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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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Painting Ponies ... Cruel or Creative?

12 August 2018 05:57


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.

Mutual Grooming

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!

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Pleeeaaase Buy Me a Pony!

29 July 2018 06:47

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!


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.


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:


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.


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.

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!

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Lyme Disease: Tackling Ticks

15 July 2018 06:17

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
Erythema Migrans rash in humans
the early physical signs being more evident because of our naked skin (such as the characteristic “bulls-eye” rash, Erythema Migrans, that surrounds the initial tick-bite in the early stages) – the disease manifests itself in an almost identical way in humans.


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). 

The Sheep Tick ... By Hubert Berberich (HubiB)
 [CC BY-SA 3.0 
 from Wikimedia Commons.
 Some ticks – in the UK it is usually the infamous hard-bodied Sheep Tick, Ixodes ricinus – are carriers of a spiral-shaped bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi. These troublesome ticks are difficult to spot, being only about 3mm long before they become engorged with the host's blood. When an infected tick attaches itself to a horse (or human or other mammal) by burrowing its head into the skin, the bacteria is passed on to the host. If left undisturbed the tick will feed off of the blood of the host animal for around three days before falling off when engorged, then splitting open on the ground to release new tick larvae, and the cycle begins again.

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
·         Irritability
·         Hypersensitive skin
·         Restless legs
·         Weakness
·         Behavioural changes
·         Lameness and stiffness
·         Refusal or reluctance to walk or exercise
·         Laminitis

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
Tick Removal with Tweezers
transference of the bacteria from the biting tick into the horse’s bloodstream. Use tweezers or a specially designed tick remover tool and grasp the tick at the head, close to the skin, lifting it firmly upwards without twisting or jerking.

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.


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Sweating it out: The Electrolyte Story

01 July 2018 07:54


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.

Electrolytes can be administered to your horse
 via a syringe (as in this Science Supplements syringe)
 or as a powder.      
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:

  • ·         Dullness of coat
  • ·         Eyes sunken in
  • ·         Muscle spasms
  • ·         Depression and fatigue
  • ·         Poor performance
  • ·         Dark coloured urine

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?

  • ·         Make sure your horse has enough forage and drinks at least six gallons of water a day.
  • ·         Make sure salt is available at all times – a horse needs at least two ounces of salt per day.
    Global Herbs Himalayan Salt Lick
    in various sizes.
  • ·         In hot weather time your periods of working your horse to the coolest parts of the day – morning and late evening.
  • ·         When transporting to shows/events allow the horse time to replace electrolytes lost due to sweating during travel by offering time out and salt with a hay bale.
  • ·         Be alert for signs of dehydration and know how to recognise them. If you anticipate long periods of sweating give electrolyte supplements in advance.

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A Good Graze

17 June 2018 04:24


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 ….


According to the British Horse Society (BHS) nearly half of horses in the UK are turned out 24/7 grazing during the summer months. These grazers are eating up to four percent of their body weight in grass every day, although research suggests they only need two percent. Of course this means many are eating way too much and are in danger of becoming overweight, with all the attendant negative consequences. 

If your horses are out permanently at present its recommended they need between 1 and 1.5 acres of good pasture each (two horses per hectare) to keep them happy, but this is dependent on the quality of the pasture. Too crowded and you may end up with fighting and bullying, not to mention health issues.


Horses are selective in their grazing and don’t eat everything that’s on offer. If their space is limited they will quickly denude it of what’s good, leaving only the bad and bare patches. Pasture can become over-grazed and without good management you’ll end up having to supplement  their feed because the pasture becomes what is known as ‘horse sick’.

As well as eating all the nutritious grasses in their field they roll, frequent specific areas, and generally degrade the pasture available. It’s fine if you have enough land to rotate them to different fields, but if you don’t you’ll end up investing in feed and supplements

Horses grazing on degraded pasture might suffer from colic, greasy heel, parasites and weed poisoning.

TIP: Horses digest highly mature, stemmy forage poorly.


It’s definitely worth having the soil in your pasture professionally analysed. If the soil is deficient in nutrients the grass will be of poor quality. You need it to contain essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, and if it doesn’t you can correct this with fertilizer. PH levels are important …. the perfect PH for horse pastures is between five and 6.5 PH to promote rich grass growth. 

You can balance this by applying lime or seaweed if the PH is too acidic.

Soil should be checked at least every three years.


You can renovate bare areas with grass seed by fencing off the high traffic and denuded areas, usually along fences and beside gates, until new grass seed is established. 

Fill any depressions with top soil and harrow or scarify the soil before sowing seed under a thin layer of composted manure. Keep the soil moist, and even mulch with straw.

TIP: Horses like to graze in straight lines, so divide your pasture into long field strips using temporary fences.


Identifying the weeds in your pasture is necessary to controlling them, because they might need specialised treatment with herbicides and a particular time in their life cycle to be killed off.

Mow/cut  weeds down regularly before they go to seed, and continue to fertilise and lime the field … ultimately the preferred vegetation will prevail.


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Face Up to Grooming

03 June 2018 08:16

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.

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Kick off Your Shoes ... Is Barefoot Better?

20 May 2018 04:52


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.
Cavallo Trek Slim Barefoot Boots

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.

Invest in a good hoof supplement like Kevin Bacon's Hoof Formula
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.


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Bucking and Rearing? Could it be Kissing Spine?

07 May 2018 05:37

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”.


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.


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.


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.


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
Cottage Craft Lunging set ... great for exercise! 
initially prescribed, followed by exercise on the lunge. Physiotherapy can help, and injections of corticosteroids can bring relief. Things like shock wave therapy are also employed, the aim being to stretch the spine.

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!

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