There are so many Facebook posts on horse groups asking how one can endure and cope with the loss of a horse or pony. We understand, and would like to write a few words which we hope will help you see your beloved friend over the "Rainbow Bridge".
For most of us who have horses in our lives, there is a special bond unlike no other. While those who have never given their heart to a horse may see them as livestock, to a horse-lover your equine companion is as close as a family member.
Sadly, there comes a time when your beloved horse friend passes on. Whether death comes suddenly and unexpectedly, or slowly creeps up and you yourself have to make the decision to euthanase and release an old horse from pain and illness, you will need to work through your grief at the loss.
If helps if there is someone to deal with the practicalities of the situation for you, particularly disposal of the remains, which is a specially painful part of the loss.
Well-meaning friends and relatives may refrain from mentioning the horse, and try to keep you occupied away from his empty stable and pasture.
The best thing, though, is to face up to your grief and work through it. You can, and will, come to the place where you will reconcile with the loss, and be able to cherish the memories of your dear departed friend.
STAGES OF GRIEF
Grief counsellors agree that there are five basic stages of human grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Your deceased horse was as close to you as any human friend or relative, and therefore the stages of grief will be the same.
The denial will come and go quickly. You may find yourself heading out to feed your horse, even though you know he is gone. Reality will hit hard like a kick in the guts when you get to the empty barn.
If your horse had companions you should remind yourself of the fact that they will be feeling his loss too. Horses are herd animals, and the literature is full of sad stories of how horses show their grief at the loss of a buddy. Sometimes they may even show physical reactions, go off their food and become morose. It will help you with your own grief to take note of how your horse's companions are reacting to his loss. A sense of purpose helps with grieving, and you can make sure you are paying extra attention to the surviving horse/s to keep them busy and cheerful.
The stage of denial runs into the angry stage of grieving, when you will blame yourself or someone else for the circumstances that led to your horse's death. You'll be angry that you forgot to close the gate before the accident happened, or that you didn't notice the onset of colic soon enough.
It takes some time to come to terms with the fact that being angry, or even guilty, is not going to bring the horse back. Anger is debilitating and usually overlaps with the bargaining stage, when you mentally make a pact with a higher power to be a better person if you can be relieved of the guilt and anger.
Next comes the inevitable depression. Working through depression is difficult for some of us. Don't be afraid to seek professional help if necessary.
Finally you will be able to come to an acceptance, and hopefully remember your beloved horse fondly and openly, and move on with life keeping him in your heart.
There is no telling how long it will take a person to work through their grief; each individual handles grief in their own way.
No-one should expect you to forget your dear horse, jump on another one, and carry on regardless. Let everyone know you need to take the time to grieve and cherish the spirit of your equine friend.
Many horse-lovers find it comforting to set up a physical memorial of some sort for a precious horse, or perhaps make a donation to a horse charity in his name and memory.
I rather like the idea of planting a tree or flowering shrub in a spot that you can visit during the year to remember shared experiences with your horse.
If you have some of your horse's mane or tail hair you can have it braided into a bracelet or some other meaningful knick-nack you can keep close as a meaningful keepsake.
When the pain of loss begins to abate you will probably enjoy making a memory wall of framed pictures of you and your beloved horse, or put together a keepsake scrapbook of memories.
Such activities can be particularly beneficial to help children through grieving for a favourite pony.
As someone once said, the only certainty in life is death. Sadly most of us will outlive our horses, and have to face losing them. Surround yourself with loving friends and family. Draw on them for support and give in to grief.
The organism enters the bloodstream via broken skin, anywhere on the body but particularly through the feet, and is exacerbated when the horse stands in mud or soiled bedding for prolonged periods.
It can also be caused by over-washing of limbs and not drying them properly; excessive sweating under rugs or tack; or friction and chafing from overreach boots or wrongly fitted bandages.
Mud Fever can be a seriously debilitating infection.
Here are our handy pointers for treatment....
If you can't prevent the onset of mud fever then how it is treated is key to how quickly the condition can be cured and the skin healed. Obviously not all cases respond to off the shelf topical remedies and therefore prolonged, severe cases may require the attention of a veterinary surgeon as Mud Fever is a very painful condition.
The popular treatment for mud fever involves removal of scabs, scrubbing with Triscrub and then the application of an antibacterial cream. However bearing in mind the soreness related to the condition scab removal can be very stressful, dangerous and painful. The easiest way of removing scabs involves a product like Protection Plus or Muddy Marvel Descab (both are antibacterial) being smeared over the area followed by wrapping with cling film and then the application of a bandage. Once bandaged, leave overnight and in the morning the scabs will be soft enough to just come away. An antibacterial cream should then be used to prevent the bacteria growing under the warm bandage.
Scrubbing of the legs should be done sparingly as products like Triscrub actually remove the cells that are trying to regrow and therefore prolong healing. If the legs must be washed then sensitive skin soap is the best option as it is least damaging. If the area is very dirty prior to treatment then a disinfectant wash can be used.
Using turnout socks at this stage is unadvisable as the bacteria will thrive in the warm, moist environment within the boots, these are really only useful as a preventative measure.
The biggest problem is cross contamination. Always wear latex gloves and discard each glove after use on the legs. Do NOT put dirty gloves into pots of cream as this is the quickest way to make Mud Fever spread.
SEE ALSO OUR BLOG ABOUT RAIN SCALD!
When it comes to our horses’ comfort we obviously want nothing but the best for them. It’s logical, therefore, that when Autumn sets in and the weather becomes chilly, we find ourselves shivering and conclude that our horses are cold too.
Time to break out their rugs and our winter coats!
When and how much to rug horses, however, is one of the most confusing decisions a horse owner has to make. Perhaps you’ve seen those recent headlines in the equestrian media telling us that over-rugging is a welfare issue? There’s a danger of being cruel in our desire to be kind.
So when are rugs necessary – if at all?
Of course when deciding to rug or not to rug a lot depends on the individual horse and his circumstances. As a starting point, though, it helps to understand that horses have an inbuilt ability called thermoregulation which enables them to adapt to temperature variations.
Our equine friends adapt to cold by using thermogenesis (producing heat) or by thermolysis (loss of heat), using physiological mechanisms involving the skin, muscles, fat and hair.
As we all know when autumn sets in horses – particularly those who are usually outside – grow a thicker, longer coat to compensate for the colder weather.
Some of the other mechanisms involved in keeping their bodies warm may well be interpreted by us humans as signs of discomfort and being too cold. Things like shivers, for example, which is actually a reflexive muscle contraction to produce heat from metabolising sugars and fatty acids. Then the hair may bristle and stand on end, to create an insulating effect – which obviously doesn’t work if the horse’s coat is soaked by rain.
In the cold the blood vessels in the extremities of a horse’s limbs will also constrict, to ensure most blood flows to the central organs and the horse’s feet don’t suffer tissue damage if their feet are on the cold ground or in the snow.
In the cold you may also notice that your horse breathes more slowly – a lower respiratory rate reduces heat loss by evaporation. The adrenal glands will also release more adrenaline to send glycogen to fuel up the muscles.
When is cold too cold?
So we understand that horses are naturally able to compensate for the cold – which explains why our native breeds survive the winters happily out on the moors – but does cold weather reach a point when even our cleverly designed horses can’t hold out against the elements? Then when must also consider that our modern domesticated horses of various breeds are “spoilt” in being cared for and protected so assiduously, so their natural ability to fend off the cold may be compromised.
Things like clipping and frequent grooming (which removes the natural oils from the coat) inhibit horses’ ability to cope with the cold, just like those with limited turn out who live in unnatural environments. Then there are horses who routinely wear sweet-itch rugs in warm weather, or protective sheets for showing, competing and travelling.
There may well be a case for rugging horses in these situations when temperatures plummet to zero or below. The tricky question is, however, what weight of rug to use.
Appropriate Rug Weights
As we have said, a lot depends on the circumstances in which the individual horse is kept. To assist you in your choice however we rather like this rugging guide produced by Equus (English equestrian riding apparel suppliers).
Please note that this is a guide only … you are advised to use your discretion and avoid over-rugging your horse!
Consequences of Over-Rugging Horses
· A horse that is over-rugged during winter will end up obese by spring, putting him at risk of laminitis. Horses should gain weight during summer and lose it in the winter, burning calories for thermoregulation.
· An over-rugged horse might display signs of colic, but in fact they are suffering heatstroke.
· Over-rugging definitely copromises the horse’s thermoregulatory ability.
· Rugs interfere with the horse’s natural proclivity for mutual grooming and can lead to various skin conditions.
We’re not saying don’t rug at all … just consider what is best for your individual horse and his environmental conditions.
One other thing to consider, if you don’t rug you shouldn’t just jump on a cold horse first thing in the morning to ride away …. Like all athletes he needs a warm up!
We sell horse rugs from our shop in Frome, Somersetand are happy to advise on the best make, model and weight for your horse. Keep your horse happy and healthy this winter!
Riding into Old Age ....
Some of us have been riding since we were toddlers; others with an affinity for horses have had to deny themselves the pleasure because of life circumstances. But the good news is that it’s never too late to start riding and getting up close and personal with horses. In fact, retirement – when there are fewer demands on your time – could be the perfect opportunity to saddle up and take on a horse hobby.
We all know that the Queen at 93 is still a regular rider, and every day on social media one comes across stories of men and women over 60 enjoying time in the saddle. So in an age when life expectancy is increasing all the time, it’s clearly possible to enjoy being an equestrian well into old age … but there are challenges to be met by older riders as well as benefits to be had.
The Benefits of Riding as you Age
As far as benefits go, horse riding is a sport so it keeps you fit – and the fitter you are the better equestrian you will be. Riding also keeps the brain active, simply because as any seasoned equestrian will tell you, you never stop learning. There’s nothing more mentally soothing or satisfying than interacting with a horse.
Don’t let aches and pains put you off – even people with disabilities ride successfully at any age. It can only improve your strength, balance, body awareness, agility and overall sense of well-being. (Although, of course, it’s wise to talk to your doctor about your fitness for riding, especially if you have conditions like arthritis, joint replacements, back problems or other chronic health issues).
As long as you are sensible and take due care riding is fun and healthy even at an advanced age. You may need a little help mounting up, and if you’re just starting to ride you’ll have some muscle soreness at the outset, but this can be managed and you’ll soon feel the benefits of spending time on horseback.
Tips for Older Riders
· Safety is important for all riders, young or old, but there are some special precautions to consider if you are “of an age” because if you do have a fall, the risk of injury is greater for older bodies, and recovery will be more difficult than it would for a younger person. Invest in the correct, well-fitting clothing and safety equipment. The first essential requirements are a professionally fitted, comfortable, good quality riding helmet and body protector. Protect your feet and ankles with a pair of good riding boots with a non-slip sole and get comfy in a pair of not-too-tight breeches. Function should come before fashion, but that’s not to say you can’t look confidently stylish when you ride out in your 80s!
· If you’re just starting to learn to ride as a senior citizen, you’ll need a riding instructor who is experienced in coaching older riders. Someone who will match you to a suitable steady mount and have the patience to take things slowly as you build up confidence. Choose your riding school with care; shy away from anywhere you feel intimidated or uncomfortable.
· Whether you are an experienced rider or a beginner, when you’re older you need to be realistic about what your limitations are. If you feel you can take on jumps, fine, give it a go, but you can enjoy riding without trying to measure up to the standards of top class eventers!
· Beyond the riding itself, try to keep yourself fit with some modest exercise to keep your core strength and flexibility up to par. There are plenty of practitioners who can help guide you in an exercise routine to suit your ability.
· Indulge yourself with all the most comfortable tack and riding gear you can find. A sturdy, steady mounting block will get you into the saddle, and there are all sorts of cushioning saddle pads available to prevent jarring. Little things like rubber-cushioned stirrup ironscan all improve your riding experience. Ask your local tack shop for advice on the most suitable comfort items for your needs.
· Find a like-minded peer or two to ride out with – someone who, like you, is riding for enjoyment and not aiming to achieve equestrian greatness.
Here at Totally Tack we have many customers who are still enjoying their riding, and we’re only too pleased to help them keep going! There are also some who’ve had to give up their passion through ill health but that doesn’t stop them still getting their fix of horses by visiting or helping in a yard or rescue centre, even if it’s just to be close to horses and inhale that glorious scent!
I wanted to enter a showjumping competition recently and was told I’d need to shed a few pounds to be eligible to enter on my 17.5 hands healthy horse. Now, anyone that knows me will realise I may be tall and well built, but I’m definitely not “heavy” in the sense of being overweight. I was happy to comply, though, and did … but it led me to notice the ongoing contentious debate about big people riding horses!
Is this, as many have contested, “fat shaming”, or is there in fact a limit to how much you should weigh in proportion to your mount before you go riding for welfare reasons?
There’s some science behind this controversial question, so I’ve looked in to it. It’s sad to think that there are some big people out there afraid to ride their beloved horses for fear of being shamed, especially on social media groups where posters are quick to post their opinion on the strength of a photograph with little information about the subject!
We should all be able to enjoy our horses, but none of us I’m sure would wish to cause them discomfort or distress, so let’s look at some cold, hard facts before we rush to judge.
The Weight Factor
Until a few years ago it was a matter of common sense to judge whether your horse was suitable for your size. Then came the controversy, sparked online, and suddenly organisations like the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and World Horse Welfare started taking note of the possibility that horses were being injured by carrying excessive loads. This at a time when obesity rates in general are increasing (64.3% in the UK are now reckoned to be overweight or obese).
Research proliferated, and many equestrian organisations – including the Pony Club and riding schools – started issuing guidelines on the horse/rider weight ratio.
The problem with research into this issue is that there are so many variables!
Heavy riders carry their excess weight in different places, putting pressure on different points on their mounts, and they have different skill and fitness levels. Incorrectly fitting saddles and tack can also exacerbate the situation, and of course the build and gait of the horse itself can be a factor.
Concerned horse riders, especially those who carry a few extra pounds, are crying out for firm advice about whether their horses are happy carrying them or whether they’re saddling them with too much weight.
Well, sorry to say but although a myriad of vets, horse organisations and researchers have come up with horse/rider weight and size ratios, none as yet appear to be definitive – and they probably never will be!
The best we can say after reading dozens of studies and articles is that when a load (and this means rider and tack) exceeds 20% of the horse’s bodyweight, the horse will struggle and show physical signs of stress and soreness.
Exceeding the limits
All of this doesn’t mean that heavy people can’t ride … it just means that you need to be matched to the right mount, and have a correctly fitted saddle.
Different equestrian associations and different disciplines have their own weight rules for competition, which have obviously been carefully considered with the horse’s welfare in mind. No-one wants to deny anyone the joy of riding and competing, but the limits are there for good reason. If you’re asked to dismount at an event don’t take it as an insult to you personally – it’s just for safety’s sake.
So, what happens if you’re too big for your horse and ride on anyway?
Well most researchers seem to agree that horses carrying up to 20% of their bodyweight manage fine, but once this ratio increases they will begin to show signs of strain like laboured, fast breathing, higher heart rates and muscle soreness. There’s also evidence that gait and behaviour is impacted by riders that are too heavy for the horse.
All logical, it has to be said. But continually being exposed to such strain would obviously be detrimental to the animal in the long term. The type of exercise would also impact on performance – a horse with a heavy rider on a leisurely hack would obviously not take as much strain as the same pair tackling a cross country course.
I’m pretty sure that we’ve not heard the last of this weighty equestrian issue, but until there is more definitive scientific research on the matter let’s just be sensible and not overtax our horses and ponies, and avoid being judgmental of others.
Enjoy your riding, large or small, and if you need advice on any aspect of your riding or tack don’t hesitate to ask. Totally Tack is all about keeping horses and riders happy!
We may be profit-making equestrian retailers based here in Somerset, but we’re not all about making money! While we earn a living by supplying horses and their owners with their needs, we’re committed horsey people ourselves so we have a philosophy of giving back to the local equestrian community who support our business.
One of the causes most close to our hearts is the MBBA … the Mendip Bridleways & Byways Association, which works closely with the BHS (British Horse Society).
This very active and important organisation is engaged in keeping our bridleways clear and usable, and opening up new ones long forgotten, so we can enjoy country rides away from those hazardous roads.
We support the MBBA by paying to advertise in their newsletters, and we help where we can to clear bridleways. This blog post, which is aimed at telling you how the MBBA works, is free of any advertising on behalf of ourselves, as a commitment to show you we are serious in our support of this worthy cause.
About Somerset Bridleways
It’s sad to say that as a rural county Somerset is poor in bridleways, which is a matter of concern to us because it means that many are riding on roads. Even country roads are dangerous to easily spooked riders and their horses. There are, statistically, 602 miles of bridleways in the county, but many of these are dead ends and most of the miles mentioned are on Exmoor and the Quantock Hills.
The few that are usable are often under-maintained, choked with weeds and overgrowth. Footpaths in the region are well used and therefore well maintained, but our bridleways are few and far between.
The MBBA is trying to keep what IS available accessible to all, which is an often thankless task despite the many events and clearance projects it hosts. At least it has the support of Royalty … Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, came to witness a recent project courtesy of the BHS.
Funding is, of course, an issue even through the MBBA relies a great deal on volunteers. Nevertheless the organisation managed earlier this year to clear the Roemead Lane bridleway at Binegar, and the Southwood Bridleway at Lydford, which was heavily overgrown, and work is ongoing.
The MBBA’s stated aims are as follows:
“MBBA’s principal purpose is to increase the number of safe, off-road routes available to horse-riders, carriage-drivers and cyclists across Mendip. In addition to providing a range of membership services the MBBA’s constitution sets out its corporate objects as being:
a. To protect and preserve the character and status of Mendip’s green ways for the safe use and enjoyment of the widest number of supported users.
b. To advertise the existence of the tracks, droves and other ridden paths and to seek to develop them into linking and circular routes for horse-riders, cyclists and carriage-drivers.
c. To promote horse-riding, cycling and carriage-driving as safe and healthy leisure activities for all ages and backgrounds."
How you can Help
Here are some ways you can assist the MBBA’s endeavours:
· Join the MBBA - the annual subscription is £15.00, plus £2.00 for each additional family member who would like to be in the association.
· Attend the MBBA events which include fun rides.
· Volunteer for the MBBA … there are many options where you can help, from admin to “gardening” on the trails to various forms of fund-raising activities.
For more information about the MBBA you can contact the chairman or secretary via email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website at mbba.org.uk or write to MBBA, PO Box 3573, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 4XN.
Let’s ride safe, off road in our beautiful countryside! Support the MBBA to make that happen in our local area. If you’d like to know more about opportunities for helping local bridleway initiatives speak to us at totally-tack.co.uk … we’re happy to help!
It’s a horrid thought but autumn is almost upon us! Winter will be hard on its heels.
While your horses are still out enjoying the last of summer it’s an opportune time to prepare the yard and stable for over-wintering.
Be prepared for the worst of the winter weather, and you’ll manage it so much more easily. A leak-proof, cosy stable with a stock of clean, weatherproof rugs will make dealing with winter a breeze.
Sort the Stable
While he’s not in residence it’s the ideal time to give your stable a makeover.
· Start with a deep clean. Strip it the space to the bone (and that includes any unfixed rubber matting) and scrub the walls and floor with a disinfectantto make sure there is no risk of pests or bacteria that could cause thrush and respiratory problems during the long, dark days of winter confinement. You can use a pressure washer if there is decent drainage. Make sure you let it dry out properly before you put anything back in place.
· On the outside of the building make sure any guttering is clear and working well, so you don’t end up with a swamp underfoot.
· If you have water piped to your stables make sure the pipes are insulated to prevent freezing in the event of extreme weather – repairing burst pipes can be costly and inconvenient. Use foam rubber sleeves or consult your local hardware store on the best defence you can take for your situation. Make sure you have large water buckets in good repair and measures in place to stop the water freezing – remember horses drink more in winter than in summer.
· While your stable needs to be well ventilated, you don’t want cold drafts to penetrate through gaps in the walls or bad fitting windows. Clean the windows and check the hinges and catches, making sure they open easily, and caulk any gaps in the stable walls that shouldn’t be there. Assess the air flow and make sure it is adequate to keep your horse comfortable. Even when it’s very cold your horse needs some controlled fresh air ingress.
· If you don’t already have them, consider adding rubber mats to the floors of the stable, not only to add insulation but also to keep your horse’s hooves off of the cold floor and out of any accumulated mud.
· Check the lighting, making sure it is adequate for the dark mornings and evenings. Replace any fused bulbs and perhaps add more lights or lanterns if you struggled last year. Check that you have working torches with a good supply of batteries.
· Make sure hay nets and hay racks are in good repair, and that you have enough to see you through the winter months. Keep feed in sealed containers to discourage rodents. You may want to lay in some stable toys to keep your horse happy during the long dark days.
A Word about Stable Painting
I know many people paint their stables, and are often in a quandary on what sort of paint to use and what colour is best. Just to say there are special anti-bacterial agricultural paints available, but you can use ordinary paint suitable for the surface of the stable – matt is best, and something weatherproof (for external use) and washable.
Don’t put creosote on wood, and make sure any paint you use is non-toxic.
As for colour …. Most brand-name stable paints come in white or black only, but the colour won’t matter much to your horse, who can only make out blue or green tones anyway. Best go for a neutral colour – or why not “poo brown” if you really want camouflage!
Safeguard the Yard
· Get your order for grit in early to avoid the rush! Also put down pebbles in your gateways and entryways to avoid those muddy bogs.
· Review your stock of yard tools, and make sure you have a good snow shovel at the ready, all neatly squared away and hung on hooks or racks where they’ll stay out of the wet.
· Make sure you have at least two months’ supply of feed, haylage, grooming aids, medications and bedding in stock before the end of autumn, and somewhere safe and dry to store it all.
· Replace any rusting or corroded fittings and fixtures and other hardware – you wouldn’t want them failing on you in the dead of winter. It also won’t hurt to give your wheelbarrow an MOT!
Rescue your Rugs
It’s definitely time to take stock of your medium-weight and heavy-weight rugs. Give them an airing and assess their condition. If they need cleaning or mending, get in before the end of autumn rush and send them off to a professional as soon as possible.
If you’re local to Totally Tack in Frome you can drop them off at our shop for collection by our rug expert, Paul, who’ll get them looking like new. We also stock all the equipment you need for a DIY rug replenishing job available to order online – horse rug wash bags, spare clips, buckles and surcingles, reproofing spray and so on.
If your rugs are beyond repair, never fear – we’ve got a big range of new horse rugs and blankets of all sorts to choose from, to suit all budgets.
If you have any questions about over-wintering your horse, we have a wealth of experience and academic equine know-how .... Give us a call on 01373 22 8242 and we'll be happy to help!!
If you follow horse groups on social media you’ve probably noticed that one of the aspects of horse care that concerns horse owners the most is the condition and appearance of his tail.
When it comes to grooming tails receive a great deal of attention. When they’re ratty and sparse, we worry, and when it comes to competition or showing we dither about whether and how to bandage, braid, thin or bang (cut or clip) … tails are problematic!
To fully understand the treatment and care of a horse’s tail, let’s take a look at this beautiful and versatile caudal component of a horse’s physical make up, that evince properties far more important than just their good looks.
Anatomy of a Horse Tail
The horse’s tail is an extension of his spinal column. It is made up of two portions … the dock and the skirt. The dock is the solid part, made up of muscles and up to 18 vertebrae (the number varies), covered with skin. Below the dock long, thick hairs fall down, growing from all around the dock, making up the skirt. The dock is supplied with blood by two arteries, but because the dock is narrow it’s not well supplied so this is why injuries tend to take time to heal here, and injuries can be hard to cure.
The hair of the skirt is thick and coarse, made up of hard protein, each hair consisting of three layers and, although it seems smooth, the outer layer or cuticle has overlapping horny scales.
Depending on the composition of the twisted protein strands of the middle layer tail hair may be curly or straight.
Purpose of a Horse Tail
A horse’s tail is flexible and strong and nature has evolved it that way to fulfil various purposes, which involve protection and communication.
The most obvious purpose is evident in any horse out in pasture on a summer’s eve. He’ll flick his long, luxurious tail like a fly swat to keep away biting insects. In a herd he’ll do this not only for his own comfort but for his companions too. You’ll often see horses standing head to tail, swatting flies away from each other’s faces.
More important is the horse tail’s role in communication. The tail is a vital tool in relaying body language. It’s the way your horse talks to you and his companions, communicating his physical and emotional state.
Tail signals have an important role to play in horse life in the herd. Mares, for example, will lift their tails up and to the side to invite a stallion, and also once impregnated will warn the boys away with an aggressive swish of the tail.
The tail also sends a signal to be alert if danger threatens a herd … stallions become protective by lifting their tails, prancing and defecating.
A twitching tail is a sign of impatience with a youngster, who, once told off, will clamp his tail between his hind legs to signify subservience.
Horses speak to their riders and carers too using their tails. He’ll swish his tail in anger if he’s not pleased, or clamp his tail when he’s really angry, frightened or discomforted. Learning to read the tail signals is part of good horsemanship.
Here’s a simple guide to horse tail language:
· Curled Tail – calm and relaxed
· Swishing Tail – annoyed
· Wringing or twirling tail – aggressive
· High tail (lifted up) – excited, feeling good
· Straight down Tail – apprehensive
· Tucked in Tail – Afraid
YOUR QUESTIONS ... OUR ANSWERS!
In case you didn’t know, us folk at Totally Tack are not only experienced horse owners (we currently have three Thoroughbreds) but we’ve also got academic equestrian and Master Saddlers qualifications, so we’re well placed to answer customer’s questions about horse care.
We thought it may be useful to share a sample of some of the most common questions we get asked, and the answers we give. Of course, everyone has their own experiences and opinions, so you’re welcome to disagree!
· Q: What plants in the pasture are toxic for horses, besides Ragwort(which Iknow about)?
A: In no particular order, stay away from Deadly Nightshade (not fatal, but nasty!); Foxglove (a little can kill quickly); Buttercups (when fresh but okay in hay); Yew (leaves and berries); Privet (especially Box Privet); Acorns (cause colic); Sycamore (seeds in autumn and saplings in spring); Rhododendron (causes respiratory failure).
· Q: Should I soak my horse’s hay? What are the benefits of soaking?
A: That depends largely on the horse, and the hay! Some hay can be harvested in dusty conditions and baled with dust content that can become airborne when you use it and cause, or exacerbate, respiratory problems. Soaking reduces the dust particle concentration. Soaking also reduces the amount of sugars in the hay, so horses proneyour vet.
· Q: Can a horse eat too much hay?
A: Although horses are designed to forage frequently, in the wild they’d be walking to work for their food. Domesticated horses can become obese with all the attendant problems if allowed to eat at will. It’s best to use hay nets to encourage slow feeding, especially if your horse is greedy and/or has metabolic problems.
A: Not in our experience, and most experts agree. The horses generally seems to enjoy them. Like any treats though, feed very sparingly.
Heat waves are becoming more frequent – that’s a scientific fact. Horses are particularly susceptible to heat stress (they heat up 10 times faster than we do) so we owe it to them to give them that extra care in extreme heat not only for their comfort, but for their health.
Like most living creatures horses have a natural way of coping with hot weather. They sweat up to 20 litres an hour in cool conditions and as much as 30 litres in hot, humid weather. The sweat evaporates cooling them down, but there are situations when this is not enough and the body temperature increases drastically causing heat stress, with dire consequences.
A normal body temperature for a horse is around 37 degrees C … if this increases to around 41 degrees the muscles literally begin to cook (denature) and can lead to hypotension, colic and kidney failure.
It’s a bit ironic that heat waves tend to happen during the season when horses are expected to perform at their best … in shows, eventing, endurance, racing and all the other equestrian events we so enjoy during the summer season.
A horse that is worked too hard on a hot day can become seriously overheated. Even just hanging out in the field on a hot day can make a horse overheat if there is no shade available, especially if he’s obese or has a shaggy, thick coat.
Excessive sweating itself can cause dehydration, depleting minerals and salts in the system which, if not replaced, could cause a metabolic crisis. (See our blog about electrolytes.)
So how can you keep your horse healthy and happy in the heat?
The most important element you need is water. Firstly to be used in the most obvious way which would be the availability of plenty of clean, fresh water available to drink. On extremely hot days a horse should drink about 20 gallons of water a day, which will certainly keep horse owners busy, especially if you have a herd to care for.
If you have a horse that is not a keen drinker, you can make up for it by adding water to feed supplements rather than feeding it dry, or use a product such as the amazing Horse Quencher to encourage him to drink.
Just like humans, horses also appreciate being cooled down with water on a hot day. If he enjoys it hose him down … let him loose to wallow in cool rivers and streams. An overheated horse can be cooled by being wet down and scraped off repeatedly.
OTHER HEAT HAZARDS
Don’t forget heat brings out flies and other insects, which come with their own dangers to horses. If your horse is susceptible to bites and skin conditions, make sure you keep him in during the times of the day (especially late evening) when insects are most active. Use insect repellentsand fly rugs to keep him comfortable.
Poo pick frequently, keep stables clean and locate your stable waste as far away from the horses as possible.
Heat and high humidity also increase the activity of bacteria and viruses, and therefore increase the risk of infectious diseases in horses. Be vigilant for any sign of infection and call the vet if you are at all concerned.
HORSE HEAT DEFENCE
The basic tasks that face horse owners in the heat are to keep him cool, hydrated and clean. Apart from the factors already mentioned, you can do the following:
· Provide an area where your horse can get out of the direct sun … a field shelter, shade trees.
· Keep exercise to a minimum and don’t work him too hard on extremely hot, humid days – keep tack to a minimum and enjoy some light riding.
· Keep stables well ventilated … a fan is a great way not just to keep things cool, cut also to blow off insects.
· Keep wounds clean, dry and protected.
· Be vigilant and aware of how your horse is handling heat, and if you have any concerns consult your vet. Check his rectal temperature, watch for profuse sweating, rapid breathing and heart rate, droopy ears and general tiredness, lethargy and dehydration (use the pinch test).
· If an activity makes your horse overheated guard against cooling him down too quickly – this could lead to muscle cramping.
Enjoy your horse in the summer, but when conditions become extreme go that extra mile to help him cope! Totally Tack is here to help … we’ve got all the products and advice you need to enjoy a cool summer, available online!
According to the experts only about five percent of the UK’s horse population (especially native breeds) suffers with the dreaded allergic condition known commonly as Sweet Itch – that’s enough to concern an awful lot of horse and pony owners!
Sweet Itch is a spring/summer/autumn plague caused by an allergic reaction to bites from midges (Cullicoides) and black fly (Simulium) … and these little nasties can be biting your horse right through from March to November when the weather turns cooler.
If you’re lucky your horse is only mildly allergic – scratching his tail area on a tree or fence post to relieve the annoying puritis skin condition that results from a midge or fly bite. In extreme cases however he will be driven crazy by the itching, rubbing and scratching on anything and everything available, causing himself skin trauma and suffering secondary infections, not to mention a high degree of suffering.
If you have a horse prone to Sweet Itch you’ll probably be at your wit’s end and suffering distress yourself because you want to help him but not sure how.
SYMPTOMS OF SWEET ITCH
While the itchiness may be obvious, it’s best to first try to ascertain whether in fact your horse is itchy because of midge and fly bites and not some other allergic or skin condition. Be vigilant and investigate any signs of itchiness.
If it’s sweet itch the itchiness will be mainly concentrated on the neck, mane, under the belly and base of the tail, and your horse will be rubbing and biting at his skin. The affected areas will be lumpy, scaly, scurfy, inflamed and hot. In the early stages his coat will just look ruffled and rubbed up.
Young horses might develop the allergy at around four years of age, but it gets worse as he grows older and can end up affecting him all year round, not just seasonally.
Your horse might be restless and even start to lose weight, and there will be signs of self-trauma caused by biting and scratching. He’ll be more inclined to take any opportunity to cover himself in mud – a natural defence against biting insects.
If you notice any signs of possible skin puritis while grooming your horse, don’t delay – take appropriate action to have the condition diagnosed by a vet, and protect your horse from further harm.
Unfortunately there is little hope that blood tests will be able to show up allergies, but your vet should be able to test for known allergies and diagnose Sweet Itch if that is the case. There are other causes of irritating equine skin disease, such as ringworm, rainscald, lice, mange, and allergies to dust mites and pollen.
SWEET ITCH MANAGEMENT
It might seem almost impossible to protect your horse from fly and midge bites; even if stabled all the time the flies will find them, especially when they swarm most energetically at dawn and dusk.
There is no cure for Sweet Itch; there are, however, actions you can take and products you can use to protect your horse from these unpleasant biting parasites.
· Keep your horse away from watercourses and trees, where there biting insects are more prevalent.
· Keep them in at dawn and dusk when insects are most active, under a ceiling fan installed in the stable to deter midges, which apparently can’t fly in wind speeds over 5mph.
Work with your vet on preventative measures and treating any flare ups to make your Sweet Itch sufferer as comfortable as possible! We’re here to help … talk to us at Totally Tack if you are having difficulty managing your sweet, itchy horse or pony!
There’s no rider who hasn’t experienced it – you’re riding along pleasantly when your mount startles or spooks at some perceived threat either near or far at hand, jumping sideways, perhaps rearing, and gathering himself to flee. It’s disconcerting to say the least and if you don’t keep a cool head you might lose control with nasty consequences.
I’ve just seen an advert online for a “bombproof” horse – ie. one that will take everything in stride and not react negatively to any fright, real or imagined. After years of caring for, training and riding horses, and studying them both informally and academically, I’m inclined to question whether there is such a thing as a spookless or bombproof horse.
Even our brave and seemingly fearless well-trained and de-sensitised police horses can have their spooky moments … and why shouldn’t they!
The fact is that spooking is instinctive behaviour for equines, which are natural prey. The only reason the equine species has survived for 55 million years is because of an ingrained flight response in reaction to a perceived peril. Think about that next time your placid pony spooks at a plastic bag flapping in the wind!
Just like humans, horses have different temperaments. It’s hard to ascertain whether the degree of spookiness of a horse is down to nature or nurture (personally I think it’s a bit of each) but there is no doubt some are more inclined to spook than others. What is clear is that if you have an easily spooked horse it can impact on your confidence as a rider, and, in fact, even be dangerous with the constant threat of becoming unseated while riding, or your horse going “rogue” while in hand and becoming a danger to bystanders.
As we’ve said, even horses touted as “bombproof” can still find reason to spook at something unexpected and surprising, just like you’d react to someone creeping up behind you and uttering a loud “boo”, or dropping a big hairy spider on your laptop while you’re working.
FACTORS THAT INCREASE SPOOKINESS
If you accept that every horse will spook at some point, there are some things you can guard against that will decrease the likelihood of him invoking this natural reaction.
If your horse is sound, comfortable and happy but still spooks at every trembling leaf perhaps you should look at yourself and your handling of him, and I don’t mean to sound critical here.
Horses have been described as “emotional sponges”, picking up on the negative energy of their riders and handlers. In a nutshell, if you’re nervous when out riding him, he’ll be nervous too.
Take a calm, relaxed approach while riding … talk to your horse and your riding companions. Be aware of your body posture … don’t grip the reins with white knuckles and hunch forward. Your horse will know you’re frightened and be extra alert for “predators”.
It’s easier said than done, I know, but if you feel secure in the saddle, your horse will be secure having you there and in charge.
FOCUS & DISTRACTION
If your horse is spooky make sure he doesn’t have time to dwell on the inherent dangers when you’re out riding! Keep him busy with different commands and tasks to keep his mind off of what’s happening around him. You may be happy to hack along peacefully soaking in the countryside views and atmosphere, admiring the wild flowers and becoming soporific as your horse plods along. He, however, will be alert to danger and ready to invoke that flight response at the first sign of danger.
The trick is to keep engaged with your mount. Keep his mind off of things he may spook at and even when walking give him distractions. Get him to vary his stride length, change direction, request him to put his shoulder in. Anything to keep him focused.
If he spooks, don’t make a drama out of it, much as you’re inclined to! Stay calm … don’t punish him and thereby reinforce the idea that he was right to be afraid. Deal with it calmly and once he is under control just stay calm and carry on. Try to take a blasé attitude about it all.
If you or your horse are having major spook problems it’s best to seek out a professional coach or trainer to help you overcome the issue.
It will require patience and perseverance, but it’s worth investing the time and effort because with help you can achieve a dependable horse that you can enjoy riding anywhere, anytime.
WE’RE MOVING. THE SHOP IN VALLIS WAY, FROME, IS NOW CLOSED, BUT WE’LL REOPEN IN A WEEK WITH A GREAT SHOWROOM AT COMMERCE PARK! MEANWHILE, YOU CAN STILL SHOP ONLINE AT WWW.TOTALLY-TACK.CO.UK.
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.
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!
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.
HORSE SHOW PREPARATION
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.
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.
TYPES OF LAMINITIS
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.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF LAMINITIS
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.
CARING FOR A LAMINITIC HORSE
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.
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!
EVENTING ATTIRE FOR RIDERS
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.
HORSE REQUIREMENTS FOR EVENTING
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!
COOLING DOWN AFTER EVENTING
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.
TOTALLY TACK WISHES YOU ALL THE BEST FOR THE EVENTING SEASON! WE’RE HERE TO HELP! GIVE US A CALL FOR ADVICE OR TO ORDER HELPFUL PRODUCTS FROM OUR EXTENSIVE RANGE OF EVENTING AIDS.
MUZZLING THE GRASS GUZZLERS
There is a school of thought that considers grazing muzzles as cruel and unnatural
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.
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.
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.
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.
COPING WITH CRIBBING
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.
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.
A COSY BED FOR YOUR HORSE
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
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
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!
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!
KEEP A COOL HEAD
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!
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.
NIGHT VISION & DISTANCE JUDGEMENT
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.
COLOUR & DETAIL
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.
None of us ride as frequently in the winter months, but our horses still need their exercise! One way
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,) 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 with a good grip to protect against rope burn.
· You’ll need a – 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 (though some prefer to use a bridle,
· Although you can lunge a horse wearing a saddle (with stirrups removed or properly secured) its preferable to use a (belt) with various rings for attaching long reins or training aids. Use either a padded roller or put it on over a saddlecloth.
· 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.
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
· 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.
Useful Video Link: Tips from The Pony Club on how to lunge your horse.
“THEY HAD NO CHOICE” ….
This is certainly a true statement for the more than eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys that died during the First World War on both sides of the conflict – either felled in battle, or succumbing to exhaustion, starvation and disease.
One has to wonder where all these unfortunate equines came from – after all, at the start of the war in 1914 the British army apparently possessed only 25,000.
Since the Calvary was a vital force when the war got underway, and horses were also required for logistical support as beasts of burden to ferry guns, ammunition, ambulances and supplies, the War Office set to work to requisition as many as possible.
The British countryside was gradually denuded of horses of all breeds, from heavy drafts to hunters and eventually even children's ponies – all sent across the Channel to face the horror of war.
Horses started dying almost immediately. Just 19 days into the war a British cavalry regiment charged a German infantry and gun placement at Elouges on the French/Belgian border, losing 250 men and
Heavy equine losses became appallingly routine and the demand for replacement animals was great throughout the war. Horses were shipped in from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, India, Spain and Portugal, and many thousands of horses and mules were bought from the USA (some of them wild straight from the American plains), bound for the Western Front.
Feeding and caring for hundreds of thousands of horses on the front was a logistical nightmare. If you’ve got one horse, imagine the requirements for thousands in the muddy, cold, violent conditions of the battlefields!
The official rations for British horses were 12 pounds of oats, 10 pounds of hay and some bran every week. Many didn’t receive their share, and were constantly hungry, out in the open in the cold and wet, suffering with lice and mange, skin disease, and respiratory disorders.
The Royal Army Veterinarian Corps did what it could, and there is little doubt that the soldiers and their four-footed comrades shared a close and caring bond. For many horribly injured or diseased war horses sadly the only treatment was euthanasia. British Army Veterinary Corps hospitals treated 725,216 horses over the course of the war, successfully healing 529,064.
Sadly, many of those that survived did not make it home at the end of the war, when the priority was repatriating men rather than animals. A great deal were sold to local slaughterhouses or residents; many of the aged and infirm were simply shot; while others were sent off to serve in the British Army in India and Egypt.
Today, 100 years after the end of the First World War, we commemorate the sacrifice made by so many serving soldiers, civilians and, especially, horses. Turns out it wasn’t the “war to end all wars” as was hoped at the time, but it was, thankfully, the last time that horses were used so cruelly in such large numbers to fight man’s battles.
We’d like to share with you this heartbreaking poem, written by Henry Chappell, believed to have been inspired by the famous painting, “Goodbye Old Man”, painted by Fortunino Matania for the Blue Cross Fund in 1916.
THE SOLDIER’S KISS
Only a dying horse! Pull off the gear,
And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,
Drag it aside there, leave the roadway clear –
The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.
Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies
With quivering limbs, as fast the life tide fails,
Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes
That mutely plead for aid where none avails.
Onward the battery roll, but one there speeds,
Heedless of comrade’s voice or bursting shell,
Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds
Beside the stony highway where it fell.
Only a dying horse! He swiftly kneels,
Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh
Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals
Sweet pity’s tear; “Goodbye old man, goodbye.”
No honours wait him, Medal, Badge or Star
Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold,
He bears within his breast; more precious far
Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.