try it on over a clean sheet first when you receive it, in case you have to return it.

·        Q: My horse foams at the mouth while we’re riding. Does this mean his bit is uncomfortable?
A: No, not necessarily. It’s normal and not a sign of abuse or pain. Even horses ridden without bits can foam at the mouth. If he suddenly starts foaming, having been hard-mouthed previously, it could be a sign of a problem like mouth ulcers, gum disease or choke, so call the vet. Otherwise saliva production combined with the excretion of latherin (which makes sweat) causes the foamy mouth.

We hope you’ve found these questions and answers useful. We’ll happily answer more … just email your questions to Dawn at and we’ll do another blog post once we have collected enough.

By the way, many of your questions can be answered by browsing our blog postson Totally Tack’s website, which are a mine of useful information!

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Horses are Hot Right Now!

30 June 2019 11:28

Heat waves are becoming more frequent – that’s a scientific fact. Horses are particularly susceptible to heat stress (they heat up 10 times faster than we do) so we owe it to them to give them that extra care in extreme heat not only for their comfort, but for their health.

Like most living creatures horses have a natural way of coping with hot weather. They sweat up to 20 litres an hour in cool conditions and as much as 30 litres in hot, humid weather. The sweat evaporates cooling them down, but there are situations when this is not enough and the body temperature increases drastically causing heat stress, with dire consequences.

A normal body temperature for a horse is around 37 degrees C … if this increases to around 41 degrees the muscles literally begin to cook (denature) and can lead to hypotension, colic and kidney failure.

It’s a bit ironic that heat waves tend to happen during the season when horses are expected to perform at their best … in shows, eventing, endurance, racing and all the other equestrian events we so enjoy during the summer season.

A horse that is worked too hard on a hot day can become seriously overheated.  Even just hanging out in the field on a hot day can make a horse overheat if there is no shade available, especially if he’s obese or has a shaggy, thick coat.

Excessive sweating itself can cause dehydration, depleting minerals and salts in the system which, if not replaced, could cause a metabolic crisis. (See our blog about electrolytes.)


So how can you keep your horse healthy and happy in the heat?
The most important element you need is water. Firstly to be used in the most obvious way  which would be the availability of plenty of clean, fresh water available to drink. On extremely hot days a horse should drink about 20 gallons of water a day, which will certainly keep horse owners busy, especially if you have a herd to care for.
To compensate for sweating add an electrolyte supplementto his diet and provide a salt block.
If you have a horse that is not a keen drinker, you can make up for it by adding water to feed supplements rather than feeding it dry, or use a product such as the amazing Horse Quencher  to encourage him to drink.
Just like humans, horses also appreciate being cooled down with water on a hot day. If he enjoys it hose him down … let him loose to wallow in cool rivers and streams. An overheated horse can be cooled by being wet down and scraped off repeatedly.


Don’t forget heat brings out flies and other insects, which come with their own dangers to horses. If your horse is susceptible to bites and skin conditions, make sure you keep him in during the times of the day (especially late evening) when insects are most active. Use insect repellentsand fly rugs to keep him comfortable.
Poo pick frequently, keep stables clean and locate your stable waste as far away from the horses as possible.
Heat and high humidity also increase the activity of bacteria and viruses, and therefore increase the risk of infectious diseases in horses. Be vigilant for any sign of infection and call the vet if you are at all concerned.


The basic tasks that face horse owners in the heat are to keep him cool, hydrated and clean. Apart from the factors already mentioned, you can do the following:
·        Provide an area where your horse can get out of the direct sun … a field shelter, shade trees.
·        Keep exercise to a minimum and don’t work him too hard on extremely hot, humid days – keep tack to a minimum and enjoy some light riding.
·        Keep stables well ventilated … a fan is a great way not just to keep things cool, cut also to blow off insects.
·        Keep wounds clean, dry and protected.
·        Be vigilant and aware of how your horse is handling heat, and if you have any concerns consult your vet. Check his rectal temperature, watch for profuse sweating, rapid breathing and heart rate, droopy ears and general tiredness, lethargy and  dehydration (use the pinch test).
·         If an activity makes your horse overheated guard against cooling him down too quickly – this could lead to muscle cramping.
Enjoy your horse in the summer, but when conditions become extreme go that extra mile to help him cope! Totally Tack is here to help … we’ve got all the products and advice you need to enjoy a cool summer, available online!

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Scratching that Sweet Itch

09 June 2019 11:42

According to the experts only about five percent of the UK’s horse population (especially native breeds) suffers with the dreaded allergic condition known commonly as Sweet Itch – that’s enough to concern an awful lot of horse and pony owners!

Sweet Itch is a spring/summer/autumn plague caused by an allergic reaction to bites from midges (Cullicoides) and black fly (Simulium) … and these little nasties can be biting your horse right through from March to November when the weather turns cooler.

If you’re lucky your horse is only mildly allergic – scratching his tail area on a tree or fence post to relieve the annoying  puritis skin condition that results from a midge or fly bite. In extreme cases however he will be driven crazy by the itching, rubbing and scratching on anything and everything available, causing himself skin trauma and suffering secondary infections, not to mention a high degree of suffering. 

If you have a horse prone to Sweet Itch you’ll probably be at your wit’s end and suffering distress yourself because you want to help him but not sure how.


While the itchiness may be obvious, it’s best to first try to ascertain whether in fact your horse is itchy because of midge and fly bites and not some other allergic or skin condition. Be vigilant and investigate any signs of itchiness.

If it’s sweet itch the itchiness will be mainly concentrated on the neck, mane, under the belly and base of the tail, and your horse will be rubbing and biting at his skin. The affected areas will be lumpy, scaly, scurfy, inflamed and hot. In the early stages his coat will just look ruffled and rubbed up.

Young horses might develop the allergy at around four years of age, but it gets worse as he grows older and can end up affecting him all year round, not just seasonally.
Your horse might be restless and even start to lose weight, and there will be signs of self-trauma caused by biting and scratching. He’ll be more inclined to take any opportunity to cover himself in mud – a natural defence against biting insects.

If you notice any signs of possible skin puritis while grooming your horse, don’t delay – take appropriate action to have the condition diagnosed by a vet, and protect your horse from further harm.

Unfortunately there is little hope that blood tests will be able to show up allergies, but your vet should be able to test for known allergies and diagnose Sweet Itch if that is the case. There are other causes of irritating equine skin disease, such as ringworm, rainscald, lice, mange, and allergies to dust mites and pollen.


It might seem almost impossible to protect your horse from fly and midge bites; even if stabled all the time the flies will find them, especially when they swarm most energetically at dawn and dusk.

·        Keep your horse away from watercourses and trees, where there biting insects are more prevalent.

·        Keep them in at dawn and dusk when insects are most active, under a ceiling fan installed in the stable to deter midges, which apparently can’t fly in wind speeds over 5mph.

  • ·        Turn out on breezy, dry days.
  • ·        Put a fly screen on the stable door.
  • ·        Use insect repellents on your horse and his environment.
  • ·        Invest in a fly rug, tailored to the severity of the horse’s symptoms. The worst affected animals will need to wear a fly rug all day and night, so make sure it is well fitted, comfortable and durable. Modern technology means that fly rugs will protect the body without over-heating your horse.
  • ·        Anti-itch shampoos can be effective to relieve itching.
  • ·        When it comes to dietary supplement aids go for flax seed oil and anything containing nicotinamides.

Work with your vet on preventative measures and treating any flare ups to make your Sweet Itch sufferer as comfortable as possible! We’re here to help … talk to us at Totally Tack if you are having difficulty managing your sweet, itchy horse or pony!

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Speaking of Spooking

27 May 2019 12:52
Mommy .... I'm scared!

There’s no rider who hasn’t experienced it – you’re riding along pleasantly when your mount startles or spooks at some perceived threat either near or far at hand, jumping sideways, perhaps rearing, and gathering himself to flee. It’s disconcerting to say the least and if you don’t keep a cool head you might lose control with nasty consequences.

I’ve just seen an advert online for a “bombproof” horse – ie. one that will take everything in stride and not react negatively to any fright, real or imagined. After years of caring for, training and riding horses, and studying them both informally and academically, I’m inclined to question whether there is such a thing as a spookless or bombproof horse.


Even our brave and seemingly fearless well-trained and de-sensitised police horses can have their spooky moments … and why shouldn’t they!

The fact is that spooking is instinctive behaviour for equines, which are natural prey. The only reason the equine species has survived for 55 million years is because of an ingrained flight response in reaction to a perceived peril. Think about that next time your placid pony spooks at a plastic bag flapping in the wind!

Just like humans, horses have different temperaments. It’s hard to ascertain whether the degree of spookiness of a horse is down to nature or nurture (personally I think it’s a bit of each) but there is no doubt some are more inclined to spook than others. What is clear is that if you have an easily spooked horse it can impact on your confidence as a rider, and, in fact, even be dangerous with the constant threat of becoming unseated while riding, or your horse going “rogue” while in hand and becoming a danger to bystanders.

As we’ve said, even horses touted as “bombproof” can still find reason to spook at something unexpected and surprising, just like you’d react to someone creeping up behind you and uttering a loud “boo”, or dropping a big hairy spider on your laptop while you’re working.


If you accept that every horse will spook at some point, there are some things you can guard against that will decrease the likelihood of him invoking this natural reaction.
  • ·        Pain and discomfort will heighten the horse’s response to frightening situations. It could be a badly fitting saddle, a girth that’s too tight, or an injury you may not be aware of, including tooth issues, causing physical pain. In fact any sort of badly fitting tack can cause pain by exerting undue pressure on skin, muscle or bone.
  • ·        If your horse is high energy or excitable, spooking violently at every little thing – particularly if he was previously calm and confident – look to his feeding regime. Reducing the starch (cereals) and sugar (forage) might help.
  • ·        Your horse’s vision is different to yours. He’ll see and fear things you’re unaware of, so you need to take this into consideration. Vision impairment can increase this problem, so make sure he doesn’t have any eyesight problems if he’s an inveterate spooker.
  • ·        Finally your horse needs to respect you. If you have a trusting relationship with your horse and he knows you’ll keep him away from unsafe situations, he’ll be calmer and less likely to spook.


If your horse is sound, comfortable and happy but still spooks at every trembling leaf perhaps you should look at yourself and your handling of him, and I don’t mean to sound critical here.

Horses have been described as “emotional sponges”, picking up on the negative energy of their riders and handlers. In a nutshell, if you’re nervous when out riding him, he’ll be nervous too.

Take a calm, relaxed approach while riding … talk to your horse and your riding companions. Be aware of your body posture … don’t grip the reins with white knuckles and hunch forward. Your horse will know you’re frightened and be extra alert for “predators”.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but if you feel secure in the saddle, your horse will be secure having you there and in charge.


If your horse is spooky make sure he doesn’t have time to dwell on the inherent dangers when you’re out riding! Keep him busy with different commands and tasks to keep his mind off of what’s happening around him. You may be happy to hack along peacefully soaking in the countryside views and atmosphere, admiring the wild flowers and becoming soporific as your horse plods along. He, however, will be alert to danger and ready to invoke that flight response at the first sign of danger.

The trick is to keep engaged with your mount. Keep his mind off of things he may spook at and even when walking give him distractions. Get him to vary his stride length, change direction, request him to put his shoulder in. Anything to keep him focused.

If he spooks, don’t make a drama out of it, much as you’re inclined to! Stay calm … don’t punish him and thereby reinforce the idea that he was right to be afraid. Deal with it calmly and once he is under control just stay calm and carry on. Try to take a blasé attitude about it all.


If you or your horse are having major spook problems it’s best to seek out a professional coach or trainer to help you overcome the issue.

It will require patience and perseverance, but it’s worth investing the time and effort because with help you can achieve a dependable horse that you can enjoy riding anywhere, anytime.


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Riding Helmets: Fit, Fashion and Function

12 May 2019 04:44
Charles Owen Sparkly YR8 Riding Hat

You’d no more think of mounting your horse for a ride without wearing your riding helmet than you would think of driving your car without wearing a seatbelt – so we hope, anyway!

The question of riding helmets and what they’re all about was brought to mind recently when Prof. Roy Burek, grandson of Charles Owen who founded the great British safety helmet company bearing his name, passed away in his sleep. Roy, like his grandfather before him, was committed to making riding safer and saving lives by preventing head injury. His legacy lives on, because a Just Giving pagehas been created with a view to establishing a trust to fund further research into head injury.

Equestrian Headgear

It’s hard to believe that in the United States only one in eight riders wear a safety helmet! We here in the UK however have been “heading” the safety initiative since Charles Owen began manufacturing cork helmets for the military in 1911.

Before then equestrian headgear was fashionable rather than safe. Our forebears rode out hunting or hacking in top hats or bowler hats. Those exercising and riding race horses or jumping in gymkhanas had little to protect their noggins other than a flat cap. 

Even the early safety helmets were a far cry from the technologically designed riding helmets we have saving lives today.

It seems it took a long time for the equestrian world to realise that horses are flight animals, and that no horse is bomb proof. We’re sure you’ve all had a fall or two and can attest to that fact!

Modern manufacturers of riding safety helmets haven’t forfeited fashion … there is a huge range of styles available for different equestrian disciplines. You can sport everything from traditional velvet to sparkles. You can even wear a basic skull cap that allows you to use a variety of hat covers – also known as hat silks – to add style and match your outfit.

Safety Standards

It’s the safety standards that count the most though, and something every rider should be aware of when investing in a helmet. There are different standards applicable to different countries, but here in the UK the British Standards Institute insists on quality Kite marks decided on after rigorous testing.

The standards are reviewed every two years, so make sure yours is up to date.
To make it even more complicated different equestrian competition bodies have different rules and requirements for helmets. A recent article in Horse and Hound may help you ensure you have a fitting riding hat for your purpose.

If you’re in any doubt about buying the correct helmet you should consult your local tack shop. Here at Totally Tack, for example, we know exactly what you need and how to properly fit a riding hat.

A Fitting Riding Hat

Like Roy Burek of Charles Owen said, a riding hat has to fill three criteria: “Fit, function and fashion”.

For us, fit is all important. Why … because protection from impact in the event of a fall depends on the riding hat’s ability to stay in place, and, of course, you need it to be comfortable and be able to see and hear clearly while riding.

Firstly we’d like to say that a riding hat is a personal item. Don’t think you can beg, borrow or steal one and ride off into the sunset as safe as houses! You can never know the history of a borrowed helmet, and if it has received an impact in the past its safety may be compromised. You also can’t risk your precious head to a helmet that doesn’t fit you properly, or is properly secured.

Yes, we sell riding helmets online – a great range of them actually – but only to those who assure us they have been properly fitted and measured and request a particular make, size and model which they know suits them. We will also supply replacement helmets in the same vein for those whose helmets have been damaged or compromised in an accident.

So, if you are buying a completely new riding helmet, for safety’s sake, come and see us in our showroom, make a selection and let us professionally fit it for you. If you’re not close enough to visit, see another BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) approved hat fitter.

Be safe, not sorry … wear your helmet while riding! Please don’t become a statistic. Ride safe!

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28 April 2019 05:39

As our loyal, regular customers know, we’ve totally outgrown our little tack shop in Frome, and with the online retail business burgeoning we’re being squeezed ever tighter.
Some time ago we took the decision to move on to pastures new, but we certainly don’t want to leave friendly Frome behind us! Finally we have found the perfect premises in which to expand our offering, with plenty of free parking for our customers (something lacking at
our current premises), so we’re excited to announce our move to Commerce Park in early June.
We will now have a fantastic, baronial warehouse space where we can store and properly display our huge range of stock. We’ll also have a proper office where we can administer our online sales, and not be confined to a damp basement as we have been until now.
Online order picking and packing will become a pleasure – our shop customers won’t have to trip over cardboard boxes and packing tape when they pop in to browse and have a chat.
Our hours will stay the same, and we’ll still always have time for a good gossip and chat – either in person or on the phone – because that’s the part of our business we enjoy the most.


In other words, nothing will change except that we’ll be able to operate more professionally and have room for even more excellent equestrian products. Our suppliers are delighted, of course, and we’re confident our customers will be too.
We’re also in the process of having a new e-commerce website designed. This may take some time in the making, seeing as we want it to be perfect, so stay tuned for launch date!
We’re not leaving Vallis Way lightly. There’s lots of nostalgia because it’s where we began our little independent retail business back in 2009 (having started selling tack online four years before that). We had our passion for horses as a starting point, along with my (Dawn’s) equine knowledge in the form of a BSc(Hons) in Equine Science, and a PGdip Equine Science. The retailing part of the business we learned through trial and error. John proved to be a natural at marketing, and turned his leatherworking hobby into a saddlery qualification a few years ago, so he can now offer bespoke hand-made tack and leather repairs as part of our business offering.


It’s not been an easy ride to get to the point where we can expand and look to the future, while still determined to stay local at heart. On a typical day we’re up well before the larks, then head off to feed and pamper our three horses, who live out most of the year in a field near Warminster. Then we’re off to the shop to get in some admin time before opening the door to customers at 10am. At five we shut up shop, but usually have more work to do before going out to put the horses to bed.
Weekends are precious, with the horses – and the odd ride – always our priority.
You could say that we’re insatiable workhorses, but that would be a pun too far!
We’d like to thank all the local horsey folk, and our online customers both in the UK and around the world, who have supported us so far, and say that we are excited about seeing you at our new store in June. We’ll be just the same – only bigger and better!

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On Show .....

14 April 2019 05:17

Its show time, folks … time to let your horse/pony strut his stuff and bring home the rosettes! How to do that? We hope to help with our tips and tricks for preparing the perfect show pony, including a round-up of what the judges want.

For novices, showing can be daunting, so start slow in your class at a local horse show. Whichever level you’re at the idea is to show your horse/pony in his best condition and tack … and whether its in-hand showing or you’re sitting on his back you need to be neat yourself, and show off your close connection with your horse.  In many cases success in the show ring gives you the confidence to move on to other types of horse/pony eventing, so it’s definitely worth the effort.

Showing is a chance for your beloved steed to compete up against others of the same type, whether he is a hunter, native breed, cob, hack, senior or any other category.


Don’t be afraid of being judged! Any criticism from judges is a learning curve, meant to help not hinder. Judges are not dragons. There are two overseeing  bodies that judge horses and ponies in UK show rings … the British Show Pony Society (BSPS)  for, obviously, pony classes and the British Show Horse Association for hacks, cobs, maxi cobs and riding horses. 
Showing is all about presentation, and therefore your horse/pony should be in tip-top condition and well groomed – as should you.
More about show day preparation later, but initially let’s consider what the judges will be looking for in general:

·        A fine head, well set on the neck.
·        Elegant appearance with a graceful walk.
·        Clean limbs with short cannon bones and neatly sloping pasterns.
·        When it comes to tack, glitter and sparkle are not appreciated. Go for brown preferably.
·        A rider/handler that follows instructions to the letter.


Most important is to read the rules of the show you are entering with great care. If you have doubts about anything contact the authority running the show you are attending for clarification. They are there to help. It’s very useful to have attended and observed previous shows as a spectator or be involved as a groom at the event where you have chosen to make your debut so that you know what to expect on the day.

Some other things you can do include:

·        Practice plaiting and braiding manes and tails (if allowed)  to give your horse/pony a more professional look.

·        Clip out your show horse/pony all year round, but clip the white bits like legs and facial markings about a week before to make sure they stay bright white.  This advice is also dependent on the breed/type – once again refer to the rule book.

·        On show day you need a gleaming coat …. In the lead up to show day make sure the horse/pony is bathed regularly with a colour-specific  shampoo and smooth dry with a soft body brush. Use a finishing spray on the day.

·        As the day approaches use a hoof oil to encourage a shiny hoof.

·        Keep white socks clean and pristine with a stain removing shampoo and on the day you travel to the show make sure you protect those white areas with travel boots. Use horse sun cream to protect vulnerable areas.

·        If you can, practice making eye-catching quarter marks on the hindquarters, prior to show day, so you can reproduce them faultlessly before you enter the arena.

Showing is all about putting your best foot forward. Follow the rules and you can’t go wrong! Good luck with the showing season. We’re looking forward to you sharing your successes on our Facebook page and if we can help, give us a shout.

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Laminitis: Anything but Sweet!

31 March 2019 07:00
Most cases of laminitis are caused by over-indulgence in sweet, spring pasture.

It’s crippling, incurable though manageable, and in many cases the only relief is euthanasia …. Laminitis is a disease that is the dread of the horse world, for both animal and owner.

As most equestrians know, laminitis is the painful inflammation of the laminae – the soft tissues that bind the pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall. Left untreated the horse or pony will be lame and ultimately there will be complete separation of the pedal bone, which rotates and penetrates the sole of the foot. It is mainly the fore-feet that are affected.

With an estimated 7% of horses in the UK suffering from laminitis, it is not surprising that so much research has been dedicated to understanding and preventing this horrible condition over many decades, but the causes remain largely theoretical and a cure elusive.
Sheet plastinate of an equine hoof with rotation
 of pedal bone after laminitis by 
Dr. Christoph von Horst
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


Today veterinary science recognises three different types of laminitis:

Endocrinopathic Laminits is the type that affects the majority of sufferers –linked to Equine Metabolic Syndrome and generally seen in overweight, underworked horses and ponies who have a high sugar diet, including unrestricted grazing. This accounts for around 90% of cases, which is why springtime, when new sweet grass bursts forth in the pasture, is flagged as laminitis danger season.

Sepsis Associated Laminitis can be a by-product of a primary illness or infection in a horse which is already sick.

Supporting Limb Laminitis happens very occasionally in lame horses with an injury like a fracture or septic joint . The disease can develop in the supporting limb when the horse spends a period favouring it over the injured leg.
What is most frightening for horse owners is that once a horse has been diagnosed and successfully managed through a bout of laminitis, that animal will be susceptible to re-occurrences of the disease. It’s not a condition that can be dealt with and forgotten about. Once your horse is pre-disposed to laminitis, you have to stay permanently alert for signs and symptoms of it coming back.


Whether or not your horse has had laminitis previously, you should watch out for the early warning signs and symptoms of laminitis and call in the vet if you have any suspicions that all is not well. Catching it early could spare your horse much suffering, and perhaps even save his life.

The damage to the laminae can start microscopically long before the horse shows any signs of lameness. The damage can’t be reversed, but it can be prevented from worsening.

Here are some tips you can use to check regularly for warning signs:

1.     Check the pulse in the artery that runs down the back of the fetlock. It should be faint or barely there, but if it is strong (or “bounding”) this is an indicator of laminitis, or other foot problems.

2.     It’s normal for horses to have hot hooves occasionally, but if the hoof temperature is high for more than a couple of hours and it’s not a particularly warm day, you should be concerned.

3.     Keep a check on hoof growth. Healthy hooves grow faster at the front of the foot; if laminitis is present the hooves grow faster than normal at the heels.

4.     If you know your horse’s normal, resting heart rate an notice a sudden rise, this could be a pre-cursor to lameness caused by laminitis.

5.     Keep watch on the white line under the foot, where the sole meets the hoof wall. If it is widening or flecked with blood, this could be a sign of laminitis.

6.     It’s been noticed that horses with laminitis shorten their stride before showing signs of limping, most obviously on turning at the walk or on hard surfaces.
7.     Guard against raised insulin levels by learning how to do insulin checks. An insulin level of over 40 can mean laminitis threatens.
8.     A high fever and diarrhoea – an inflammatory response –  can also be signs of laminitis.
Note, none of these signs are definitively proof of laminitis; merely indicators that should be checked out by a vet, particularly if more than one of these signs are present.


Once your horse is diagnosed with laminitis the medical treatment (probably anti-inflammatories and painkillers) will be in the hands of the vet, but there is a great deal you can do to help him overcome this debilitating condition – not least of which is to follow the vet’s instructions to the letter!

If he’s put on box rest, which is likely, you’ll need to ensure he has deep, soft bedding (a thick layer of shavings is comfortable and supportive), a prescribed diet, and plenty of fresh, clean water available.

Boredom busters in the form of stable toys are a good idea, but guard against sweet treats, particularly if he’s already overweight.

Avoid stress – having contact with companion horses can help in this respect.
When he’s well enough to be turned out to pasture, consider using a grazing muzzle and turn out during the night when grazing fructan levels are lowest, or, better still, turn out in a zero-grazing environment.


There’s no need to starve your horse, but it is important to monitor his diet and weight carefully. The idea is to keep his digestive system on top form and maintain a healthy hind gut, which is where the toxins that cause laminitis can build up. The nutritional needs of a horse depend on his breed and workload. If in doubt consult an equine nutritionist. In general, high fibre, low sugar and “little and often” are the rule of thumb for a healthy horse.

Make sure your horse has plenty of exercise, is allowed to carry out normal behaviours and has companions to minimise stress and prevent depression.

Have a reputable farrier attends to the horse’s feet every five or six weeks, and feed supplements to promote healthy hoofgrowth.

While laminitis is painful and debilitating, when properly managed – and preferably prevented in the first place – it need not impede your horse from living a happy healthy life.

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Ready, steady .... go! Eventing season 2019.

17 March 2019 04:32

The ultimate challenge for horse and rider, eventing for 2019 looks like being more thrilling for equestrian sport enthusiasts than ever before! If you’ve taken the plunge and entered for one or more of these horse trials at local, national or international level, we salute you!

We’re already well into the British Eventing (BE) Calendar, with fixtures having already taken place, but things are about to hot up, so we thought we’d explain how you can keep your eventing horse healthy and happy for the duration.

If you’re a keen spectator, or a competitor, you should take note that this year sees many changes in the rules and regulations – most aimed at improving horse welfare – for this year. This includes changes in classes, venues and a controversial increase in BE fees.


Riders from the age of 12 and horses aged five and over can compete in the gruelling round of eventing championships on offer, but it’s down to a crack support team to keep horses up and running through this ‘triathlon’ of equestrian sport …. the dressage, showjumping and cross country scoring trials at every event.

Once you are confident you and your horse are sound, fit and trained for eventing  (see the FEI – Federation Equestre International – advice in this respect) we can help you stay that way!


1.     At all events at any level a well-fitting riding hat in black or dark blue, meeting British standards, with no peak, is essential. Top hats are only for the experts at international level.  Remember to tie up long hair under the helmet and leave off jewellery that may cause injury.

2.     For dressage ideally wear a dark blue tail coat, white stock, gloves, and white or beige breeches with plain black boots.

3.     Whips are a no-no, especially in the dressage stage.

4.     For the showjumping  phase wear a black, dark blue or read coat with a white stock and black boots. Breeches should be white, buff or brown.

5.     For cross country you can wear a sweater or shirt, preferably with long sleeves, teamed with white, buff or beige breeches and black boots. Body protectors(BETA  approved) are essential, and air jacketsare optional worn over a body protector.


1.     Jumping and dressage saddles.

2.     Black tack for dressage, with a square, white saddle pad.

3.     Boots for protection during the showjumping and cross country stages.
4.     In cross country grease is allowed on the front of the legs.

5.       It goes without saying that you wouldn’t travel to events without appropriate rugs, boots, tail-guards, hay nets, buckets, sponges, grooming tools, studs, scraper, tack etc. You know what your horse will need, so replenish your stocks with Totally Tack online, pack it and take it!


After an arduous three days of eventing, culminating in the cross country probably on a hot summer’s day, it is likely your horse will need some TLC and cooling down. Wash him off with cool water and scrape it off, while intermittently walking him.

Look after his legs! He’s generated a great deal of heat in the muscles, along with jarring, so apply ice boots to the tendons and fetlock joints to increase his circulation, reduce swelling and provide an analgesic effect.

Examine your horse for wounds, and if you find any – however small – clean them thoroughly, dress and bandage. If there’s any major wound, call the vet.


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03 March 2019 05:44


There is a school of thought that considers grazing muzzles as cruel and unnatural
punishment for horses, restricting their ability to graze on spring and summer grass. How much more cruel is it, however to allow a horse prone to obesity to guzzle grass at will, resulting in all sorts of metabolic health problems?
It’s important to remember that grazing muzzles are used to cut down the ingestion of grass, not to prevent him from eating at all.

Weight Management

Horses that tend to gain weight or are susceptible to laminitis need a grazing muzzle as part of a weight management plan.
According to the British Horse Society (BHS) it’s wise to consider using a grazing muzzle with other weight control measures before your horse reaches a body condition score (fat score) of 4 out of 5.
If you are concerned about your horse or pony’s weight, consult your vet, but it is a sure bet that a grazing muzzle will be recommended, especially for horses that live out in spring and summer, as part of the “diet”.
Most of the research into grazing muzzles has been conducted on ponies, but it obviously translates into horses. Studies have found that wearing a grazing muzzle reduces grass intake considerably … up to 80% in some cases, meaning that weight gain is substantially reduced.

Horse Welfare

While the BHS doesn’t come out fully in favour of grazing muzzles, they do point out that owning and caring for horses comes with a legal duty of care, which includes the need to protect against disease. “Obesity is a growing welfare concern in the UK and therefore responsible grazing muzzle use can improve the welfare of your horse,” they say in a guidance pamphlet.
Muzzle Risks:
If you decide to use a muzzle, there are some risks involved which can be minimized with proper management.
Firstly, the muzzle can cause rubbing – behind the ears, at the top of the muzzle, around the lips and points of cheek bones and so on, exacerbated by sand that might collect in the muzzle.
Then there is the possible damage to teeth, and the fact that horses may be frustrated if the grass is too short to eat through the muzzle, causing aversion behaviour. Horses may also get caught on fences or other protrusions in the environment by the muzzle, and be impeded in grooming themselves and their herd mates.
If your horse is cared for in livery and you prescribe a muzzle, you should ensure its use is carefully monitored to avoid stress.

Introducing a muzzle

The first step to putting a grazing muzzle on your horse is to ensure you have the right fit. You should be able to fit two fingers under the noseband of the muzzle when its on, with a one inch gap between the mouth and base of the muzzle. Your horse should be able to open his mouth in comfort, and the straps should not be adding any pressure to the points on his face.
Be patient when introducing a muzzle. First train him to be comfortable having the muzzle near his face, holding it against his head for a few seconds at a time. Then progress to getting him used to having the muzzle around his nose, just for a few seconds at a time initially, gradually extending the period and rewarding him for his acceptance.
When he finally allows you to put the muzzle over his nose and secure it, reward him with a treat through the muzzle and remove it carefully. Leave it in place for seconds and then minute, offering him graze in hand to encourage him to eat while wearing it. Once he’s comfortable, turn him out with the muzzle on but supervise him initially and remove it with a reward any time he seems unhappy.
When he’s grazing and drinking with ease then you can leave him turned out in his muzzle, but don’t ever leave him longer than 10 hours at the maximum even when he’s fully accustomed to the muzzle.. Regularly review his behaviour and adjust the muzzle if/when necessary, especially in the earlier stages of muzzled turn-out.
A grazing muzzle can be a useful tool in your horse’s weight management in conjunction with other weight control measures. Totally Tack has a range of horse grazing muzzles available.

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17 February 2019 04:15


Is your horse a lignophobe? Don’t worry – this is not some horrid disease, but rather a stereotypy exhibited by some horses that have a penchant for biting and chewing wood (lignophobia). In the horse world this rather worrying behaviour is known as cribbing, crib-biting or wind-sucking.

Traditionally horses who crib-bite (and it’s estimated around 4% of them do) were thought to have developed this nasty habit out of boredom and/or anxiety. Long hours alone in the stable or pasture with no distraction may drive him to bite and chew on the stable door or fence post. Once established it’s a habit that’s hard to break – a bit like the repetitive behaviours of obsessive-compulsive humans driven to repeated hand-washing, nail-biting or knuckle-cracking.

So, it’s not an illness and could well be cured just by giving the cribbing horse more stimulation? Yes true, but modern thinking is that in some cases it may be the sign of ulcers  – and indeed if not checked it can lead to physical problems, not least the wearing down of the teeth.

Evidence of Cribbing

As an observant and caring horse owner you won’t be able to avoid noticing that your horse is cribbing. He’ll take every opportunity to put his upper incisors on a wooden fixture – usually a fence pole, gate or stable door – arch his neck and start making a gulping, grunting noise, sucking in air. You’ll find gnaw marks on the wood, and his top incisors will be worn down beyond what is normal for his age.

Effects of Cribbing

The arching of the neck that takes place during crib-biting can put a strain on the underneck muscles, the oesophagus and the pharynx, affecting the respiratory and gastrointestinal system.

The wearing of the teeth may cause the horse difficulties with grazing, and very often cribbers will interrupt their feeding in order to satisfy their cribbing craving, which means some may lose weight.

Not only are determined cribbers damaging the wooden structures around them, but they are also affecting their physical health.


You may think his cribbing is more annoying than anything else, but as we stated previously modern thinking is that there could be more to this behaviour than just a vice brought on by boredom.

In a study at Bristol University involving cribbing foals it was found that many of them had gastric ulcers, and some stopped cribbing after they were given an antacid diet and their ulcers healed.

Other researchers have also demonstrated a connection between cribbing and the discomfort caused by stomach ulcers. Apparently cribbing stimulates the flow of saliva, reducing the acidity in the stomach, which has been associated with concentrate feeding.

Combatting Cribbing

In the light of the above if your horse is cribbing it is definitely worth consulting your vet about the possibility of gastric ulcers being the cause, and taking appropriate recommended dietary action, also administering antacids.

Increase the roughage in your horse’s diet and cut down on sweet treats and feeds.
Even if you believe your horse is ulcer-free, but still cribs, it’s worth talking to your vet and investigating other causes, such as anxiety or boredom.

If you think he’s cribbing out of boredom, find ways to enrich his life and add mental and physical stimulation to his daily routine. Increase the amount of time he spends turned out, give him toys to play with and make sure he has companionship and regular grooming and exercise sessions.

If this doesn’t help you could ultimately resort to a commercial anti-cribbing paint or spray to make wooden surfaces unattractive to him, or physical cribbing restraints, such as a strap or collar that prevents him from pulling his neck back to crib.

To reduce anxiety and stress make sure he’s fed regularly and has a regular routine where he knows what to expect when.

Managing a cribber is not easy, but it’s not a behaviour that should be ignored. It’s a sign your horse needs help either emotionally or physically. This is one condition where one cannot say prevention is better than cure!


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Coping with Thrush in Horses

03 February 2019 05:41

Keep hoofs trimmed and feet clean to avoid thrush
One of the curses of winter for horse owners is that wet, muddy conditions and confinement can increase the risk of a horse picking up a thrush infection in his feet – most commonly the hind feet.

Thrush is nasty and unmistakable. It manifests as a revoltingly smelly and slimy black discharge from the frog, which usually looks abnormal with rubbery flaps and an irregular shape.

Those smelly feet are a sign of a degenerative infection caused by several bacteria and fungi – including the notorious Fusobacterium necrophorum, which is the organism that causes sheep foot rot.

Rot is exactly what is happening when your horse contracts Thrush, and if it isn’t stopped in its tracks in a hurry the bacteria will eat away the frog and move on to attack deeper tissues in the hoof, causing open sores and swelling of the lower leg. Once Thrush takes hold the horse will probably show signs of lameness and pain if pressure is exerted on the area around the frog.

Cause of Thrush in Horses

Traditionally most have believed that when a horse develops thrush it is a sign of bad stable management. It is true unhygienic conditions – a horse left standing for a long time on soiled, wet bedding or constantly turned out on marshy, muddy pasture trampled with manure, for example, will be in the ideal breeding ground for the bacteria that cause thrush.

Some horses subjected to foul, dirty conditions though avoid thrush – others in perfectly clean conditions can get it. So susceptibility plays a role.

There are other reasons for horses contracting thrush too. These include a poor foot conformation, particularly if the foot has a small, narrow frog with the central groove compressed or some other foot deformity that allows dirt and bacteria to enter. A lack of picking out the hoofs and cleaning the feet can also contribute to thrush infections.

Basically any conditions that can damage the frog and allow dirt and moisture to collect in and around it can fester into thrush.

Treating Thrush in Horses

Treatment of thrush is a specialised job that needs to be done by a vet or farrier. The damaged tissue will have to be scraped away, probably more than once during the course of treatment, and then frequently treated with an antibiotic solution, an astringent wash and iodine.

Most important is to keep the affected hoof as dry, clean and aerated as possible, so a pristine stable with dry bedding is essential, and turned out horses should only be let loose on well-drained pasture. Oxygen kills the bacteria.

As the condition improves keep the foot clean and use a hoof pick regularly.

Identifying the reason for the infection occurring will help you to ensure it doesn’t
Equine America Fungatrol Hoof Dressing
happen again. If your horse is susceptible to bouts of thrush make sure you treat the feet regularly with a commercial anti-fungal hoof dressing and/or a barrier fungicidal oil. Because the offending bacteria congregate in cracks and fissures, make sure you get any treatment solution into all the crevices.

Thrush is not life-threatening for your horse, but untreated thrush infections can have severe consequences for the hoof as a whole. Like most equine conditions, prevention is better than cure – and good management is the best prevention tool.

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A Cosy Bed for Your Horse

20 January 2019 06:26


Part of the huge responsibility of owning a horse is to make sure he has clean, comfortable living conditions. Just like humans, a horse enjoys a cosy bed, but whereas we don’t change our bedding every day, you’ll probably have to do that for your horse, particularly if he happens to be one of the messy ones!
Mucking out is one of the more unpleasant chores in horse care, but its pretty vital because a dirty stable can cause respiratory and hoof problems for the horse, and make conditions rather unpleasant for you too.

If you shirk the duty for just one day things can get out of hand – even a quick clean is better than none. With the right tools (at the very least a fork, broom, shovel and wheelbarrow) mucking out shouldn’t take long on a daily basis, and you can have an
Totally Tack stocks all the tools you needto keep your stable clean!
occasional deep clean.
There are traditionally two ways to keep your horse’s bedding clean:
·        The dreaded daily muck out when you remove everything from his stall along with the poo and urine, and then lay it all again.
·        Deep littering (best achieved with wood shavings), which involves removing the solid waste every day then covering the wet waste with clean bedding material. When the pile gets too high then it all has to be dug out and you start again.
Horse Bedding Material
Wherever horse owners gather the conversation will doubtless at some point turn to what type of bedding material is best.
The traditional type of bedding is straw, which has the advantage of being inexpensive and breaking down well on the muck heap to produce good manure for the garden. It is, however, bulky and messy to store. Also some horses can be allergic to it and others may like to eat it (avoid oat straw if possible because your horse will find this tasty!). You’ll also find wet straw is heavy to clean out, and it can be difficult to separate the droppings from the clean bedding.

Instead of straight straw you could use chopped straw from which the dust has been extracted and which has been treated to be non-palatable. It comes in clean, wrapped bales. This can, however, be hard to source as it is not widely available, and is more expensive than untreated straw.
Another alternative is shredded paper and cardboard, but this is again bulky, although it usually comes in wrapped bales. It tends to blow around and be untidy, and produces a rather soggy bed by the morning.
Wood shavings especially prepared for horse bedding is a popular option. Horses won’t eat it, but it can be difficult to dispose of because the shavings take some time to
Eliminate ammonia with
SP Equine StableZone Anti-bacterial bedding powder
rot down. Cheaper versions can be dusty – bad for your horse’s respiratory system – and if the bed becomes too wet there will be a build up of ammonia which you’ll have to guard against.
Wood pellets, made from compacted sawdust, is a good option because they are dust free and highly absorbent. They need to have water added to fluff them up before use but they decompose quickly on the muck heap.
Chopped Hempstems are another choice, available in some areas. It’s warm, highly absorbent, decomposes quickly and is good at absorbing odours. It’s also light to muck out.
Rubber matting, laid wall to wall, is probably the most expensive option initially because it is costly to install, but once it’s laid you shouldn’t have to spend a great deal on bedding in future. Many though do cover the rubber matting with a layer of shavings or straw, because it looks cold and uninviting without, and the rubber can be slow to dry out in cold, wet weather. The matting is easy to muck out, though, and can be simply hosed down.
Whatever type of bedding you use, you owe it to your horse it ensure he is warm and comfortable in the long hours he spends alone in the stable while you’re tucked under your duvet! Night-night!

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Curing a Cast

05 January 2019 07:08

The more time your horse spends in his stable, the more the danger of him becoming cast – in other words, stuck and unable to regain his feet.
Graceful as they are, horses are a bit ungainly when they try to stand up after lying down. They need room to stretch out those long legs and roll themselves into position in order to rise and shine.
There are situations, however, when your horse may be unable to get up once he’s down and becomes cast – and this happens for various reasons not necessarily related to illness or injury.
Casting in the stable is particularly more likely nowadays with the size of stalls becoming smaller. The British Horse Society recommends a minimum stable size of 12ft x 12ft for horses; for ponies the recommended minimum dimensions should be 10ft x 10ft and 10ft x12ft for larger ponies.
In a small space your horse may land up with his legs jammed against the wall if he’s

in the stall. He could also become cast in the paddock if he becomes caught up in his halter or blanket straps, perhaps be wedged under a feeder or rail or he might fall in the trailer. There are dozens of ways horses can become cast, but whatever the reason it is not a pretty sight to see, and the first inclination you and your horse will have is to panic!

When you find a cast horse he will probably be flailing around and struggling – in danger of injuring himself and anyone who gets close trying to help him. Your first instinct may be to rush to his assistance, but this is a situation where you need to think coolly before you act.
One thing to remember is that if the horse has been cast for some time the pressure on blood vessels may have cut off the blood supply to parts of the body, possibly causing nerve and/or muscle damage. There is also the risk that when the animal is back on his feet and blood returns to the affected areas that he will suffer pain and inflammation. 
So, if you think he may have been down for awhile, has injured himself, or if you suspect that he has become cast because of some condition or complaint it is best to call in the vet at the outset before you try to get him up.
To allow the cast horse to stand up he’s going to need space to flex his legs, encouragement to calm down and help to roll over and find his feet.
Call in an assistant (its unlikely you’ll manage to right a horse on your own) and carefully assess his situation while you calmly talk to the horse and determine a strategy. If you’re lucky the horse will sense you are there to help and may calm a little, but don’t count on it lasting. He could very well lose his cool and start lashing out again, so keep out of harm’s way.
When you set out to help a cast horse remember he will need to have space to get up on his front legs first. The main thing to guard against is injury – to yourself and the animal.
Some may recommend hooking his legs with rope to pull him over. This is a sure way to hurt yourself as you would have to reach over him and tie ropes to his flailing feet, then flip those feet towards you. Use this only as a last resort.
The first thing to do is assess whether there is anything that can safely be removed to give his front legs more room – bedding, pole or any other obstruction.
Make sure you have a first aid kit to hand in case he has suffered any cuts or scratches in his efforts to get up.
Get him as calm as possible, then grab his mane, neck and/or forelock and shift his front end backwards. Even a few inches might give him the space he needs to get his front legs in operation.
Once he looks as though he’s free enough to get up beat a quick retreat … he’s likely to leap to his feet with alacrity!
Most horses are fine once they get back on their feet, but if you suspect any ill effects – or perhaps suspect colic as the reason he was cast in the first place – have a vet check him over.
If you think he may have been cast for some time there may be hidden consequences that require a vet’s expertise.
The majority of horses manage to go through life never becoming cast, but there are others who seem to make a habit of it.
Whatever the case with your horse, it is wise to be mindful of the risk of casting, and take precautions against it happening.
As mentioned previously, you should make sure the stall is big enough to allow him to lay down with plenty of room to move. The bottom few feet of the stall should be solid, with no slats, obstacles or gaps where his legs or hooves could get caught. A lining of some non-slip rubber material is also a good idea. This will help him get a foothold if he does get cast.
A traditional method of preventing casting is to bank bedding thickly and widely around the circumference of the stall, encouraging the horse to lay down in the middle rather than against the sides. There is some debateabout this, however, because it is alleged that banking may make the likelihood of casting worse and the banks themselves may harbour dust and bacteria that could affect the respiratory system of your horse.
It’s also recommended that any wall fixtures in the stable, such as feeders and water troughs, be attached high enough to be out of the way of the horse when it is laying down, to prevent legs and hooves from becoming stuck underneath them.
Finally, ensure that your horse’s rug and halter are not loose or have loops where he might catch his hooves.
Indoors or out, a horse needs room to roll over and regain his feet. And a firm surface to push against if he lands up against a wall or fence.
We hope your horse never becomes cast, but if he does … get a grip!

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Getting Real about Unicorns

19 December 2018 04:11

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a beautiful creature with magical powers, called a unicorn.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to believe implicitly in such a story – but, much like we sadly grow out of believing in Father Christmas, realistically we know that unicorns are the stuff of myth and legends. Or are they?

Well, no-one’s ever found the fossilized remains of a horse-like type creature with a single horn – though the fossil record for equines is rich indeed. 

The North Koreans caused a bit of a kerfuffle a few years ago when they reported they’d found the grave and remains of a unicorn ridden by one of their ancient Kings, but the evidence was proved to be spurious.

There have even been reported sightings of unicorns over the years. One that caused a particular stir on the internet came from the Ontario Science Center, Canada in 2010 … take a look.

So, without physical proof, what else can be done to establish whether unicorns actually ever did/do exist, or are purely a figment of superstitious human imagination (or wishful thinking)?


Unicorns as we know them today are usually depicted as beautiful, long-maned pure white horses with a glittering twisted multi-coloured horn – and sometimes wings. They are magical, shy creatures that live in forests and have healing powers. Legend has it that fleet-footed wild unicorns can only be caught and tamed by sweet and innocent young virgins.

This pretty picture of unicorns is no doubt what makes them so attractive to
young girls; hands up who’s daughter has a pair of unicorn slippers, unicorns printed on her bedroom curtains, or a fluffy unicorn cuddly toy! Unicorns are all the rage, and not for the first time – but in the past they weren’t quite so pink and sparkly.


What’s interesting is that one of the earliest literary mentions of unicorns comes in the writings of the ancient Greek physician Ctesias in a sort of natural history treatise he wrote about India in around 400 BC. Clearly he believed unicorns to be real living creatures, although he never actually saw one. Ctesias visited the Persian imperial court where he interviewed travellers who described the Indian unicorns to him, and he recorded their words. 

To sum up, the creatures were said to be wild asses as large as horses, with white bodies, dark red head, blue eyes and a red white and black pointed horn protruding from the forehead.

Aristotle mentioned unicorns as well, although he equated them to an oryx. Classical Romans got in on the act too – even Caesar wrote about a stag shaped like an ox with a single horn growing between its ears. In the third century Roman historian Aelian described another unicorn creature with feet like an elephant and the tail of a goat – a rhinoceros perhaps?

And so different conceptions of a one-horned ass/horse/antelope/goat creature spread around the world until in the Middle Ages the unicorn made it into the Bible – although this is now put down to a mistranslation from the Hebrew.


By the medieval times unicorn horn had come to be regarded as a cure for poisoning and disease, and an aphrodisiac. 

A pod of narwhal swimming ... note the horn!
Most of the horns sold here in the UK and Europe were the tusks of the narwhal whale, which grows a long spiralled tooth projecting from its head, much sought after by a gullible public. The marvellous healing properties attributed to unicorns had them being taken on across Europe as symbols to designate a pharmacy.

At this time most people were in no doubt that unicorns really did exist – probably in India or some other remote eastern realm – and adventurous hunters were bringing the magical horns back to Europe. In medieval society and even beyond they were written and spoken of as real creatures.

The unicorn gradually became enshrined in folklore and folk tales, and featured in much Renaissance art – eventually finding its way onto the Royal Coat of Arms of the British monarch. 

Even today the elusive animal wanders through pages of fantasy literature, continuing to charm us as he exudes his qualities of peace and power, wit and whimsy, nobility and courage.

Need a unicorn horn?? Order now from Totally Tack!
So – do YOU believe in unicorns? Perhaps Lewis Carroll had it right when he had his famous character Alice meet a unicorn in Through the Looking Glass. The creature told her: “If you believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”


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09 December 2018 04:02

What your horse can see ...

Have you ever gazed into the lovely, liquid and soulful eyes of your horse or pony and
wondered whether he sees the world as you do? Can he see colours, for example, or make out the details of your smile? Does he take in the view from his paddock or while you’re out on a hack, and why does he spook at seemingly innocuous items?

Like most things to do with equines, the answers to these questions lie in the complex genetic make-up of a horse and the way various things like vision have evolved in the wild to make him resilient to threats and help him find food.

The first amazing fact to note about the equine eye is the fact that they have the largest eyes of all the land mammals (well ostriches do have bigger eyes, but then they are technically birds!).

Secondly, did you know that if you stand head-on to your horse, in front of his forehead, or directly behind his tail, he won’t see you at all?


As you know, horses’ eyes are situated on either side of the head, giving them “binocular” vision – they can view their environment on both sides. Their forward vision however is limited to aiming down the nose, rather than straight ahead, so your horse has a blind spot directly in front of him. Similarly, although your horse has a large field of vision to the side and rear with each eye, he can’t see what’s straight behind his tail. 

Fortunately he is able to rectify this by simply moving his head.

The positioning of a horse’s eyes, though, give him panoramic vision on a horizontal plane – very difficult to imagine for us humans. Studies have shown that a horse can see as much as 200° in a circular aspect with the monocular vision of each eye. This means there is little in the surroundings that will escape his attention, particularly if it moves! If you can see his eyes while riding he can probably even see you on his back!
This remarkable ability is believed to have evolved in order to protect him from predators sneaking up on him from either side, or even, largely, from behind. Makes sense, as the horse was originally a prey animal.
While he’s grazing your horse will direct his vision downwards, but he’s still aware of his surroundings and if something moves in his wide perimeter, he’ll lift his head for a better view and bring his binocular vision to bear, and have a good look.
He’s programmed to investigate anything that catches his eye, which is what makes him prick up his ears and raise his head if something disturbing enters his peripheral vision.
So now you are probably wondering how clearly your horse sees his surroundings. Does he get a sharp, focused image of anything in that wide peripheral vision of his?
We don’t know for sure, but science has established that he sees detail best in front of his eyes. This is because he needs to identify what he’s eating and what the ground conditions are like if he’s moving. Apparently (how they measure this I don’t know!) it’s still not as clear a picture as we humans would get – a bit blurry –  but good enough for the horse’s purpose.
The further around in his panorama a potential moving threat is, the more blurred his sight of a disturbing object is. This is why even a leaf blowing  or a plastic bag caught on a fence can send him into panic mode.
At night horses see better than humans. This is down to the size of the eye and therefore the fact that they have more rod cells in the light sensitive area of the eye. Their eyes do take awhile to adjust, however, which is why they are sometimes reluctant to enter a dark stable directly from being out in the sun. This could also explain why shaded areas on a cross country course could be troublesome.
They can judge distance quickly and accurately, because they need to jump over things in their path while fleeing predators. Translated in the modern world to their ability to size up and conquer a jump.
According to Wikipediahorses are not colour blind, but they do have dichromatic vision, which means they see only blue and green colours (unlike humans who have trichromic vision). This doesn’t mean they see only things that are green and blue, but their sprectrum limits them to shades of those colours. They don’t see red, for example, which is probably a good thing! It means your purple matchy-matchy set is probably not doing much for them aesthetically! Reds appear more green.
This is because they only have two types of cones in their eyes …. All to do with light wavelengths.
Take this into account when building fancy colourful jumps and setting up arena equipment.
Last, but by no means least, you need to know if your horse CANsee your facial expressions when you hug him. Well, sad to say his close vision is probably not exceptional, but take comfort in the fact that horses are sensitive to feelings … he’ll recognize you with senses other than vision. It’s been found that horses can make facial expressions just like humans (as I’m sure you know) so take comfort in the fact that you don’t have to dress up to impress your horse visually … just be there for him!
Take care of your horse’s amazing eyes. Cleaning eyes should be part of your regular grooming process. He’s looking to you to take care of him! Contact us for advice on horse eye problems.

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Limber up with a Lunge

22 November 2018 10:52

None of us ride as frequently in the winter months, but our horses still need their exercise! One way
to get around this problem is to indulge in a bit of lungeing.

If you’ve never tried it before, you’ve probably seen it being done – the handler, armed with a long whip, holding on to a lead and directing the horse to move in circles around him/her.

If you doubt that lungeing is as good for exercise as a hard hack, consider that (as verified by top British lunge aid brand, Equi-Ami) 20 minutes lungeing can be as effective as 45 minutes riding under saddle.

If that isn’t enough to convince you that lungeing is beneficial, then take a closer look at what sort of exercise lungeing provides for your horse. I’ve heard it described as a cross between Pilates and gymnastics for horses! Safe to say it is an effective aerobic workout that encourages the stretching of the back muscles and activates the hind quarters while refining rhythm and improving balance.

Lungeing isn’t only good for exercising the horse in inclement weather, but is also a great alternative to riding when your horse is recovering from an injury, or if you yourself are incapacitated.

Lungeing gives you the opportunity to observe your horse and correct any bad habits. On the lunge you can assess soundness, quality of movement, gait, the way he approaches obstacles and so on. 

How to Lunge Your Horse

NOTE: If you’re new to lungeing we’d recommend asking someone who’s experienced to help you initially.

Before you begin you’ll need to prepare a lungeing arena and obtain the right equipment. You’ll need:

·         A fairly large enclosure where your horse can walk/trot in a circle – about 30 metres in diameter. Make sure the ground surface is free of debris or any hazards and that there are no distractions (like other horses) around to stop the horse focusing.

·         You should wear your usual riding gear, including jodhpurs, helmet and boots, and gloveswith a good grip to protect against rope burn.

·         You’ll need a lunge line – and this is not the same as a lead rope! Lunge lines are between 7m and 10m long, and usually made of cotton webbing or a cotton/nylon blend, with a clip on the end to attach to a cavesson.

·         Horse headgear for lungeing is preferably a lunge cavesson (though some prefer to use a bridle,
Shires Economy Lunge Cavesson
halter or headcollar). A cavesson consists of a padded noseband bearing metal rings on which to attach the lunge line, with a throatlatch, browband and perhaps some other extra straps to ensure stability.

·         Although you can lunge a horse wearing a saddle (with stirrups removed or properly secured) its preferable to use a lunge roller (belt) with various rings for attaching long reins or training aids. Use either a padded roller or put it on over a saddlecloth.
Shires Lunge Roller with Fleece padding

·         A vital piece of equipment is the lunge whip – a long-stemmed whip with a lash about 2m long. This is not used for punishment, but to guide and encourage the horse during the lungeing exercise.

·         Protect the horse’s legs with polo wraps or brushing boots.

NOTE: For serious training it’s a good idea to invest in a good lunge training system – a system of ropes and pulleys that can be adjusted to improve back usage, develop the back muscles and provide stimulation of the hindquarter.

Perfecting the process of lungeing effectively takes patience and practice for you and the horse. It is
EquiAmi Lunge Training System
best learned by experience, but here are a few basics to explain how it works:

·         Fold the lunge line neatly and hold it in your left hand (for lungeing to the left). Gently attach the lunge rein to the centre ring of the cavesson.

·         With the whip in your right hand pay out the line until you can position yourself in the centre of the ring, with the line loose.

·         You should be the apex of a triangle, with the lunge line meeting the cavesson as one point, and the whip aimed, pointing downwards, at the hindquarters forming the other.

·         Encourage the horse to move with your usual commands or clicking your tongue. Keep the lunge line tidy, and use the whip to guide the horse to move in a circle around you.

·         Gradually encourage the horse to move further away from you, letting out the lunge line, so that the circle becomes larger.

·         Once you’ve walked the circle a number of times, you can cue the horse to move into a trot, and eventually into a canter.

How long a lungeing session should last is a matter of varied opinion, but most experts recommend not longer than 20 minutes.

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08 November 2018 11:27


These are the words inscribed on the Animals in War Memorial at Hyde Park in London.

This is certainly a true statement for the more than eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys that died during the First World War on both sides of the conflict – either felled in battle, or succumbing to exhaustion, starvation and disease.

One has to wonder where all these unfortunate equines came from – after all, at the start of the war in 1914 the British army apparently possessed only 25,000. 

Since the Calvary was a vital force when the war got underway, and horses were also required for logistical support as beasts of burden to ferry guns, ammunition, ambulances and supplies, the War Office set to work to requisition as many as possible.

The British countryside was gradually denuded of horses of all breeds, from heavy drafts to hunters and eventually even children's ponies – all sent across the Channel to face the horror of war.

Heavy Losses

Horses started dying almost immediately. Just 19 days into the war a British cavalry regiment charged a German infantry and gun placement at Elouges on the French/Belgian border, losing 250 men and
300 horses.

Heavy equine losses became appallingly routine and the demand for replacement animals was great throughout the war. Horses were shipped in from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, India, Spain and Portugal, and many thousands of horses and mules were bought from the USA (some of them wild straight from the American plains), bound for the Western Front.

Feeding and caring for hundreds of thousands of horses on the front was a logistical nightmare. If you’ve got one horse, imagine the requirements for thousands in the muddy, cold, violent conditions of the battlefields! 

The official rations for British horses were 12 pounds of oats, 10 pounds of hay and some bran every week. Many didn’t receive their share, and were constantly hungry, out in the open in the cold and wet, suffering with lice and mange, skin disease, and respiratory disorders.

The Royal Army Veterinarian Corps did what it could, and there is little doubt that the soldiers and their four-footed comrades shared a close and caring bond.  For many horribly injured or diseased war horses sadly the only treatment was euthanasia. British Army Veterinary Corps hospitals treated 725,216 horses over the course of the war, successfully healing 529,064.

Sadly, many of those that survived did not make it home at the end of the war, when the priority was repatriating men rather than animals. A great deal were sold to local slaughterhouses or residents; many of the aged and infirm were simply shot; while others were sent off to serve in the British Army in India and Egypt.

Today, 100 years after the end of the First World War, we commemorate the sacrifice made by so many serving soldiers, civilians and, especially, horses. Turns out it wasn’t the “war to end all wars” as was hoped at the time, but it was, thankfully, the last time that horses were used so cruelly in such large numbers to fight man’s battles.

We’d like to share with you this heartbreaking poem, written by Henry Chappell, believed to have been inspired by the famous painting, “Goodbye Old Man”, painted by Fortunino Matania for the Blue Cross Fund in 1916.


Only a dying horse! Pull off the gear,

And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,
Drag it aside there, leave the roadway clear –
The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.

Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies
With quivering limbs, as fast the life tide fails,
Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes
That mutely plead for aid where none avails.

Onward the battery roll, but one there speeds,
Heedless of comrade’s voice or bursting shell,
Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds
Beside the stony highway where it fell.

Only a dying horse! He swiftly kneels,
Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh
Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals
Sweet pity’s tear; “Goodbye old man, goodbye.”

No honours wait him, Medal, Badge or Star
Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold,
He bears within his breast; more precious far
Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

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Make Winter Easy on Yourself!

28 October 2018 04:10

brown horse during winter

Make Winter Easy on Yourself!

Winter’s got a foot in the door; the days are drawing in, the clocks have gone back and you’ll soon be slogging through icy mud to tend your equine friends.

Don’t give in to despair … spring will be back before you know it! Meanwhile, you can make the drudgery of the winter months as bearable as possible by making some timely preparations.
Here are some suggestions to help conquer the cold spell ahead …


Your horse is going to be spending more time stabled in the coming months, so his indoor space needs to be clean, dry, comfortable and a healthy environment.

Start with a deep clean, stripping it out thoroughly, and disinfect the floors and walls with a good scrub or pressure wash. A closed, damp environment can increase the risk of infections like thrush, or respiratory problems, so get rid of all the bacteria.

Make sure there is adequate ventilation and that you can open windows and doors. You may feel chilly indoors but horses are more comfortable with low temperatures and will be healthier with some airflow while confined.

Pay attention to insulating the water supply and containers. Horses drink twice as much in the winter as they do in summer, so the last thing you want is for pipes and water buckets to freeze. Lag pipes, check any water heater you might have to ensure it works properly, and protect water buckets in rubber tyres with a football popped on the surface to prevent ice forming.


You know from experience that you’ll soon be facing a waterlogged yard, that will eventually become icy and hazardous for you and your horse, particularly if it snows. Lay in a stock of supplies of salt, sand and clay litter to sprinkle around the yard when conditions deteriorate.

Make sure you have a good snow shovel and a strong, bright torch ready for the consequences of any heavy snow storm. We always like to say the golden rule is to expect and prepare for the worst, and then hopefully nothing will be as bad as one expects!


If you put off sorting and assessing the state of your winter horse rugs when you put them away in the spring you’ll now have to play catch up! If your stock of stable or heavy turnout rugs can last another season, they’ll doubtless need mending, reproofing and/or washing. This is best done professionally, unless you have the required equipment to hand like spare rug clips, buckles and surcingles as well as reproofing spray.

(Totally Tack has a rug rescue service available – just drop your rugs off at our shop in Frome, Somerset).

If you need replacement or new winter rugs for your horse, best source these as soon as possible before they’re all sold out.


Make a careful inventory of your feed and supplement stocks, medications, first aid supplies, grooming equipment and everything else you are likely to need. Make sure they are replenished sufficiently to see you through a spell of bad weather when it may not be possible to get supplies in.

Remember as the temperature decreases, your horse’s calorie intake will increase to compensate, so ensure you have enough hay and perhaps some commercial feed to add variety to the diet.


Once you’ve prepared your horse for the worst of winter, it’s a good idea to consider your own comfort! Being dressed to withstand the chill in the right sort of clothing and footwear makes having to muck out freezing stalls that much easier!

Feet are extremely important. Treat yourself to a pair of top quality yard boots and some pairs of thermal socks.


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White Line Disease: The Hoof Eating Horror

09 September 2018 05:29


By Belinda Hankins Miller (Wikimedia)
Take a look under a healthy horse hoof. You’ll see a distinct whitish line visible between the outside  of the hoof wall and the sole of the foot.

Infection of this narrow band is a thing of dread for horse owners – leading to a progressive condition known as white line disease, or seedy toe. The difficulty is that in its early stages the horse will not appear lame, but left untreated white line disease can lead to widespread damage in the supportive structures of the hoof. The worst case scenario that results is separation of the wall from the hoof tissue, and even rotation of the coffin bone.

White Line disease can strike any horse at any time, in one or more feet (though it’s most commonly seen in the front feet), and the cause is not clear. It is best described as an invasion into the middle hoof tissue of infectious organisms like bacteria and fungi.

No particular organism has been pinned down as being the hoof tissue devouring culprit for White Line Disease, but some contributing dietary and environmental factors and hoof problems, including trauma, have been identified as pre-disposing a horse to developing the infection. (More about these later.)

It used to be believed that bad stable management – horses kept in dirty conditions – allowed the bacteria to infect the hoof, but now it is accepted that even horses kept in pristine stables can fall victim.


The early stages are difficult to spot because the horse won’t appear to be lame or in pain.
Usually it will be the farrier who first notices white line disease during routine trimming or shoeing. The white line becomes irregular and thickened, and the hoof wall may become concave alongside the affected area, bulging above it. The tissue at the white line may have turned powdery and grey in colour.

When the damaged hoof horn is pared away there will be a separation of the hoof layers.
If the early signs aren’t noticed the hoof will become hollow, and the outer hoof wall will eventually start to break away.


Treating this damaging and incapacitating blight on horse hoofs is a long, involved process that will need the assistance of both a vet and farrier. Eradicating it can take many months of patient effort.
Treatment usually starts by the farrier debriding (scraping off) all infected tissue, and, if the condition has become advanced, even removing the hoof wall over the infected area. Debridement has to be ongoing on a regular weekly basis, until there is no sign of infected tissue left.

In between debridement sessions, anantibacterial or antifungal product needs to be applied, and the hoof needs to be kept dry and aerated. You could use iodine or tea tree oil, for example, or an anti-bacterial hoof putty that packs the hoof and fills hoof wall separations and defects. The idea is to keep moisture and hoof eating microbes out, but allow oxygen in.

Even when there is no more sign of infection, care must be taken to ensure there is no re-infection, especially while new horn is growing, which could take several months. Shoes have been shown to help support the hoof, but the farrier may recommend using heart bar shoes, or shoes with extra clips.


Because there is no definitive reason for the onslaught of White Line disease, it is extremely difficult to know what to do to prevent it.

All the experts can do is “suggest” that stress on the hoof – caused by one or more of numerous factors ranging from faulty hoof conformation and concussion on hard ground, to an overweight horse with small hoofs – makes the laminae tear and bleed, allowing bacteria and fungi from the soil to enter the hoof. There are also said to be connections to lack of exercise, too-small shoes, wet ground and bad stable hygiene. For each theory postulated, though, there are cases that don’t fit the picture.

Two things that everyone seems to agree on, however, is that diet plays a role, and regular trimming and resetting of shoes (at least every six weeks) by a farrier will protect the hoof and pick up early signs of any problems.

Essentially you need to ensure that you keep your horse’s hoofs as healthy as possible. Any seasoned horse owner knows the old maxim: “no hoof, no horse”! A balanced diet is crucial for this, aided and abetted by hoof supplements that provide extra biotin, methionine, zinc and iodine – all nutrients needed for maintaining strong hoofs.

Keep a close check on your horse’s feet, and keep them clean, trimmed and picked out. At the first sign of any cracks, punctures, damage or other faults, call in the professionals.


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Equine First Aid

27 August 2018 12:38


Summer is an active time for you and your horses, which means they are more prone to sustaining injuries, even if they stay at home and don’t travel.

Even just being turned out in a field can expose your horse to injury (as we well know ... see pic!) and infection, whether it just be clipping his leg while playing or suffering fly bites. 

When you take him out hacking, or travelling in a horse box or trailer, the potential for injury increases. So you should ensure you’re ready to deal with cuts, scrapes, grazes, bites, punctures and so on. In the event of muscle or tendon injuries, skin conditions or lameness, call the vet … don’t guess and try to treat yourself!

Ideally you should have two first aid kits on hand for treating minor injuries yourself, or to treat more major incidents until the vet arrives: a full kit in your barn, and a travelling kit for when you and your horse attend events. The main aim is immediate treatment to prevent infection or more serious conditions developing.

I’ve seen a few posts on Facebook horse groups lately from people enquiring just what should be put in an equine first aid kit, so here goes ….

Buying a ready-made First Aid Kit

Most major brands of horse products offer a first aid kit for sale, like the Lincoln First Aid Box or the Robinson Horse & Rider First Aid Kit. These may be fine for travelling purposes, but the contents are usually very basic. In the case of the Lincoln box, for example, you’ll get an Animalintex Poultice,  Digital thermometer, Hoof Pick,  250ml Lincoln green oil spray,  20g Lincoln antibacterial powder and 100g Dermoline skin ointment.

The Robinson kit contains a short roll of Gamgee, Animalintex, 1 Equiwrap bandage (similar to vetrap),  Skintact dressing, Scissors, and Vetalintex hydrogel.

These first aid boxes and others like them is fine for minor injuries as long as you keep the contents up to date, and replace whatever is used up.

In the yard or barn however you need to have a more comprehensive First Aid kit to hand, and you should probably supplement your travelling kit with some extra essential products.

First Aid Container

The first rule of thumb is that whatever container is used (and in the barn we recommend a big, rectangular one) must keep the contents neat, tidy, airtight, dry and sterile.

Choose a container that can be marked with a big red cross, so it is obvious to all what its purpose is.

On the underside of the lid attach a laminated sheet with the name and number of the vet, your contact details (especially if your horse is in livery) details of any allergies and pre-conditions. To be on the safe side include your farrier’s details, local police and the British Horse Society help line. We may be in the age of Smart phones, but first respondents may not have these numbers to hand.

Also if possible include a list of the First Aid box contents, and a stock list of how up to date the contents are, for your own information and for others who may be there when your horse is injured and you aren’t on site.

What to Put in the Horse First Aid Box

Here we are only dealing with essentials! Add whatever your intuition tells you may be needed in the event of an emergency:

  • ·         Latex gloves … essential for cleaning wounds and preventing infection.
  • ·         Scissors…. For cutting bandages.
  • ·         Digital Thermometer … for judging how stressed or infected your horse is according to raised temperature.  Normal temperature: 99-101°F37.2-38.3°C. 
  • ·         A few rolls of Vetrap self-sticking bandages.
  • ·         Antiseptic Wound Cleaner of your choice.
  • ·         Gauze or cotton wool dressing for wounds.
  • ·         Epsom salts … great for drawing out infection.
  • ·         Tweezers for removing foreign bodies from wounds, ticks or splinters.
  • ·         Ice packs for legs.

A comprehensive First Aid kit could be life-saving for your horse. Any questions relating to first aid we’d be please to answer! 01373 226242.

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