“THEY HAD NO CHOICE” ….
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.
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
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.
THE SOLDIER’S KISS
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.
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.
WHITE LINE DISEASE: THE HOOF EATING HORROR
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.
SYMPTOMS OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
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.
TREATMENT OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
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.
PREVENTION OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
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.
HERE AT TOTALLY TACK WE HAVE AN EXTENSIVE RANGE OF PRODUCTS TO KEEP YOUR FAITHFUL EQUINE FRIEND ON FOUR HEALTHY FEET! WE’RE ALSO A MINE OF GOOD ADVICE WHICH WE’RE HAPPY TO SHARE FOR FREE!
EQUINE FIRST AID KIT
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 ….
PAINTING PONIES ... CRUEL OR CREATIVE?
Painting ponies is the in thing, condemned by some as cruel. But did you know that decorating ponies and horses is not a new trend. Native Americans, for example, applied “war paint” – in the form of symbols of power – to their horses before going into battle.
This practice was no doubt carried on even earlier … in fact horses have been decorated since they were first domesticated in the service of man.
Fortunately our horses and ponies today aren’t decorated to go to war, but rather adorned with hearts, flowers and pretty colours as a symbol of how much we love and revere them. It’s not too far removed from the ancient warriors who esteemed their faithful mounts enough to want to personalise them and keep them safe with their “charmed” symbolic paintings.
The modern fad for painting and decorating horses and ponies with colour and sparkle has probably evolved from the practice of quartermarking. This is a traditional way of ornamenting a horse in English riding disciplines that has been used for centuries, and is today still commonly seen in dressage, hunting, showing, even racing.
Quartermarks are patterns made on the horse’s rump with a quartermarking comb, combing the hair against the grain, creating contrasting textures in the coat. A checkerboard pattern is most common, but nowadays grooms get quite creative using stencils and make all sorts of artistic designs and patterns.
A settingspray is usually used to keep the quartermarks in place.
On the strength of all this history and tradition it doesn’t seem that applying non-toxic, specially formulated paint and glitter to a horse or pony should be controversial. After all, no-one questions the right of horse owners to plaitmanes and tails, or apply specially formulated grooming products to make coats shiny and healthy.
As for the horse itself, it is accepted that most horses love attention and some brushing and grooming from their handlers!
In the wild horses indulge in mutual grooming to express camaraderie and bond with each other in the herd. Most of us are taught when we start working with horses that grooming time is important not only to keep the animal happy, healthy and clean but also to foster a relaxed relationship with him, and learn to communicate with each other.
From quality grooming time you learn where his sensitive spots are, and where he enjoys a good scratch on an itchy spot. If he’s happy, he’ll react by grooming you in return!
Decorating a horse in the course of grooming can therefore be just as rewarding for you both.
The problem arises when unsupervised groups of children are let loose with cans of paint and glitter to use a possibly nervous animal as a “canvas”! This is apparently happening with a popular trend for “pony painting parties”, which is a bit disturbing.
The practice itself is not at fault, however … but rather how it is being carried out. There is the danger of a horse or pony becoming annoyed by its inexperienced, clumsy or noisy band of painters, and deciding to express his dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms! If he kicks out and injures a child – particularly one who hasn’t been inducted into the safe places to stand around horses – it is probably the animal who will be blamed! This is a bad situation for both horse and child.
From the horse’s point of view, continually being forced to be subjected to treatment he doesn’t enjoy, or appreciate, from a group of strangers might well leave him depressed and stressed, which will impact on his overall health.
So we’d urge horse owners, liveries and riding schools to make sure that if they indulge in pony painting and fancy dress it is done with due affection, gentleness and respect by handlers who know the animal and how to cope with him.
You wouldn’t allow strangers to dress up your daughter, or even your dog … so why allow it to happen to your horse?
Have fun and enjoy your equine friends responsibly this summer!
Pleeeeaaase Buy Me a Pony!
The cost of becoming a horse owner ....
An acquaintance popped into the shop last week to ask for advice. Her granddaughter – with no equestrian experience – was keen to “get a pony and learn to ride”, and her parents, who have just acquired a plot of land adjacent to their garden, were seriously considering the idea.
Owning a pony is, of course, a romantic notion entertained by most little girls (and plenty of little boys too) at some stage, and the fortunate and very determined among us are able to make the dream come true.
I’m all for encouraging youngsters to take up riding, but I’m also aware that many people just don’t consider the implications of taking on a pony or horse, and most especially how much it costs not only to buy a suitable mount, but also to take care of it.
The uninitiated imagine it’s just a case of keeping a pony happily grazing in a grassy field and perhaps knocking up some sort of shelter.
So I thought I’d look into the costs associated with being an equestrian, just in case any of our blog readers know someone who is weighing up the pros and cons.
TIP: It would be extremely unwise for a total equestrian novice to plunge into buying a horse or pony without first spending a great deal of time on a yard, indulging in some hands-on learning and experience, and this doesn’t mean just having a few riding lessons!
THE INFRASTRUCTURE REQUIRED TO HOME A HORSE/PONY
You’ll need at least 1.5 to 2 acres of paddock land to keep a well-managed horse happy. It should be well fenced and gated (post and rail is best but whatever you choose should be safe from any protrusions that can injure the animal – definitely no mesh or barbed wire).
The grazing area needs to have good quality pasture, and be cleared of any obstructions or debris (like old nails and sharp rocks), and make sure there are no weeds that are toxic to horses.
The paddock needs to have a shed that the pony/horse can access for shelter. If you invest in building such a structure consider adding in an airy but comfortable stable, and a tack/feed room with a loft will be extremely useful for storage.
Horses drink up to 10 gallons of water a day, so you’ll need easy access to water and a smooth-edged, sturdy and deep bucket or tank to keep it in, always topped up and available for the horse to drink at will.
TIP: Something to seriously consider is having a companion horse/pony. Equines are gregarious animals and can become lonely and depressed when left alone for extended periods. A mini might be suitable.
EQUIPPING YOUR HORSE/PONY (AND YOURSELF!)
If you thought bringing a new born baby home from hospital requires a host of preparation and expensive equipment, that’s nothing compared to what you need to have in place to care for your new equine friend!
There are hundreds of things you’ll need to have at hand, including feed (appropriately stored hay, haylage, or grain), tack (from a saddle and bridle to a halter and tethers), grooming equipment, bedding, tools for mucking out, a manger,hay-nets, feed buckets etc. etc.
For yourself you’ll need to outfit yourself for riding (including a helmet, high-viz jacket and good boots), have a set of work clothes, “wellies” or yard boots, and so on.
Hopefully you will be familiar with what’s required if you’ve spent time working with horses before you take on your own.
TIP: You can get an idea of how much horse-riding and keeping equipment costs by browsing through our online store: totally-tack.co.uk.
THE PRICE OF A HORSE/PONY
There are a myriad of factors that make it difficult to give the average price of a sound horse/pony in the UK today. You could pay anything from £500 to £20,000 depending on breed, size, age, pedigree, experience, provenance etc.
You could consider approaching an equine rescue charity for an animal to suit you. For this you will pay an adoption fee of around £500 for a healthy, ridden horse.
TIP: It’s wise to take a seasoned equestrian with you when viewing a potential horse/pony to purchase, and to have the animal checked out by a vet before you commit.
MAINTAINING A HAPPY, HEALTHY HORSE/PONY
The monthly costs of keeping a horse/pony add up quickly. Firstly the horse needs to be fed, and you may need supplements to keep him/her healthy. Bedding (shavings, straw or wood pellets) add to the monthly bill. Then there are things like rugsand fly masks, which wear out relatively quickly and always seem to need professional cleaning, and the animal will need regular worming (most important).
“Toiletries” – grooming products – for your horse (things like shampoo and bug spray) are also necessary.
Shoed horses and ponies need the attendance of a farrier every six to eight weeks, and an equine dentist should check teeth regularly. Veterinary care for horses is increasingly expensive, and you have to be prepared to pay out for treatment and therapy for any injuries or conditions that may strike.
If you plan to compete with your pony/horse you’ll need to be able to transport him/her in a trailer or horse box, pay for advanced training and ongoing riding lessons, and pay entry fees for shows and/or competitions.
TIP: The British Horse Society has a good leaflet explaining the approximate monthly costs involved in keeping a horse.
Never fear if reading all this has put you off! Many of us manage to enjoy our horses at home and still afford to eat, but if these costs really scare you then you could consider boarding your horse or pony at a livery in your local area, where you can visit often and pay a monthly fee for the pleasure!
Those of us who keep horses believe it is certainly worth the cost!
Lime Disease: Tackling Ticks
Lyme Disease is the tick-borne scourge of the UK countryside, for humans, horses and other pets. If diagnosed early enough, it can be cured with antibiotics, but left to fester the infection can linger on degrading joints and the neurological system, leaving symptoms similar to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and in some cases proving fatal.
There is an overlap of the clinical signs, symptoms, diagnosis and course of the infection in all mammals affected by this nasty disease. We’ve taken a look at how it affects horses, but – apart from
LYME DISEASE IN HORSES
Once very rare in horses in the UK, the tick-borne Lyme Disease is becoming more common among our equines, though it remains difficult to diagnose and as a result is often not recognised when symptoms are treated. The signs of Lyme Disease are similar to those that point to other complaints, so it can easily be overlooked until it is too late to treat it successfully.
In the UK ticks are particularly active in warm weather (though they can be around in all seasons, being deterred only when the temperature drops below freezing) and found in various regions of the country, with the risk particularly high in south west England (see the UK Tick ThreatMap).
Signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease
The difficulty is that if you don’t spot a tick on your horse or yourself, it will be long gone of its own accord before any symptoms appear that might lead you to suspect that you or your four-footed friend has contracted Lyme Disease. It could take months for any signs of infection to appear, and if it goes untreated, becoming chronic, it can cause permanent damage to the liver and central nervous system with serious consequences.
In horses the first signs of Lyme disease are usually weakness and a slight fever; it is difficult to spot during this acute phase, before it becomes chronic, especially when these symptoms appear a long time after infection took place and you probably have no recollection of tick bites on your horse.
As the disease progresses you will notice all or several of the following symptoms – not necessarily in this order or appearing simultaneously:
· High temperature
· Appetite loss
· Weight loss
· Joint swelling
· Fatigue and excessive sleeping
· Sore muscles
· Hypersensitive skin
· Restless legs
· Behavioural changes
· Lameness and stiffness
· Refusal or reluctance to walk or exercise
Diagnosis and Treatment
All the symptoms mentioned above are associated with other, more common, conditions, neurological diseases and viruses. This makes Lyme Disease difficult to identify. If Lyme Disease is suspected blood tests can be performed, but such a test is not reliable or definitive because many horses infected with the bacteria are asymptomatic, so the presence of anti-bodies for Borrelia burgdorferi in the blood do not necessarily rule out other causes for the clinical signs.
Most veterinarians will make efforts to rule out other conditions like arthritis, using an arsenal of diagnostic tests and scans, and ultimately may resort to diagnosing by treatment. Lyme disease responds to aggressive antibiotics, so if infection is suspected your horse will be prescribed the correct antibiotics, pain medication and possibly vitamin supplements and/or probiotics. The horse will then monitored to see if the symptoms go away, and the anti-body counts in the blood reduce. If this happens then the Lyme Disease diagnosis can be confirmed.
Prevention is better than cure
With Lyme Disease being easily masked and mistaken, how do you protect your horse from falling victim to this nasty infection? There is, as yet, no equine vaccine for Lyme Disease.
The obvious answer is to limit his exposure to ticks. This doesn’t mean you have to shut him away in a sterile stable and forego all those lovely woodland and grassland hacks in the summer time! What it does mean is that you should check your horse daily and thoroughly for ticks, which tend to hide in sneaky places like inside the legs and under the jaw.
If you remove a tick quickly enough after it has become embedded you reduce the risk of the infection being transmitted to your horse. Studies indicate it takes around 16 to 20 hours for an embedded tick to start transmitting the bacteria to the host.
Be very careful how you remove ticks. Don’t squeeze the tick’s body because this may accelerate the
Ticks enjoy long grass, crawling up to lurk and await the chance to hook onto any animal (or person) that brushes by. It’s therefore a good idea to keep your pasture mowed fairly short.
Use insect repellent products that are foruse against ticks, paying attention to the vulnerable parts of the horse’s body like the lower legs, head, belly and tail. While flies and other annoying pests may die off as autumn comes in, ticks can continue causing problems well into the winter, staying active even in temperatures just a few degrees above freezing.
THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR! ALTHOUGH MOST CAN BE REMOVED QUICKLY AND CLEANLY WITH NO ILL EFFECTS TICKS ARE LITTLE CRITTERS THAT ARE NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH. BE VIGILANT AND KEEP YOURSELF, YOUR HORSES, DOGS AND OTHER PETS TICK FREE, AND BE MINDFUL OF RIDDING YOUR ENVIRONMENT OF TICK-FRIENDLY BREEDING HOSTS SUCH AS SMALL MAMMALS LIKE MICE AND RODENTS.
SWEATING IT OUT: THE ELECTROLYTES STORY
The depletion of electrolytes in the cells of a horse, through excessive sweating, can be serious, the worst case scenario being the development of potentially fatal heat stress. Usually it is only high performance horses such as equine endurance athletes that are at risk and require electrolyte supplements, but in the heatwave we are currently experiencing here in the UK it’s useful to know when extra electrolytes may be necessary.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are common minerals – salts like ordinary table salt – which break down into elements called ions. Ions carry a positive or negative charge. Ions with positive charges are formed from minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, and negative ions from chloride, phosphate and bicarbonate.
The charged ions or electrolytes conduct electricity in an electrochemical process which carry neurological messages across the cells of the horse’s body, making muscles contract and systems work, from digestion and heart function to the regulation of the body’s fluid balance.
Excessive sweating causes an imbalance of positive and negative ions and a drop in blood volume and pressure, throwing systems out of whack, and they can begin to shut down, inducing a metabolic crisis.
Just drinking water is not enough to rectify the situation because with the electrolytes out of balance the fluid will not be delivered to the cells that need it.
In normal circumstances nature ensures that a well-fed horse receives the minerals he or she needs in the right proportions from a diet of hay and grass with the availability of a salt block. The kidneys play a big part in shedding excess electrolytes which are excreted in urine – and faeces.
It’s only when a horse sweats a great deal for a prolonged period, during work or on a very hot humid day that electrolytes become depleted and could cause problems.
Why does a horse sweat?
Sweating is nature’s way of cooling a hot horse. When the temperature of his blood and internal organs increases during exercise electrolytes signal the sweat glands into action, and usually the sweat on his skin evaporates, cooling him down. In humid weather this doesn’t happen fast enough and he’ll just keep sweating … sweat contains electrolytes which are then lost (about 9g per litre of sweat of vital minerals). The longer and more a horse sweats, the more electrolytes are lost, causing an imbalance which may cause problems before he has a chance to replace them.
In hot, humid conditions like a British heatwave even mild exercise or being transported in a van or trailer might result in profuse, prolonged (of around three hours) sweating – a potentially dangerous situation. Busy show and event horses, race horses, and endurance horses are most likely to become dehydrated and heat stressed in hot summer weather.
Also at risk are older horses with Cushings disease put out to pasture in hot weather, because they may still have a heavy coat even in summer.
It could take days to replenish vital electrolytes, and your horse will need your help in the form of electrolyte supplementation.
The Symptoms of Electrolyte Deficiency
Unfortunately there is no precise scientific formula for knowing when, or how much, electrolyte supplementation a horse needs. It depends largely on his work schedule. There is little danger in feeding too much electrolytes; the horse will simply drink more to dilute and excrete any excess. There are, however, signs to look out for if a horse is consistently lacking in electrolytes. These include:
A horse suffering from immediate heat stress during and after exercise in humid conditions will breath heavily, have an irregular heart rate, and exhibit signs of “thumps” (an irregular spasming of the diaphragm similar to hiccups).
What can you do to cure or prevent electrolyte deficiency?
A GOOD GRAZE
The land is lush at present … horses are turned out and delighting in feasting on their pasture, but it’s not all grass and helpful herbs! There are a multitude of plants to chow down on. Have you closely explored your field to see what your horses are eating? Could you improve their summer environment?
Good pasture management is crucial to promote a healthy, happy horse. We all know, for instance, that Ragwort is bad news, but what else do we need to be aware of when it comes to grazing ….
We all spend a great deal of time and effort grooming our horses and ponies, but very often we forget to pay attention to his face, perhaps out of fear of annoying him by fussing with those sensitive areas of ears, eyes, nose and mouth.
Just as you wouldn’t dream of going out to start the day without washing your face, your horse will enjoy having a clean visage … and that means more than a “lick and a promise”!
Even on a short hack, or stamping around in the barn or field in a halter, your horse’s face accumulates sweat, dirt and debris in the hair of his face, especially behind his ears and across his crown, and while grazing his soft muzzle and whiskers can become ingrained with green stains and slimy grassy juices. All that can cause itchy skin – particularly under the bridle or halter – and a build-up of bacteria which might result in infection.
Yes, it’s true many horses resent having their faces brushed and when washing there is the danger of irritating his eyes, but it could be this very reluctance is because his face is irritated by the dirt and sweat you’ve failed to clean off. Also, horses have a long memory and if he’s ever had a bad experience while having his face groomed, or when bridling, he’ll be afraid this might be repeated if you approach his face with a brush or sponge.
Like everything with horses, patience, gentleness and perserverence is required to overcome his aversion to face grooming. Your best chance of success is to try brushing his face after a ride, when he’s especially sweaty and therefore uncomfortable. If he’s face-shy, he’s not likely to be willing to dip his head down so you can reach it, so use a step ladder if necessary to reach his poll and crown with a soft facial brush, starting by just holding it against him so that he can rub his head against it.
Most horses enjoy a scratch behind the ears, so begin with that and gradually introduce the brush instead.
Always brush in the direction the hair grows, concentrating on the bottom of his ears and above the eyes (avoiding them at all costs), gradually moving to beneath his jaw and below his cheek bones where sweat and dirt has likely gathered.
Once he realises the pleasure to be gained from a soft brushing with gentle motions, you can try a soft rubber curry comb in circular motions on his forehead, cheeks and jaw to break up the waxy deposits that have probably built up there.
Unless he’s very laid back it’s unlikely your horse will ever be totally happy with having his face washed with a hose – he won’t enjoy having water in his nose, ears and eyes. But with patience you should reach a point where he’ll tolerate a sponge, or soft, warm, wet cloth to wipe around those delicate areas, and even inside his ears, cupping the back of his ear in one hand. Horses’ ears are extremely sensitive and if you cause him any distress or pain you will lose his trust.
If you want to use a shampoo, make sure it’s good quality, conditioning and non-irritating. Be sparing with it and rinse thoroughly, then carefully dry his face with a towel.
Hopefully you will eventually reach the point where face cleansing becomes a part of your daily grooming routine, and your horse will appreciate and enjoy the experience.
It helps to keep your tack clean – after each ride wipe off the sweat and grime and store it away for next time.
Many horse owners, particularly those who show their horses, prefer to keep their horses’ whiskers shaved off, purely for the aesthetic value.
While many consider a soft, smooth shaven muzzle as more attractive than a hairy one, this is a contentious area of horse grooming, because it is becoming increasingly proven that many horses are disadvantaged by losing their whiskers, which help them to find their way in the world.
Horses eyes are situated on each side of their faces, which means they have trouble seeing directly in front of them and below their noses. Whiskers help them sense where their food is, identify any obstructions in the spots they cannot see, and find their way around the stall in the dark. In Europe clipping whiskers is banned for competition, but the practice is still traditional (but not for native breeds) here in Britain and in the United States.
If you decide to clip those whiskers off, you can use a small cordless clipper, or even a razor – but take great care because the muzzle is usually lumpy and bumpy. Scissors can be dangerous, particularly if your horse is inclined to spook.
Here at Totally Tack we’re all about happy horses – and that includes facing up to keeping his countenance clean and kissable! If you’d like any grooming advice, don’t hesitate to contact us or pop in to the shop for a chat.
KICK OFF YOUR SHOES: IS BAREFOOT BETTER?
There is a definite move afoot in the horse world in recent years to revert “back to nature” when it comes to horse management, husbandry and tack.
Social media is awash with “wow” videos showing riders performing amazing feats using bitless bridles or, indeed, no saddles, stirrups or bridles at all. It’s all very controversial, but probably the most hotly argued topic of all is the trend towards keeping horses “barefoot” – ie. dispensing with horse shoes.
Horses have been shod for almost as long as they’ve been domesticated in the service of man. Archaeologists have found bronze horse shoes with nail holes dating from 400BC in an Etruscan tomb, and we know that the ancient Romans in Britain used strap-on, solid bottomed “hipposandals” (not dissimilar to modern hoof boots) to protect their horses’ hooves.
Bronze shoes on horses were common in Europe by around 1000 AD, and by the middle ages iron horse shoes were de rigeur, being forged in large quantities, as the knights rode off to the Crusades.
Nowadays horse shoes come in a wide variety of materials and styles – steel, aluminium, rubber, plastic, or even titanium – the choice dictated by the type of horse and the work they do.
So, if the use of horse shoes has been tried and tested for so many centuries, why are many of us now deciding to go barefoot?
Let’s start by looking at why domesticated horses were deemed to need shoes in the first place:
In the wild, pre-domestication, horses lived in dry climates, travelling long distances slowly while foraging, allowing their hooves to be hardened and worn smooth, the sole being constantly stimulated to keep growth and condition healthy. When we discovered how useful horses were they were domesticated, put to work in all sorts of unnatural ways, and often imported to wet climates where their hooves were subjected to damp conditions.
Add to the damp and muddy conditions the fact that domesticated horses had to bear the weight of a rider, suffer the physical stress and traction involved in drawing a cart, wagon or carriage, and perform at high speed, and you’re bound to expect issues.
The result was the advent of all sorts of hoof and foot ailments – and as we know, “no hoof, no horse”!
So the horse shoe evolved to protect hooves, particularly in damp climates like Europe and Britain.
Our domesticated horses therefore really need horse shoes, right?
Wrong … in most cases! That’s not to say you can just gaily rip the shoes off of your horse and expect him to perform as usual, trouble free!
It is more than likely that with the right advice, care and patience you will be able to transition your horse to being barefoot, but it is equally likely that in most circumstances he will need the support of hoofboots, along with constant monitoring and attention paid to his feet.
If you believe barefoot would be better, be prepared to persevere. There’s no “quick fix” transition, and can take up to a year or more to achieve success.
Initially your horse will probably be sore without shoes for a variety of reasons. These include things like having thin, flat soles and over-rasped hoof walls; contracted heels; thrush; laminitis; and hoof cracks. All these issues can be addressed – many through diet – to strengthen, thicken and harden the hoof.
Above all it is vital to seek professional help and guidance from a farrier, vet and barefoot trimmer before you take the barefoot plunge, and during the transition process.
Big considerations when making the decision include such things as:
· Whether the horse has any hoof deformations.
· Whether his conformation is good without any bone or muscle issues.
· What kind of work he does and what activities does he do.
· Whether he gets plenty of exercise and turn-out time.
· Whether he has any diseases or conditions that require shoes that would benefit from therapeutic shoe-ing.
Once the horse is happily barefoot, will everything run smoothly?
Horse owners who’ve successfully transitioned attest to various benefits, ranging from an improvement in the health of a horse’s feet to improved heart rates and recovery times for working horses, and fewer concussion injuries. One obvious advantage is that you will no longer be dealing with your horse throwing a shoe, and you’ll also find yourself, of necessity, taking more interest and notice of your horse’s hoof care.
You’ll still need regular visits from a farrier or trimmer, more frequent than before, to keep his hooves in shape.
You’ll also need to closely monitor his diet and exercise: a low-sugar and mineral balanced diet along with regular work will help strengthen the hoof capsule.It's worth investing in a good quality hoof supplement.
LIKE MANY ISSUES IN THE EQUESTRIAN WORLD, THERE ARE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST THE “BAREFOOT BRIGADE”. IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING TO DECIDE PERHAPS THIS ARTICLE FROM HORSE AND HOUND WILL HELP!
BUCKING & REARING!? Could it be Kissing Spine?There’s surely nothing more heartbreaking for the owner of a horse than to have him living with low grade pain … the kind of pain that can be caused by the condition known as Kissing Spine.
Having experienced this with one of our own horses, it’s a subject close to our hearts here at Totally Tack and a condition we believe every horse rider should be aware of, lest it go unrecognised and the horse just accused of being “ornery”.
WHAT IS KISSING SPINE?
Kissing Spine occurs when the pieces of bone that project upwards from a horse’s spine – known as the dorsal spinous processes – become squashed together and begin to impact on each other, grating on each other and causing pain.
The area under the saddle region is the one most affected, but it can happen anywhere along the back bone. Left undiagnosed and untreated it can become progressively worse. It generally affects large breed horses (especially Thoroughbreds) from the age of seven and up.
WHAT CAUSES KISSING SPINE?
While equine experts believe there may be a genetic component that makes a horse more at risk of developing the condition, it is also believed that being ridden with an ill-fitting saddle or a too heavy rider sitting incorrectly can contribute.
Vets report that most of the horses treated for the condition are performance and competition horses – especially eventing horses – probably because of the physical demands placed on them.
It’s also not advisable to ride a horse when he is too young before his skeleton has fully developed at around Seven or Eight years old. Then, too, trauma might be the cause, especially if the horse falls over backwards.
HOW TO RECOGNISE KISSING SPINE
If you know your horse well the first sign of Kissing Spine developing will be a change in behaviour, particularly when you tighten the girth, saddle up and mount. He will show signs of irritability, discomfort and pain, even rearing and bucking as the condition worsens. He will probably refuse jumps, and you will be able to feel the reluctance in his forward movement, especially in cantering, due to pain.
If and when you begin to suspect a problem, don’t delay. Call in a vet to conduct a thorough investigation.
The vet will probably start by observing the horse being lunged and ridden under saddle. This will probably be followed up with X-rays of the spine, which may be sufficient to diagnose the condition, although there could be changes in the spine unrelated to Kissing Spine.
Most equine vets will probably prefer to confirm the diagnosis with a nerve block test. This involves injecting a local anaesthetic into the nerves of the affected spinal area (a bit like an epidural in humans) that will deaden the pain for a time, allowing the vet to observe the horse being ridden or lunged pain free. If the horse shows improvement in this test, the diagnosis will be confirmed.
TREATMENT OF KISSING SPINE
The treatment of Kissing Spine can be complicated, and generally you can kiss goodbye to the days when your horse was a high performer. At best after treatment he will become a competent hacking horse.
Depending on the severity of the condition when it is first identified a period of rest will be
Surgery is also an option, becoming ever more popular as the science of medicine improves. This involves the removal of selected dorsal spinous processes and the resection of the ligaments between them. This can now be achieved by a “keyhole” surgical technique in a sedated standing horse.
A horse suffering with Kissing Spine need not be a “right off” … he can give you many years of pleasure as a best friend or companion/therapy horse. Keep him pain free and under a vet’s care, and you’ll enjoy him as much as we enjoy our Donald!
Spring has sprung, finally. The muddy fields are starting to sprout with luscious lengths of sweet, green, green grass and other pastoral delights.
It’s yum-yum time for horses, and there are some easy keepers that may be inclined to overdo it and gorge themselves to the point of obesity. A propensity to gain weight can be exacerbated by insufficient exercise. Out in the wild horses would be constantly on the move while foraging; in our rich pastures though they graze contentedly and probably still get topped up with commercial feeds and supplements as well.
Chubby horses are in danger of becoming insulin resistant and suffering from Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings Disease. These disorders are more common in easy keepers and associated with endocrinological laminitis.
Insulin resistance shows in symptoms like abnormal weight gain or loss, increased water consumption, abdominal bloating, loss of stamina and a tendency to develop laminitis or colic. A vet can make a diagnosis using blood tests, and if the problem is still at an early stage preventive measures can be put in place.
It’s a good idea to keep a constant watch for weight gain, not only visually but also by using aids like a simple WeighTape. With a few measurements you can use a formula to calculate his weight (instructions come with the tape).
To guess-timate how his weight is doing, you should be able to feel his ribs easily when you run your hand along his side, but not be able to see them. There shouldn’t be any visible fat deposits along the crest, loins, tailhead or around the udder or sheath. Such deposits are one of the first signs that your horse or pony is developing insulin resistance.
One of the main preventive measures for Insulin Resistance is limiting the horse’s consumption of sugars and starches, both in commercial feed and pasture. In other words, your horse has to be put on a calorie-controlled diet, probably in conjunction with a feed balancer.
Your easy keeper becomes hard work when you have to manage his weight.
|Shires Nylon Grazing Muzzle|
INTRODUCING A GRAZING MUZZLE
Flies, the Summer Scourge
Summer is a-coming in! Next week if the forecast is to be believed. As the temperature rises all is not rosy for horses.
Frolicking in green fields, strutting their stuff and groomed to perfection in the show ring, trotting down leafy country lanes - summer is a fun season for horses, you'd think.
Ask any horse though and if they could, they'd tell you: their joy of summer is blighted by billions of flies and midges that invade eyes and ears (not to mention other orifices), crawl across their bodies, bite their legs and generally cruelly curb their pastoral pleasure.
There's not much your horse can do, apart from twitching and flicking his mane and tail, to keep himself fly free, so he depends on you to make him as comfortable and resilient as possible in the face of this plague.
Flies follow your horses because their main purpose is to clean up behind them! Flies (especially their larvae - maggots) enjoy dining on all the dirty stuff that horses (and all animals) produce - manure, sweat, old bedding, secretions, spilled feed and the like. So the first line of defence is to keep your horse and his environment as clean and dry (stable cleaning) as possible, so there is nowhere appealing for flies to lay eggs and breed.
Of course no matter how diligent you are, you won't ever eliminate flies completely, so you need to help your horse in other ways too.
From the horse's point of view probably the most annoying fly of all is the Face Fly (Musca autumnalis). Closely related to the house fly, the adult version of this persistent pest likes to feed on secretions around the eyes, mouth, and nostrils of horses and cattle. They can cause problems beyond irritation, because they spread parasitic eyeworm infection.
It's wise, therefore, to make sure your horse's face is protected with a good quality fly mask while he's out and about in the warm months. Keep his face clean and use fly repellents.
Also particularly nasty is the Stable Fly(Stomoxys calcitrans), which literally makes your horse stamp his feet. These little vampires like to bite horse's legs and suck their blood. They can spread Equine Infectious anemia as they flit about, so keep them at bay with fly traps and appropriate fly repellents.
Horse flies (Hybomitra micans), which can grow up to an inch and a quarter long, are also blood-suckers. Although they generally feed innocently on nectar, the females need a hefty blood meal in order to reproduce, and their bite can be very painful when they pick your horse to gorge on. If the horse is visited by a swarm of these flies anemia could occur, not to mention skinproblems from allergic reactions and sores developing from the bites themselves. You'll need fly ointment, spray on repellents and, if fly infestation is severe, a flyrug, to keep your horse safe.
Possibly the most dreaded fly of all is the Bot Fly (Gasterophilus) which lays its eggs most commonly on the forelegs, chest and head of horses during the summer. You can spot these as little yellow dots on the coat, and if you're wise you'll remove them with a Bot knife as soon as you see them.
Horses infested with Bot Fly eggs usually lick and bite at
themselves, stimulating the Bot eggs to hatch. Many of the larvae manage to get themselves ingested, and eventually end up in the stomach of the horse, where in the following spring they are passed out with the faeces, fledging into adult flies in time to repeat the cycle.
The larvae in the stomach can cause the horse symptoms such as loss of condition, raised temperature, restlessness, lack of appetite, intermittent diarrhoea or constipation, and even stomach ulcers and fatal peritonitis.
Once Bot Fly has infested your horse it can be treated by worming (even though it is not a worm). Prevention is better than cure, so remove Bot eggs from the coat daily and worm in the winter.
In general it is best to turn horses out after dark in summer, when flies are not active, but remember that midges - tiny flies that can cause big trouble - tend to be active in clouds at dusk and dawn, and enjoy stagnant pools of water.
The term "midges" is actually a generic word that applies to numerous species of minute flying insects. The midge that causes most trouble for horses is Culicoides, whose bite causes Sweet Itchin susceptible animals.
Learn more about Sweet Itch.
Keep your horse fly free and happy as the weather warms up! Totally Tack is here to help. Call us for advice about fly defence.
SHOW TIME! GOOD GROOMING.
In the wild horse herd members bond and communicate by mutual grooming, so when you groom your horse you are showing him you care!
Regular grooming is of course essential for other reasons too. Besides keeping him clean and getting the scurf, dust, mud, loose hair and burrs out of his coat, it’s a way to check your horse and pony for any physical problems, or identify any deviations from the norm like the sudden appearance of lumps or bumps, pain and stiffness, or a sore muscle.
Grooming is a way for you and your horse to get to know each other, and to show him that you’re not just all about shouting orders, but also a source of pleasant sensations.
When show time comes around grooming becomes important for another reason … you want your boy/girl to wow the judges and shine in the ring!
We’re assuming that you have been successful in keeping your horse healthy and in prime physical condition in the run-up to show season, and that you’ve got your own smart showing outfit ready to roll! Of course, you will also have to make sure your tack is clean and upto scratch – isn’t there just so much to think of!
It’s the grooming preparation for showing we’re dealing with in this blog – and there’s plenty to take note of in that department.
You’ll need to count down the days to showtime, planning the whole process so that when you arrive at the show there will be just final touch ups necessary.
Here’s a general run-down of the grooming tasks required, in chronological order:
· Clipping and trimming
In breed shows native horses and ponies should usually be shown in their natural state. For the rest, you can do a full clip two or three weeks before a show. This will leave enough time for the coat to grow over any streaky bits. The aim is to have a smooth, shiny coat on show day.
You can trim untidy hair a day or so before the show, but don’t forget to take the trimmer or a razor comb along for those last-minute tidy-ups on the day. The main areas to trim neatly are fetlocks, stray hairs around the knees, bridle paths, the ears, beards and moustaches. You may choose to shave off your horse’s whiskers, but many riders are against this nowadays because the whiskers – correctly called vibrissae – are believed to have essential sensory functions that help the horse orient himself to his environment.
You may also think it is advisable to “pull” your horse or pony’s mane and tail. See below under “Tail Plaiting” for more advice on how to do this. It is best to pull the mane and tail BEFORE the pre-show washing.
Give your horse or pony a thorough bath a day or two before the show (the time dependent on how long you are confident you can keep him clean!).
Start by giving him a good wetting with warm (not hot) water … with a shower head if possible. Soak the coat including the mane and tail. Then apply a good quality shampoothat you have pre-tested on a small patch to insure it doesn’t irritate the skin. Work the shampoo into a lather with your hands and a sponge, adding a little more water if necessary. Avoid the eyes, nose and mouth, and be gentle around the facial area.
Using the shower and warm water again thoroughly rinse off all the soapy residue, from the top down.
Use old towels and a scraper to dry him off as much as possible. Wring out the tail and mane.
· Tail Plaiting
A neat tail is essential to enhance the appearance of your show horse’s behind!
After bathing your horse apply some mane and tail conditioner to the mane and tail, and comb them out gently, using a tail comb and taking care not to pull too hard on tangles. If you plan to leave the plaiting until the morning before the show, keep the tail clean and tidy by securing it in a tail bag overnight.
If your horse’s tail (and same applies to the mane) is very untidy with stray hairs spoiling the line, you may wish to indulge in some mane and tail pulling. Note: This is best done before washing! For a horse this feels much like when you pluck your eyebrows!
Here’s a video that explains how to pull the tail (remove extraneous hairs so that it lies smooth and flat). You may also find the Supreme Products masterclass in tail pulling useful.
Either the night before the show, or early on show morning, you can proceed with plaiting your clean, combed, conditioned and pulled tail.
Here’s a step bystep guide video to help you with the tail plaiting technique. If you have not done this before it is best to practice a few times well before show day!
Once plaited to your satisfaction, protect your work by putting the tail into a tail bag.
· Mane Plaiting
This can be done the night before the show. As with the tail, you may wish to have pulled the mane to thin it in advance to make sure it is neat and shaped.
Spray with a conditioner and have a hood ready to keep things neat and in place when you’re done.
Manes are always plaited on the horse’s off-side (the right) and always have an uneven number of plaits. The number of plaits will depend on the length and thickness of the mane.
If you plait the night before, you can leave the rolling of the plaits until the morning of show day.
Here’s a video guide to mane plaiting.
Once again, remember practice makes perfect, so be sure you’ve got this plaiting down pat well in advance.
Assuming you have had your horse’s hooves professionally well-shoed and trimmed in advance of the show, you need to just sand them lightly with an emery board and then paint with clear polish.
If you prefer to use black polish, paint them carefully either the night or morning before the show. Don’t forget the polish must be removed as soon as possible after the show to prevent the hooves drying out.
Judges look for a sharp line between hoof and hair line. Make sure white hocks are pristine white before applying polish with a steady hand.
Just like you, your horse may need a touch of make-up to make him look his best! You can happily apply a little subtle face make-up on the morning of show day to highlight the eyes, cheek bone and the skin around his muzzle.
If you think make-up is a step too far, use a little baby oil on a soft cloth as a highlighter.
Most horse make-up comes with instructions. Remember less is more!
Before applying make-up is the time to trim any extraneous hairs in the ears and on the face.
· Quarter Marks
Quarter marks are an eye-catching finishing touch to your horse’s show preparation. Traditionally they are applied to the hind quarters, after applying a good quality show shine product. Quarter marks should be applied just before you are due to enter the show ring.
You can use a quarter-marking stencil, or if you are well-practiced make your own squares with a quarter-marking comb.
Finish off by brushing an arc pattern over the tail and down the buttocks which will draw attention with a flash of light.
We wish you all the best with your showing this season, and don’t forget … if you need showing products to help your horse step out in style look no further than www.totally-tack.co.uk!
Jumpy gelding, spooky mare? Or a boy who is so full of beans you can’t keep him under control? As prey animals, horses are naturally highly strung and nervous – some more so than others. With spring busting out all over and plenty of sweet grass to nibble your horse is charged with energy and therefore likely to be even more frisky and excitable than usual.
If the situation is so bad that it is impacting on your enjoyment of your horse, resulting in unpleasant and even dangerous behaviour like rearing, shying, or biting, it may be time to consider how you can take the edge off of his/her anxiety, for both your sakes.
As you no doubt know, there are a whole raft of calming supplements and preparations available on the market to quieten down your horse. Before taking a look at these, however, it’s worth considering your horse’s health and management to see if there is anything relating to his diet, environment or routine that is causing or exacerbating his nervous disposition.
Feed is the biggest factor. Starch-rich feed will literally make a horse “high”. Switching to a low-starch feed that is high in fibre and fat will calm him down and turn that starchy “high” into more sustained energy.
Your horse might be suffering stress because he’s being intimidated by a stablemate or field companion. Careful observation and paying attention to your horse’s interaction with others can help you identify any problems.
Stress can also be caused by boredom – characterised by stable “vices” such as cribbing – which you can ease by changing his circumstances. Look to your training methods too. Sometimes horses can be confused about what you expect from them. If you think this is making your horse anxious it’s best to consult a professional trainer.
Finally there could be a physical cause for your horse’s behaviour … horses with gastric ulcers, for example, are known to be short-tempered and panicky.
Apart from the horse itself, your saddle is probably your most valuable piece of equestrian equipment – it pays to look after it properly and thereby prolong its life. The first hurdle to overcome, however, is finding the right saddle in the first place – one that fits you, your horse and your riding discipline.
Whether you are buying a new saddle, or opting for a second-hand one, there are some decisions to be made up front.
Firstly, decide what type of saddle you want, and whether it should be a leather saddle or less expensive synthetic version.
WHAT TYPE OF SADDLE?
If you’re a leisure rider hacking out and doing the odd bit of jumping for fun, a general purpose (GP) saddle will suit you fine, but if you’re a regular competitor in equestrian sport you’ll need a discipline specific saddle to fit the purpose.
A dressage saddle, for example, has a longer, straighter saddle flap to allow for a longer leg position, and a deeper seat to support you in the correct position. It will also have longer girth straps and possibly fixed knee blocks. Dressage is all about close leg contact.
Jump saddles are cut more forward to allow for shorter stirrups and usually have knee and thigh blocks to support you when jumping. The seat will be flatter so you can shift position when competing in cross country events.
Polo Saddles and Racing Saddles are even flatter, allowing for freedom of movement, and racing saddles have a small, short saddle flap with short stirrup leathers.
Showing saddles have the most basic design, generally straight cut and conforming closest to the shape of your horse, to best show off his assets.
You might opt for a treeless saddle, especially if you have a horse with an awkward shape who doesn’t do well in conventional saddles. The tree is the base (usually wood or a hard synthetic material) on which the rest of the saddle is built. It is the size of the tree that determines how it fits on the horses back, providing a solid load-bearing surface to protect the horse by distributing the rider’s weight. Those who prefer saddles without a rigid tree find them more flexible, allowing the horse more freedom. Treeless saddles are often preferred by endurance riders, often used together with gel pads.
LEATHER OR SYNTHETIC?
Ideally we all crave a leather saddle – there is something very satisfying about the warm smell and smooth texture of quality English leather that adds an element of excitement to mounting up on a good horse! Leather saddles can last a lifetime if properly cared for and well maintained, and although they are pricey (particularly if you have a bespoke saddle made just for you and your horse), they have a good resale value.
A qualified saddler can more easily repair or adjust a leather saddle than a synthetic one, and the leather is more likely to mellow with use, softening to conform to your seat. Wear simply gives the leather an attractive patina.
Modern synthetic saddles are not necessarily inferior to leather ones; very often its difficult to tell mock leather saddles from the real thing. They also have their advantages. They are generally lighter, easier to clean (just a wipe down with soap and water suffices), and of course they cost less. They’re also weatherproof and durable.
If your choice is dictated by budget, you can happily choose a good make of synthetic saddle and – as long as it fits well – not suffer any prejudice up against the leather-seated riders!
THE RIGHT FIT
As any experienced equestrian knows, you can’t just plonk any saddle on any horse. Correct saddle fitting is crucial not only to optimise riding performance, but for the comfort of yourself and your horse. It’s well worth having a professional saddle fitter involved when you choose a new saddle. Just as we humans do, horses change shape during their lifetime, depending on their age, diet, workload, illness and training, so it’s vital to check the saddle fit a few times a year.
For a happy horse you need a saddle that fits not only width-wise. There are all sorts of criteria involved. As a starting point we recommend using a saddle-fitting kitto measure up your horse for the required size and shape for a proper fit. Once you have selected the best saddle for the job, get a professional saddle-fitter in to confirm the choice, put the saddle on the horse and correct any problems. Saddle blankets and pads only go so far towards correcting fit problems – a poorly fitting saddle can’t be made good with padding.
So many factors have to be considered in correctly fitting a saddle. The width is of primary importance, but the length of the tree and the horse’s centre of balance also play a part. The gullet must clear the withers, but not be too narrow to pinch the horse’s back. The tree points shouldn’t interfere with the movement of the horse’s shoulder, and the seat should be positioned so the rider sits over the horse’s balance centre.
The saddle doesn’t just need to fit the horse – it should be comfortable for you, the rider, too. Your seat size and leg length must be taken into account.
Saddle fitting is too important to be left to chance. To find a qualified saddler fitter in your area, ask your veterinarian or local tack shop – or search online on the website of the Society of Master Saddlers.
CARING FOR YOUR SADDLE
Leather saddles, particularly, need to be stored indoors, protected from damp and dust and away from direct heat, when not in use. Leather can go mouldy, or become brittle and dried out, if exposed to heat or wet weather.
Cleaning your saddle – like all tack – is important because a build up of sweat and dirt can not only damage the saddle but also cause uncomfortable rubbing on the horse. Make sure your saddle is wiped down after every outing, and regularly given a thorough cleaning and conditioning.
Here at Totally Tack we’re keen to assist anyone wanting to saddle-up, stocking a range of saddle pads and saddle cloths, as well as numnahs and saddle accessories. We have a qualified saddler on hand for repairs, advice and bespoke tack orders.
Spurs and whips are iconically pieces of horse-riding equipment, not to mention their more popular (and dark!) association with the "Fifty Shades of Grey" series of books and movies. Not surprisingly, then, their use is a "grey" area, constantly under scrutiny from all quarters – event officials, horse welfare organisations, riders and competitors themselves, and members of the public.
Using these performance “aids” is a contentious issue, regulated in competition (with the rules constantly being updated) and argued about wherever the subject of horses comes up.
In one camp there are those who believe spurs and whips are cruel and unnecessary; the other side of the argument is that if used appropriately they are invaluable in schooling a “difficult” horse. There is probably another, largely silent, group who believe there is nothing wrong with showing a horse who’s boss by inflicting a dose of correctional pain.
So, who’s right here? In fact is it possible there is a right or wrong way when it comes to disciplining a horse or “spurring” him on.
Let’s take a closer look at this far from black or white issue:
THE OFFICIAL VIEW ON WHIPS AND SPURS
Having studied the rules and regulations of various official bodies – from the FEI to British Dressage and British Showjumping – it is apparent that over the years great attention has been paid to this subject. This is undoubtedly because there have been incidents where complaints have been lodged at events where horses have been visibly abused by their riders.
Even at the very highest level this still occurs: at the RioOlympics in 2016 two riders - Jur Vrieling of the Netherlands and Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts – were disqualified from the individual showjumping event, her for being too hard with the whip and she for excessive use of spurs under FEI rules.
Those FEI rules state categorically that “abuse of a horse using natural riding aids or artificial aids (eg. Whips or spurs) will not be tolerated”. The FEI forbids carrying a whip of any kind in the arena at international dressage events, and regulates the size of any whip used in the practice area.
British Dressage rules allow whips in the Premier Leagues, and rolled spurs without points, or roller ball spurs. No whips though at area festivals, regionals or national championships.
British ShowJumping have just updated their rules on whips, limiting them to being no greater in size than 75cm or less than 45cm in length overall “nor one that is weighted or with a hard point at the end”. This rule applies not only in the arena, but also the collecting ring or “anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the showground”.
APPROPRIATE USE OF WHIPS
Whether or not you opt to use a whip for schooling your horse (and if allowed in a particular competition), how can it be used “appropriately”?
To answer this question we can look for clues in the official comments in the British ShowJumping code of conduct.
If you use a whip in a fit of temper, that’s construed as excessive use – and, I’m sure you’ll agree – rightly so! Whipping a horse’s head is also a no-no. Whipping a horse so that it breaks the skin or is marked is definite “misuse”. The rules also state that a whip should be used no more than three times after entering the arena in competition, and hit only the rump, from which we can deduce that repeated whipping on the flanks or anywhere else is deemed inappropriate and unnecessary.
The British Horse Society says in its Code of Practice forthe Welfare of Horses and Ponies at Events that “any method used to discipline the horse should be proportionate and applied at the correct time”. Whips can be used “as a method to encourage the horse forwards if it is not listening to the rider’s seat and leg aids”. The BHS also acknowledges that a whip can be used “to reprimand the horse” if there is a valid reason.
This may seem rather vague, but the code qualifies it by saying the timing of the use of a whip is important, for example if a horse refuses a fence it should be reprimanded with the whip immediately, before he has turned away from the fence. The force with which the whip is used “must always be proportionate and reasonable” – that is to say not marking or breaking the skin.
Other pointers to inappropriate whipping include hitting a horse after you’ve dismounted and hitting an obviously tired horse.
Unlike a whip, according to BHS spurs shouldn’t be used to reprimand a horse.
Although there’s not as much official instruction around about using spurs (except for the permitted type and the fact that they shouldn’t cause injury), there is plenty of advice around about how they should be used correctly, if at all.
Most riders seem of the opinion that spurs are a “last resort”, and shouldn’t be used at all by beginners who might inadvertently jab a horse too hard while mastering control.
Spurs can be useful for advanced riders for adding precision to leg cues, but aren’t there to make a horse go faster. Use the spurs as a quick light push, rather than a sharp jab, without lifting your leg away from the horse’s side. Like with a whip, use of spurs should never leave a mark on the horse.
Too much spurring can cause the horse to ignore it eventually, and in some cases horses have been known to become distressed and buck if spurs are used improperly.
So … using whips and/or spurs is partly personal choice, and partly governed by best practice. It’s up to you what you decide to do! If you do use a whip, crop or spurs, we have a range of choices that are humane and fit regulations if used correctly, available to order online.
Compare the size and weight of your horse to his feet! It becomes obvious that hooves are intensely load-bearing and therefore subject to a great deal of stress. Any problem with your horse’s feet and his hooves, will therefore impact on his health and performance.
Many non-horse people may believe a horse’s hoof is solid, tough and hard … but that is not so, as we know! The hoof is made up of different layers, each of which has been designed by nature to fill a different function, and can be damaged or harmed in some way to cause him pain and distress.
To properly care for your horse’s hooves you need to understand their inner workings:
· There are actually three bones inside each of your horse’s hooves. The short pastern bone extends from the long pastern bone in the horse’s leg. Then there is the coffin bone, which carries down blood vessels and nerves. Finally, there is the little navicular bone attached to which are tendons and ligaments running down from the leg.
· The bones are all surrounded by the laminae – a layer of tissue that brings blood to the hoof.
· Underneath the laminae is the digital cushion – a pad of tissue that forms a heel, to help absorb the shock of the hoof hitting the ground.
· Around the laminae is a horny layer (formed of the same substance that makes human nails and hair), which is hard and the part you see from the outside.
· The horny layer can be surprisingly thin, and grows continuously. It is attached to the inner part of the hoof from the “white line” which is familiar to farriers as the limit to which he can trim a hoof or set in nails for horseshoes.
· In the wild the horny layer is trimmed down naturally, but domestic horses need this to be trimmed by a farrier.
· The outside of the hoof is covered by the periople, a layer which keeps moisture in the hoof.
· The coronary band at the top of the hoof is like a cuticle on a human fingernail, and regulates how the hoof grows. Like a human fingernail, if this band is damaged it can cause the hoof to grow in a deformed way.
· At the very bottom of the hoof is the sole, or frog. This is a padded piece of hard tissue, that helps with blood circulation and shock absorption as the horse’s foot hits the ground.
When a horse is lame the cause will most likely be found to be a hoof problem. There are myriad things that can cause hoof ailments. Good routine hoof care can prevent most of them occurring, and feeding hoof supplements containing ingredients like biotin and zinc can help improve hoof quality.
To avoid hoof cracks – which can develop when the horse moves frequently from wet to dry conditions – you can apply hoof
One of the more serious conditions is a hoof abscess (click here for a special blog on the subject) that can be caused by a puncture wound, misplaced horse shoe nail or an untreated bruised hoof.
The best way to keep a good check on your horse’s hooves is to pick his feet every day to remove anydirt and gravel from the crevices. It’s not possible of course to comb every byway that you ride for potential hoof hazards, but you can make your own yard and field safe from foreign objects that might puncture or bruise his hooves.
If, while picking and brushing his hoof, you find it has been pierced by something, don’t pull it out yourself. Rather pack the foot well to avoid it being driven in more deeply, and call the vet.
Besides physical damage, a horse’s hooves are prone to diseases and conditions that can have drastic consequences if not properly treated.
Laminitis – inflammation of the laminae – for instance, should be treated as a medical emergency.
There are various causes for this painful condition that prevents the blood flowing to the sensitive laminae, which can begin to die. The most common cause is obesity, and a high intake of sugars and starch which overloads the digestive system causing a release of toxins into the gut and then into the blood stream. Laminitis can also result from Cushing’s disease, which is an abnormality of the pituitary gland.
You can help prevent laminitis by carefully monitoring your horse’s diet and restricting grass intake, especially in spring and early summer when grass is lush. Make sure your horse has plenty of exercise, and that a farrier checks his feet every six weeks at least.
Another hoof disease that can be caused by improper nutrition, and poor conformation (the correctness of the horse’s body proportions and bone structure) is Navicular Disease – the deterioration of the navicular bone. Expert hoof care from an excellent farrier can guard against this condition taking hold.
Thrush is a particularly unpleasant infection of the frog which can be prevented by the foot being kept clean and picked. Another bacterial infection is White Line Disease, caused by a continually wet stall and lack of exercise, that can lead to the breaking down of the hoof horn and the rotation of the coffin bone.
This is just a small sample of the ailments that can afflict your horse’s hooves. Many are preventable by practising basic daily routine hoof care and visual checks, as well as regularly scheduled farrier visits and – if in any doubt – a vet inspection.
Deep winter leaves horses more prone to suffering the potentially fatal effects of Colic. A recent Horse & Hound article warned that the British Horse Society is concerned about the rising problem of colic caused by horse management in winter conditions.
Your precious horse is probably stabled against the elements, spending less time working and walking around his field, dependent on you to provide the right food. Less movement and a change in his usual feeding routine can increase the risk of him falling victim to this awful condition.
SO WHAT CAUSES COLIC?
Horses have natural feeding habits that have not adapted to being domesticated. Your horse’s digestion processes involve fermentation, producing gas which can’t easily be expelled, distending the gut and causing problems.
Your horse is an herbivore, which leaves him unable to eliminate toxins quickly. Horses don’t vomit up indigestible food. In winter he can’t eat grass, and is confined rather than grazing on the move.
In the depths of winter there is less time and inclination to ride, so our horses are likely to be spending more time stabled than roaming around in the fields or working. With less movement and a change in feed routine, this can increase the risk of colic occurring.
Horses in their natural environment spend about 16 hours of the day trickle feeding … grazing on a large amount of low-energy food. If you are, as is usually the case, spending the winter giving your horse two feeds a day of hard feed, a ration of hay and leaving him for hours in a stable with no exercise, you are going against the natural grain. It’s colic waiting to happen!
It’s not only winter conditions that can be responsible for horses contracting Colic. Other risk factors include:
· Tooth problems
· Worm infestation
· Gut damage
· Soiled food
· Lack of fibre
· Too little water
· A sudden change of diet
· Stress (travelling, hard exercise, a change of environment or routine)
· Poor (especially sandy) pasture
SIGNS OF COLIC
Colic in horses manifests itself as abdominal pain, which can result in a host of different signs, especially in the behaviour of the horse. Some signs are general in all horses, others more pertinent to the individual horse. Older horses, particularly, may “grin and bear it” longer than a colicky youngster.
Watch out for any behavioural changes that indicate a problem. No-one knows your horse as well as you do! If your horse is unwilling to move, seems depressed, stops or slows down eating, spends more time lying down, is standing abnormally, losing weight, has a poor coat or is producing fewer stools, it’s time to take a good look at the reasons. One or more of these changes should alert you to the fact that a vet should evaluate your horse. It may not mean colic, but better safe than sorry.
Other signs of possible colic include pawing at the ground, stretching out, playing in the water bucket, standing against a wall and shifting weight on the hind legs.
If you horse starts repeatedly laying down then getting up, rolling, grunting or kicking at his belly then you should realise the gut pain has become more severe.
TYPES OF COLIC
There are numerous types of colic, but the most common type is spasmodic colic, caused by gas building up in the intestines, usually caused by a change of diet, lack of roughage or a build-up of parasites. Another type is known as Impaction Colic, when the intestine is blocked for some reason. Sand Colic can result from the horse ingesting soil or sand, inflaming the bowel. The most dangerous type and most painful is a twisted gut, which can be fatal without surgery.
WHAT TO DO?
Any signs of colic should be treated as an emergency. Call the vet, and while you’re waiting withdraw any feed and hay, ensure the horse is in a safe area where he can’t harm himself.
When the vet arrives he will probably give the horse some drugs to relieve pain and relax him, which will encourage the gut to start working properly. In severe cases surgery may be recommended, which will mean taking your horse to hospital.
The most common type of colic seen in the winter months is impaction colic, where the intestine of the horse becomes blocked with feed stuff or other material. Dehydration is often the cause, because horses tend to drink less in the winter. Freezing conditions can also hamper access to water and the fresh forage that contains more moisture.
Guard against dehydration by adding water to the bucket feed, and soaking hay before feeding. If water troughs ice over, make sure the ice is broken periodically or the water heated so the horse is encouraged to drink more.
Feed consistently – changes in the type, quantity or quality of feed can cause colic. Feed a forage-based diet if possible, and ensure the feed is hygienic and not contaminated with bacteria and mould. Long-stemmed, steamed forage is best.
Turn your horse out as much as possible, and when stabled make sure there are no foreign objects around that the horse might ingest.
ENJOY OVER-WINTERING WITH YOUR HORSE, AND KEEP HIM HAPPY AND HEALTHY!
A particularly unpleasant consequence for horses left out in the wet is a condition commonly called Rain Scald (or Rain Rot). This is an acute bacterial inflammatory skin disease caused by a bug called Dermatophilus congolensis, the very same nasty that causes Mud Fever in wet conditions.
The bacterium invades the skin of the horse, lying dormant until it is activated by the skin being compromised in some way, as in prolonged wetness or being attacked by insects.
While Mud Fever attacks the horse's lower legs, Rain Scald causes crusty, pus-filled scabs to form on the parts of the body most exposed to rain - the top of the head, along the neck and across the back. The scabs peel off along with hair to leave bare spots of red, sore skin. The scabby tufts are known as "paintbrush lesions". They are uncomfortable, and when the horse scratches the affected area, the bacteria spreads. The lesions may be dotted around the horse's rain exposed dorsal surfaces, or may join together to cover a large area. Whichever is the case, when you detect Rain Scald you should act quickly to remove the cause: first get him out of the rain!
Most horses recover from Rain Scald without any treatment, as long as you make sure he has access to shelter in wet weather, or cover him with a waterproof turnout rug. Avoid riding him until he heals if he has lesions in the saddle area (the saddle will make him sweat and make the lesions more painful). Make sure he isn't troubled by insects, and that all his tack is squeaky clean. It's not a good idea to put heavy blankets on a horse with Rain Scald because they trap moisture underneath, which will only exacerbate the condition.
It's best to take action against Rain Scald as soon as you spot the scabs. Bathe the horse with an antimicrobial shampoo - like Shapley's MediCare shampoo - and remove the scabs gently, curry the horse and make sure he is completely dry.
It's easy to mistake Rain Scald for a fungal infection such as ringworm. If you're not sure, get a definite diagnosis from a veterinarian who will probably take a skin scraping for microscopic examination to identify the bacteria.
If the horse is left out in the rain with no protection, the condition will persist and spread, and could lead to a secondary bacterial infection. The infection can spread to other horses, so it's important to keep him away from his companions while healing, and keep his grooming tools and tack disinfected and separate from theirs.
Recovery from rain scald can take several weeks, and your horse does not become immune once he has suffered from it. It could well recur every winter. Prevention is better than cure, and the way to keep your horse Rain Scald free is good management and good hygiene.
Sadly, there comes a time when your beloved horse friend passes on. Whether death comes suddenly and unexpectedly, or slowly creeps up and you yourself have to make the decision to euthanase and release an old horse from pain and illness, you will need to work through your grief at the loss.
If helps if there is someone to deal with the practicalities of the situation for you, particularly disposal of the remains, which is a specially painful part of the loss.
Well-meaning friends and relatives may refrain from mentioning the horse, and try to keep you occupied away from his empty stable and pasture.
The best thing, though, is to face up to your grief and work through it. You can, and will, come to the place where you will reconcile with the loss, and be able to cherish the memories of your dear departed friend.
STAGES OF GRIEF
Grief counsellors agree that there are five basic stages of human grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Your deceased horse was as close to you as any human friend or relative, and therefore the stages of grief will be the same.
The denial will come and go quickly. You may find yourself heading out to feed your horse, even though you know he is gone. Reality will hit hard like a kick in the guts when you get to the empty barn.
If your horse had companions you should remind yourself of the fact that they will be feeling his loss too. Horses are herd animals, and the literature is full of sad stories of how horses show their grief at the loss of a buddy. Sometimes they may even show physical reactions, go off their food and become morose. It will help you with your own grief to take note of how your horse's companions are reacting to his loss. A sense of purpose helps with grieving, and you can make sure you are paying extra attention to the surviving horse/s to keep them busy and cheerful.
The stage of denial runs into the angry stage of grieving, when you will blame yourself or someone else for the circumstances that led to your horse's death. You'll be angry that you forgot to close the gate before the accident happened, or that you didn't notice the onset of colic soon enough.
It takes some time to come to terms with the fact that being angry, or even guilty, is not going to bring the horse back. Anger is debilitating and usually overlaps with the bargaining stage, when you mentally make a pact with a higher power to be a better person if you can be relieved of the guilt and anger.
Next comes the inevitable depression. Working through depression is difficult for some of us. Don't be afraid to seek professional help if necessary.
Finally you will be able to come to an acceptance, and hopefully remember your beloved horse fondly and openly, and move on with life keeping him in your heart.
There is no telling how long it will take a person to work through their grief; each individual handles grief in their own way.
No-one should expect you to forget your dear horse, jump on another one, and carry on regardless. Let everyone know you need to take the time to grieve and cherish the spirit of your equine friend.
Many horse-lovers find it comforting to set up a physical memorial of some sort for a precious horse, or perhaps make a donation to a horse charity in his name and memory.
I rather like the idea of planting a tree or flowering shrub in a spot that you can visit during the year to remember shared experiences with your horse.
If you have some of your horse's mane or tail hair you can have it braided into a bracelet as a meaningful keepsake.
When the pain of loss begins to abate you will probably enjoy making a memory wall of framed pictures of you and your beloved horse, or put together a keepsake scrapbook of memories.
Such activities can be particularly beneficial to help children through grieving for a favourite pony.
As someone once said, the only certainty in life is death. Sadly most of us will outlive our horses, and have to face losing them. Surround yourself with loving friends and family. Draw on them for support and give in to grief.
By their very nature – trustworthy, patient, calm and safe – most Pony Club ponies and horses are mature; late teens to early 20s (there are even some still working the Club at the age of 30!).
A Pony Club mount is very special. He’s probably had multiple owners and has “nannied” numerous children through their early riding experience with fortitude and forbearance. For this he needs to be older and wiser, whether he’s a shaggy Shetland used and abused by the little ones, or a larger legendary trooper who’s experienced at all sorts of competition and games which he pulls off with aplomb.
He’ll do his best to keep his precious young cargo in the saddle and not put a foot wrong. No matter the provocation he’ll not kick, bite or bolt. He’s a faithful family retainer. A situation certainly not suitable for a green young pony.
As many have noted, such a mount is worth his weight in gold, and any parent would be delighted to own such a faithful friend.
Such special ponies – generally falling into the medical realm of being “geriatric” – need and deserve special care.
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
If you are lucky enough to own one of these perfect ponies, or have a yard where you need one or more of these equine gems to cater for Pony Club or young riders, there are some things to watch out for to make sure they grow old gracefully.
Here are some points to ponder if you want to keep your older pony happy and healthy:
Overall, as long as you keep your aging pony healthy , happy, vaccinated, and wormed, with regular examinations by the vet, he will continue to be a joy for your children and carry them faithfully into the future.