A tiny tack change makes a big difference

I know there’s a lot of controversy out there about the use of different tack, “gadgets” or training aids and people can come down really strongly on both sides of the fence. Some people are all for them, others feel that they can be useful as long as they’re in the right hands for the right reason and others seem to really hate them. I’m probably in the middle ground, as long as the training methods aren’t causing the horse physical harm or suffering and the use is justified and reasonable then I’m happy to let people do what works for them. What works for us personally though is usually the minimalist approach. Some may feel this accounts for the slow and steady nature of our progress, but I think Ginge and I are pretty happy overall taking things steady and letting him work things out in his own time.

This post is going to act as a bit of a case study that shows why, for us, simple seems to be best for my boy’s sensitive soul. About six months ago, one of our trainers suggested I try Ginge in a grackle noseband, I was sceptical at first as someone suggested a flash once and the resulting meltdown from him was torture. However, I was assured that they are now BD legal and came out favourably in tests by Centaur Biomechanics in terms of pressure points and affects on performance, so I decided to give it a go. The initial results were favourable, I was getting better head carriage and increased focus and control so I decided to stick with it.

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The first sign for me that something wasn’t right with the set up was a new recurring comment from the Dressage Anywhere judges that they didn’t feel he was going forward enough. This might explain why I felt more in control, since we were slower, but not going forward isn’t something that we’d ever struggled with before. If anything the issue was always long frame and bumbling along too quickly on the forehand. To the experienced rider, this may have been enough on its own to hint something needed to change. It’s the head carriage was neater and less on the forehand, but the sudden lack of desire to move forward is probably a classic sign of a gadget fixing a symptom but not doing anything to improve the fundamental cause.

The thing that got me to really consider the fact that the grackle wasn’t working for Ginge was out hacking. For months it had been fine, as far as I recall but maybe I hadn’t been hacking as much as usual. The new problem was pretty hard to ignore: after about 45mins – 1 hour of riding, any walk work resulted in fairly constant and almost violent head shaking. Now, he has always been cheeky and tried to snatch the reins when he decides we’re done – but this was much more extreme. At our new yard we do quite a lot of hacking, so the issue was really beginning to worry me and in the end I decided to ditch the grackle to see if the problem solved itself.

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So, here we are back in the plain noseband. I’m not going to pretend it has been a miracle cure. When I first swapped noseband, I was faced with a monster in the school! He spooked in both directions over nothing at all, I’m fairly sure in an attempt to test out my reduced head control. He also careered around the arena massively on the forehand in an out of control steam train impression that I would be embarrassed to present to a judge – although at least he was going forward! However, the head shaking has stopped and he is noticeably less argumentative about being tacked up. He is back to happily presenting his head for the bridle instead of attempting to make a break for it before I can do up the noseband.

Six weeks off from competition and taking the schooling back to basics with transitions and knowing where our brakes are and we’re nearly ready to face the judges again. He is lifting back up off the forehand again and the extra hacking, hillwork and speedwork means he is gaining that all important strength behind to balance and support himself. I am having to learn to gain his co-operation rather than control him with simple tricks like distracting him with lateral work when he starts sulking. I have also taken up PiYo (slightly intense Pilates – Yoga combo) in an effort to strengthen my core to make sure I’m sitting up properly instead of collapsing forwards with him when he drops onto the forehand.

Obviously, I’m hoping that next time we face the judges we get comments that reflect our hardwork and changes. The main thing really though, is that my beautiful boy is happy again and we’re working together rather than under duress!

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5Photos1Day: February #HorseBloggers Challenge

This month, I took up the challenge set by Sam from Haynet blog to post five photos in a single day that give insight into typical daily life. Since Instagramming photos of the pony and dog is one of my favourite things at the moment I jumped at this challenge! I decided to take the challenge on a weekend day, as they’re much more fun and less likely to be 80% photos of coffee! I also quizzed my bemused husband on whether he thought a photo of ‘x’ or ‘y’ seemed more appropriate in an attempt to make a plan. In the end though, I think the photos were more or less organic and they’re definitely a good representation of my weekends!

Here we go with photo number 1! This is how literally every day starts: tea and doggy cuddles. The mug was a leaving gift from my previous job, most office colleagues seem endlessly confused by the early starts and the mucking out involved in horse ownership, so this comedy mug is a perfect representation of how they see me! Spider pup is a bit of a lapdog, despite his tough exterior when we’re out and about, so no cup of tea is permitted in our house without a small dog sat on you!

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Photo 2, shows the real “glamour” of horse ownership, ha! It’s raining and I’m pushing a wheelbarrow of muck through ankle deep mud. Glorious. The things we do for the animals we love! I like to get my all my jobs out the way first thing when I arrive at the yard, it’s a good way of warming up and means that when I get to riding I can enjoy it without a million tasks in my head for when I get back. For Starks, it means he gets to mooch about in his field for a few hours stretching off after a night in the stable before working as well.

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Photo 3 is what it’s all about for many of us, the riding! As you can tell from Ginge’s wet ears, it was definitely a rainy day, but luckily for us it slowed right down for our little plod around the village. I was really proud of us this day as it was our first time hacking out alone for quite a while. I’m a big baby about hacking out alone and try to avoid it if I’m honest. I’m not entirely sure why as Starks is normally pretty good hacking out. We had a bit of a nappy phase about a year ago and an incident where he turned into a rodeo horse in an open field and I’ve not fully trusted him since. This is probably sensible, as you really never know with horses even if they’re usually the safest plod on the planet. However, he was school tired for this week and I really fancied an outing, so with no one to go with us I text my husband a route and estimated return time (just in case), covered us in hi-viz and off we went. Ginge was a perfect gent, of course, and once I relaxed I think we both enjoyed ourselves. It was quite a nice experience actually, just the two of us spending some quality time together. Since I wasn’t busy gossiping, I got to actually admire the beauty of our lovely Cotswold surroundings and since I wasn’t hurrying him along Ginge got to enjoy having a good nose and trying to go down everyone’s driveways. Bliss!

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Photo 4 is another insight into our home life. My husband and I bought a 1970s house, which had remained unchanged since then, two years ago and have been slowly making it our own. Very talented husband has done most of the house without any practical input from me, but very occasionally I get involved and help with a spot of painting. We’re doing the hallway at the moment – an exciting point that means we’ve finished upstairs and we’re moving onto the ground floor – so I helped by diligently painting the middles of all the walls on a rainy afternoon.

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The final photo of the day is another of my lovely ginger boy. I brought him in early out of the rain, as he seemed particularly unhappy about it today. He used to live out 24/7 during the winter, but these days he seems to quite like his home comforts. Here he is all snug in his stable rug (which is filthy because he is endlessly scruffy) munching on a fibre block. He doesn’t get these very often, but if he needs a bit of extra stable time he has them as a boredom buster. He’s no fool so he makes short work of them despite the small net by crushing them and eating them off the floor. I think I’d have to find something a bit more involved to keep him occupied if he ever had to spend a real extended period of time indoors. The real bonus is that the extra fibre and vitamins is really beneficial for him at this time of year when we’re low on grass and starting to feel like it has been winter forever!

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Well, that’s pretty much me – who else is taking the challenge?

In Praise of Poo Picking!

I’m not going to pretend for a second that I enjoy the seemingly never-ending task of poo picking Starky’s fields. Especially in winter, when the wheelbarrow gets stuck in the mud at the field gate and you are freezing! It is a necessary chore though, that I try to do regularly (except in the very worst weather) and here are a few reasons why your horse and paddock will thank you for it – and you might even enjoy the odd moment!

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Say No to Worms – More and more equestrians move towards faecal egg counts to avoid over-use of wormers. Poo picking and good pasture management is a great way to help make sure your horses worm count is as low as can be. It seems pretty obvious that the more hygienic your horses paddock is, the more likely it is that they’ll avoid picking up a worm burden. Healthy horses = happy owners! It also helps with saving the pennies as an egg count is much cheaper than a wormer, so if you don’t need to worm your horse when the results come back then you are on to a winner!

Better Grazing – another clear benefit is that poo picking helps the grass recover quicker. Grass is never going to grow while it is suffocated under piles of horse poo, so clear it away regularly and give it a better chance of recovering. This is particularly important on our winter paddocks, they get trashed so quickly with the weather and enthusiastic horses so any chance we can give them to recover ready for next season seems sensible. The clearer the paddock is, the easier it is for our ponies to find grazing spots. It always amazes me how Starky seems to find something to graze on in the sparsest fields, but I want to give him the best possible chance of finding the good stuff! In the summer, it is also a chance to inspect the fields for ragwort and other field invaders and to get rid of it early.

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Flies – writing in January, flies seem like a distant memory, but in summer the struggle is real and they will swarm around the horse poo in your paddocks and bother your horse incessantly. There seems like there’s no getting rid of them, but less poo in your paddocks will certainly help ease the issue!

Spending time with your horse  – one of the things I actually enjoy about poo picking is spending time with Starky out in his field. It is great for our bond to spend time around him without wanting anything from him. He gets to choose whether he wants to investigate what I’m doing and spend time around me, or not. He gets to go about his business without seeing me as the annoying human that’s always trying to either clean him or ride him! I might as well make myself useful while I’m out there, especially as in the winter it’s a bit too cold to just stand around. Photos look better when it’s your horse out in a beautiful green field than surrounded by piles of poo as well!

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Rider fitness goals – poo picking is surprisingly hard work! Any extra time spent on your feet and on the move is good for general fitness and doing it with a wheelbarrow of horse muck in tow adds a bit of resistance. All good news on the quest for rider fitness. With Starks and I aiming for affiliated dressage this year, I should probably pull my weight on the getting in shape side of things. He has got fit a lot quicker than me this year so I’ve got some work to do if I’m going to play my part in our team!

So there you have it, poo picking may not be the most fun you’ll have in your equestrian life, but it has a lot of benefits for your four legged best friend. That’s how I keep myself motivated when I’m getting covered in mud up to my knees anyway!

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New Year’s Resolutions

I might be a bit late to the party getting my resolutions for 2018 down on paper, but you’ll have to bear with me as it’s been a manic turn of the year this time around. For personal and shiny new job reasons I haven’t had much chance to sit down since before the New Year!

So here we go, my equestrian New Year goals:

  1. Schedule more time with Ginge, and stick to it! Starting a new job, moving to a yard with no indoor school and having Ginge on part livery has had an adverse effect on how much time I spend with my boy. I’m disappointed with myself for letting this happen. To fix this, I’ve joined the Top Barn 12 Week Challenge on Facebook to help get us focused over the next 12 weeks. We’re doing the silver level, which means 5 hours of horsemanship activity (riding or ground work) per week plus two mini challenges over the 12 week period. If you stick at it, there’s a chance to win a mini riding holiday at Top Barn. I think it’s a great way of encouraging people to get pony time in the diary and stick to it over the last of the winter.
  2. Work towards a Dressage Anywhere Novice entry! Ginge and I have had a pretty good year on Dressage Anywhere, qualifying for the online champs at Intro and Prelim, with steadily increasing scores and lovely comments at both levels. We even got a lovely ribbon for Intro one of the months. Now Ginge is getting stronger in the canter, I’ve decided to focus on our Prelim tests at the beginning of the year and work towards successfully completing a Novice test by the end of 2018.
  3. Compete at a BD competition locally. Dressage Anywhere has been a brilliant confidence giver for me, we’ve already had List 1 and 2 judges watch videos of our tests and not hate us. It feels like time to get out there and ride a Prelim test at affiliated competition “live”. There are a few BD venues nearby at varying levels of friendly and massive, so the plan is to get the diary out and head for one of the friendlier options to start with. I still don’t have my own transport, so forward planning is key to figuring out the availability of in-laws or friends with transport or getting a hired trailer booked in.

None of these sound like a hugely outlandish aims, after all the key to goal setting is that it’s achievable or you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even begin! Organisation and a strict schedule are going to be key to success this year, so I’ve treated myself to a beautiful Dressage folder and 2018 diary set from Leroy and Bongo (highly recommended if you’re a fan of stationary). Now to crack on and get some riding done! Ginge was like a train to ride yesterday, full of energy after two weeks off so we just need to harness this energy into beautiful dressage activity and not just charging around. Easier said than done, right? Happy New Year everyone!

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This blog is part of the January Equestrian Blog Hop hosted by Bridle & Bone. Follow the link to discover other wonderful horsey bloggers and their goals for 2018!

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Choosing a new Livery Yard

Moving yard is a stressful time for any horse owner. There are so many worries and what ifs: what will the other liveries be like? What if the yard owner oversold the facilities, grazing or services? What if my horse doesn’t like it? The final one is a particular worry as there’s no real way to prepare your horse for the fact you are about to load him on a trailer and drop him off in a new place without his beloved herd. It reminds me of the last time we moved house and my husband was beside himself with worry that the dog wouldn’t like the new place. Luckily the dog was fine and our horses usually are as well with a bit of time to adjust to the new location, field mates and routine.

Moving was particularly tough this time as I didn’t really want to. We were at a beautiful yard, with wonderful facilities (including the holy grail that is an indoor school), lovely other liveries and Ginge was happily settled with his field mates – even if they did destroy every rug I sent him out with. Nicky “The Rug Lady” has probably done very well out of rescuing rugs that Flash and Cloud had modified this last year. She is wonderful though, a good “Rug Lady” is worth her weight in gold and Nicky somehow rescues all of Ginge’s shredded wardrobe. Ginge had to move though, for the very simple reason of finances. I was working at his old yard to bring down the costs, but there comes a point where working multiple jobs and trying to fit in riding and seeing your husband/friends/family becomes an impossible juggling act. A spot came up at a nearby yard that does reasonably priced part livery and (after a word with myself about an indoor school not really being a ‘must-have’) I dragged my husband along for a viewing.

We have moved yard a few times now (hopefully this is the last time), so I feel like I can offer some advice on this one:

  • First impressions are important! Is the yard clean and neat, with well maintained fencing and muck heap? Whether or not the yard owner is stringent about sweeping the yard may not seem like it should be high on the priority list, but the issue is really whether it’s a symptom of a lax attitude elsewhere. Keeping the yard tidy is obviously important for hygiene and safety, but I’ve also noticed a correlation between scruffy yards and staff that also can’t be bothered to check rugs or pick out feet when catching horses in at night. The basics are important.
  • Try to go when the weather hasn’t been so great. Obviously, the weather is never in our control, but if you can see a yard after a few days of rain you are more likely to see how the fields will cope with winter and whether that “all-weather” outdoor school will actually spend most of the year unusable due to flooding.
  • Check for hidden expenses. Are things like hay and bedding included and, if so, what exactly is meant by that. Horses aren’t cheap and budgeting is so important. You don’t want to be hit by a surprise bill because you gave more than the “allowed” quantity of hay when grazing is scarce during winter or because you asked for your laminitis-prone horse to be caught in at lunch time to restrict his grazing.
  • Go armed with questions – and don’t be afraid of asking too many! Especially if you will also be using the yard manager’s services as you want to be sure you are on the same page when it comes to managing your horse’s needs. No one wants to be the demanding livery, but you do want to be sure that you can 100% trust another person with your horse’s care. If it is possible to speak to an existing livery, then that also helps.
  • Finally, trust your gut instinct. Sometimes, as with many things in life, you “just know” that a yard is the right place for you.

So far (and I say this with everything crossed), the yard we just moved to has felt absolutely right. The yard owner has been very accommodating, with things like making sure he has a field mate as he hates individual turn out, and always stops for a chat when I arrive to update me on quirky little things Ginge has been up to. I love this, as it says to me that she is actually taking care of him and not just seeing him as a source of income. The other liveries are very welcoming and have already started inviting us on hacks to show us the route. When it comes to facilities, they aren’t too bad. The school doesn’t flood or freeze and, although I miss having the roof over our heads, there is cross country course access free to all liveries throughout the year. The fences start tiny, so maybe this cowardly dressage duo will be building up to their first ever hunter trials in the near future!

Ginge and his new friend, Chester

Exploring our new surroundings

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Name plate on the door – home, sweet home!

 

All change! New season and a new start

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It may have escaped your attention, but all has been quiet in Ginger Pony Land for a little while. Last month, I got married! The run up to the wedding was the busiest time of my life, followed by the greatest day and two blissful weeks on a beach in the sunshine with my new husband. Ginge celebrated the wedding with a three week holiday – a bit of time to relax, mull over everything he’s learned over the last year and turn into a muddy, hairy mammoth ready for the oncoming winter. A whirlwind (and wonderful) few weeks for me, but I missed my boy intensely. There’s no denying that horses get under our skin and into our blood. I’m happy to be home with him, but it’s a shock coming home from Thailand’s beautiful beaches to the arrival of autumn/winter in my beloved Gloucestershire.

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Now I’m home, it’s not just the seasons and my name that has changed! Ginge has had his annual haircut AND we’ve moved yard. I’m lucky that he’s so chilled out about life in general, but even so we have had a few grumpy days recently as a result of all the changes. A few weeks apart, the horror of being clipped and then being dropped off in a new home has been a bit too much for him. I’ll talk about the yard move in a post of its own, but for now a word on clipping.

There’s a lot of debate about clipping every year, owners worrying about when to clip, how much to take off, rugging issues afterwards and the stress involved if their horse hates the clippers. Every horse is different, but Ginge and I have a system of compromise that seems to work for us. Ginge is a hot horse, so he really has to be clipped if we are to do any work over winter otherwise he’s a sweaty mess from a ten minute hack in walk. Since we have to clip, we take off the minimum necessary. Partly so the clipping process doesn’t take longer than it needs to, partly as I quite like letting him be as natural as possible and partly so there’s less rugging stress. The last few years we have gone for an Irish clip, just a little more than his neck and belly so he doesn’t overheat, but his topline stays warm when he’s out and about and we don’t need hundreds of heavy rugs.

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It’s also easy to underestimate the effect of our bond with our horses. Last year, I clipped Ginge myself. He was quiet as a mouse for the whole process and it was fairly stress free for both of us (except for the dodgy haircut he was left with since I’m terrible at straight lines). This year, as in the past, I paid someone else to get the job down. He was OK, but much less chilled out than when I do it myself and I had to bribe him with his Likit to keep him still. For food-orientated horses, Likits are heaven sent for when you need to get stuff done! After clipping, I can thoroughly recommend a NAF Love The Skin hot wash for your horse to take away the post-clip itch. I was lucky enough to win a bottle from BD Quest Club’s newsletter and will definitely be buying more when we run out. We have quite a few NAF lotions and potions in our show prep box – I think they’re fab and very effective, even for total amateurs at turnout like me!

Luckily, if we can hang on until early November, Ginge only needs one clip per year so we don’t have to go through this chaos on a regular basis. Maybe next year I’ll be brave again for his benefit and manage the clipping without hiring in a dreaded stranger. Ginge is definitely happier when I do it and practice makes perfect – right?

 

Applying Equine Bio-mechanics in Training

We have all seen the Pammy Hutton and Heather Moffat campaign to petition the FEI to act against the practice of Rollkur and too tight nose bands. If not, Alanna Clarke has written this excellent blog for Tottie Clothing on the subject recently which is worth a read. Pammy and Heather run a Facebook group as part of the campaign and to educate riders and trainers where they recently shared a video by Equitopia on the Padmavideo YouTube channel about equine bio-mechanics and self-carriage, which can be found here. Equitopia are a Californian outfit that strive to educate riders and help them to work in harmony with their horses and provide their beloved four-legged friends with happy and healthy lives. They provide free lectures and resources on a variety of subjects like correctly fitting tack and horse health as well as applying classical training techniques when schooling.

This video appealed to me as I find the study of equine bio-mechanics fascinating. The application of modern science and understanding of bio-mechanics to the classical training foundations explains why the scales of training are so important and how training our horses to be balanced, as well as being balanced ourselves, helps them to do their jobs comfortably and happily while minimising the risk of injury. Just as you wouldn’t put your body through an exercise class without thinking about proper form to avoid injury, it is our responsibility as riders to train our horses in the safest way to carry themselves. Rollkur is a cruel technique that has come about as a quick fix way to create the effect that a horse is engaged and working in an outline. As with any quick fix, it is not the answer. The giving and retaking of the reins in many dressage tests is a test of self-carriage and proof that the horse has been trained to carry and balance themselves and not been forced into the illusion of roundness.

Having both watched this video recently, my mother-in-law/trainer decided to give the lessons learnt a try on Ginge and I in a recent training session. We put the emphasis on impulsion and straightness. The plan was to work on having Ginge working forward and from my inside leg into outside hand to maintain the straightness and balance. Nothing ground-breaking, but actually very effective. We started by essentially banning the use of my inside hand. In the past of relied on it as a guide rein, but today it was banned completely. This prevented me potentially pulling him round on a circle and causing him to fall onto the forehand and inside shoulder and encouraged me to use my seat to direct him. This change of technique also forced me to improve my position to support him better. The results were surprisingly sudden – Ginge is a sensitive soul so tiny changes to my riding make a big difference to him. Focusing lower down the scales of training on straightness rather than worrying too much about engagement resulted in the best outline we’ve ever worked in, an actively engaged hind leg and even a move towards cracking our canter problem. Proof if ever it was needed that “quick fix” is not the answer and giving our horses time and the tools to find the most comfortable way of going provides the greatest results in the long run. And, if the scientists are to be believed, it also means a reduced chance of injury down the line. Win-win as far as I’m concerned. I’d definitely recommend watching the video linked above and considering what pointers you can takeaway in your own schooling!

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Dogs at Equestrian Events

As horse owners we tend to be animal lovers. I don’t know the actual statistics on how many horse owners also have dogs (or indeed any other animal), but in my experience it is quite a high proportion of us. I’m sure that we’ve all had the dream of hacking out with our faithful canine happily trotting alongside, but sadly the reality often is that horses and dogs aren’t always the best of friends. According to the British Horse Society, there has been a great increase in reports of dog attacks on horses recently and I have definitely noticed increased controversy around our canine companions attending equestrian events. I attended both Withington Manor Horse Trials and Gatcombe Festival of Eventing as a spectator this year and at both events there was chaos at least once when a loose dog chased a combination on the cross country phase. This has resulted in a few calls for dogs to be banned from attending equestrian events for everyone’s safety. Olivia Wilmot talked to Horse and Hound about her anger after being chased by a dog at Gatcombe last year, she may not have been hurt but it is hardly optimum competing conditions. Others argue that a few incidents like this shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for the hundreds of well behaved dogs and their responsible owners who attend these events safely every year. Luckily, I didn’t see anyone actually get hurt, but even one accident would be one too many!

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From personal experience, as the owner of a rescued Jack Russell Terrier, I’ve been working hard to teach my dog about responsible behaviour around horses. I still wouldn’t trust him off the lead around them, but he’s basically fine now on the yard and when he sees them hacking while we’re walking. Poor, tolerant Ginge has been brilliant during the desensitisation process. He has come with us on walks and I’ve hacked round the field with my partner leading the dog nearby – we’ve done a fairly good job at convincing him that horses are extremely boring and not worth barking at.

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I still prefer not taking him to equestrian events though and generally speaking I just don’t do it. I was talked into giving him a try at attending Gatcombe this year, I had tickets for my birthday and everyone we would normally have left him with was away. His best doggy friend, Barney, was coming along too and we hoped they would just be quiet together. Honestly, I won’t be taking him again. I’m not sure it was an enjoyable outing for either of us. It turns out, despite all our hard work and training there are two things that are just too much for my tiny dog to cope with: clapping and horses galloping. You can expect both of these things at an event and he handled it as many terriers would – with a lot of barking. As a result, I spent the whole day consoling or attempting to discipline the dog (neither worked) and did a lot of laps of the car park or shopping areas to steer clear of the horses and riders. I saw very little eventing and came home exhausted with a headache. Not an experience I plan on repeating.

There were plenty of dogs there, including terriers, who behaved perfectly all day of course. I may be banning my own dog from attending equestrian events, but I don’t think this needs to apply to all dogs. It just needs us as dog owners to act responsibly and decide the best course of action as individuals to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. As much as we love to have them with us everywhere, sometimes the best choice for everyone is to leave them behind with a responsible adult. I was disappointed to miss out on the action at Gatcombe to retreat to a safe place with the dog, but I was more comfortable leaving and missing out than stressing him out and taking the risk of causing an accident on the course. I think we’ll be sticking to our quiet country walks in future – I hope other people make responsible choices about what suits their pooches too.

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In the ribbons: dressage diva motivation

Ginge and I have had a brilliant end to the summer and it was just the boost we needed after a manic season and a brief setback due to rider injury. He can definitely be a grumpy beast at times when we’re training, but when it counted this month he really pulled it out of the bag! Our horses can be so tuned in to us as riders that I’m sure they know when they are on show and their performance really counts.

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The first test for us this month was a return to Dressage Anywhere. I love the DA concept, it is perfect for people who don’t have their own transport and for people who are a bit nervous or those with young or inexperienced horses. I think ginge and I tick most of those boxes so it’s ideal. The best bit is all the judges are BD listed, so you know you are getting consistent and top quality judging. We definitely aren’t brave enough to head out to any affiliated competition yet, but this way we have top quality judges in the comfort of our own home! We tried DA once before and our comments then had given us plenty to work on. Well, it looks like our hard work paid off: our second try at DA saw us score 69.35% at Intro B and come 9th in a massive class of 71! Our first time on the scoreboard and I couldn’t be more thrilled, it’s a real validation of our hard work and the bond we’ve built as a team. We also submitted our first ever Prelim test, after some encouragement from other DA members. Prelim 7 is quite a nice test and I felt like we had managed OK despite one or two rider errors and a questionable second transition to canter. I was so nervous submitting the entry, but to my surprise we scored a respectable 63.41%! The judge’s comments were very positive and particularly complimentary about our trot work (it’s no secret that our canter still needs work). We even managed a championship qualifying score, so we have no choice but to enter both prelim and intro again this month in hope of the magic second qualifying score.

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With the incredible confidence boost of our DA performance in our pocket, we were given the offer of a lift to a local show hosted by the Stroud Pony Club. We jumped at the chance and entered Prelim 2 and the 60cm Open ShowJumping. Dressage was first up and meant an early start. I’m not the best at plaiting whenever I do it, but Ginge was particularly unimpressed by my efforts at 5:30am. Despite our dodgy plaiting, the horrendous weather and crippling nerves on my part, our very soggy dressage test impressed the judges for another scoreboard finish with 2nd place and a mighty 70.5%. It’s probably fair to say the scoring was generous compared with official BD scoring, but we had lovely comments and some points to work on nonetheless. Feelings at the yard about generous scoring are mixed. The dressage divas label it false encouragement and criticise it as setting people up for disappointment if they take these scores as the nod to go affiliated. Other grass roots riders have said they think it’s nice and what’s the harm in a little encouragement – do you really want to mark strictly at pony club level and potentially put kids off dressage for life? I think there’s merit to both arguments, I’ve come out of the experience still realistic about our chances at scoring 70% at any affiliated competition and since the scoring was generous across the board the placing remains valid, so it doesn’t feel like there’s any harm done. We also have a beautiful photo in the house now, courtesy of Top Shots Photography (apologies to the lovely photographer we nearly crushed while spooking at the white boards)!

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As a bit of fun, since we were at the show for the day anyway, we also entered the 60cm Showjumping class. Our round was entertaining to say the least. I think we were the only horse in a class of ponies and jumped out of trot as the slippery grass was worrying us. However, my darling dressage boy managed to leave almost all the fences standing and bravely tackled his first ever wall and TWO doubles, which he normally finds too stressful. We managed only 4 faults and qualified for the jump off! Sadly, I had no idea we were in the jump off, so no rosette there for us. I thought that was for clear rounds only and the weather meant I couldn’t hear the announcements! All a learning experience, next time we brave leaving the ground we’ll pay attention in case we have a jump off to attend!

Onward into September: we’ve still got plenty to work on, but this confidence boost is welcome motivation as we get schooling ready for the winter season. Here’s hoping we’ll get a few more lifts and outings, but you’ll be seeing us on Dressage Anywhere either way!

Equine Allergies and a visit from the Emergency Vet

It’s a call that every horse owner dreads. 7:30 on a Saturday morning and the yard owner is on the phone, “Don’t panic, but [horse’s name] has come in from the field this morning and he’s not right. You may want to call the vet…”.

Within minutes, photos of poor Ginge’s giant swollen head and hive covered body have been sent by the yard owner and forwarded to the vet, while I’m on the phone to the receptionist trying to pretend I’m not freaking out. Despite his giant head, Ginge had successfully eaten breakfast and wasn’t having breathing issues, so in theory I wasn’t freaking out. On the inside, I was definitely freaking out. He is my baby after all.

Luckily, Greg the vet, has had many years experience with hysterical horse women and passed on this message via the receptionist: “Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it looks, I’m on my way.” Despite the fact he was still eating, Ginge was definitely feeling a bit sorry for himself. We had half an hour of cuddles while waiting (what felt like an entire day) for the vet. Ginge is not normally a cuddle fan!  Our vet visit was only a flying one, he was right about there being no huge need for panic of course. A steroid injection for Ginge, strict instructions for me to go home for at least three hours while the steroids worked their magic and a diagnosis of “contact dermatitis” caused by an allergic reaction to pollen spores he would have rolled in on wet grass after a rain shower. The vet was soon on his way again. Three hours later, the hives had gone and his head was decidedly less fat. The next morning, only my bank account showed any sign of the incident.

The trouble with allergies, is that when they strike the effect is dramatic, sudden and pretty horrifying. The positives are: an attack is easily and quickly resolved and once you are aware of the problem it can hopefully be managed fairly effectively in future. I’ve had to revise my policy on allowing Starky to be turned out naked in the height of summer, especially when rain is forecast, and it seems to be doing the trick so far. A month has passed (and several fly rugs have come and gone) and we haven’t had another attack so far. Pollen and fly season are nearly over for another year, so hopefully he can have a bit of rug free time before clipping and winter rugs are upon us! Now someone just needs to explain to my horse why rugs are for his own good and stop him from shredding them. User testing says Shires rugs are getting our thumbs up this summer. Rug one was a “bargain” zebra rug that lasted a day. Our Shires zebra rug has undergone some customisation thanks to Ginge and his field mates, but remains mostly rug shaped and functional despite their best efforts (and what more can you ask for).