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?

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?

 

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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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).

 

Coping with rider injury

Three weeks has passed since I was cruelly banned from riding due to an unfortunate yard accident. To add insult to injury of course it wasn’t even a dramatic accident, so no exciting story to tell. I was turning my friend’s mare out for the night and she took offence at a child on a trampoline, spooked and landed unceremoniously on my foot. Four hours in A&E and a plaster cast later, I find myself confined to the sofa with no riding on the horizon. Just as the ginger beast is starting to go really nicely and I was filling the diary with plans for fun rides, jumping clinics, dressage tests and maybe a camp at Hartpury over my birthday weekend. Luckily fracture clinic were less doom and gloom than A&E, so the good news is I now have a protective boot instead of a cast and am hopefully only another two weeks away from being back in the saddle. Of course, I have my beloved, old-faithful Harry Hall jodhpur boots to thank for things not being worse. Always wear the right protective gear around the yard, accidents like these can happen in a heartbeat and we have all seen the photographs in Horse & Hound of what happens if you are wearing flip flops when they do!

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Nothing more flattering than hospital pjs!

The first tip I have for coping with injury is make sure the yard has a good human first aid kit! I was so unprepared for incident that I ended up borrowing from ginge. I’ve been treating myself to a My Horse Box subscription for the last few months, so luckily Stark has a well stocked first aid kit. I can officially confirm that the Equi-N-icE cooldown products really do the trick, as I found myself wearing his post workout socks to bring down the swelling en route to A&E.

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Once home, my first worry was boredom. Us equestrians are so used to being rushed off our feet with full time work plus taking care of our horses and somehow fitting in time to ride. The idea of being sat still for days on end is so alien! So I’ve kept busy – and would recommend it. I’ve brushed up on my horse care knowledge, dusted off the BHS stable management books and taken online courses on equine nutrition and bedding management. It’s important to stay up to date with best practice in the equine industry. We all want to know we are doing the best for our horses, so it is good to have the time to check in.

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The other obvious worry is this guy! He is obviously quite happy snuggled in his big straw bed or stuffing his face with grass and I am lucky enough to rely on great grooming staff to take care of him. However, it is peak grass growing season and while he is going so well and looking fit I don’t really want to come back to a barrel. My fantastic trainer has ridden him for me instead of our scheduled lessons. Watching her ride has been great, I am so proud of how good ginge is looking and how hard he tried. Definite proud mum moments when other liveries have come up to comment how good he is looking! Sadly having her ride him very regularly is not an affordable option. Lucky for me, a good friend is planning on horse shopping in a few months and has jumped at the chance to ride a new horse. The benefits work for both of us: my boy is kept ticking over and she gets to ride something completely different to the TBs she has got used to – a big help in deciding what she is looking for when she is ready to go ahead.

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Now I am looking ahead! My foot is healing rapidly. I’m almost ready to walk without crutches, so I’m hoping to at least start loose schooling and renewing our bond with groundwork within the next two weeks. I’m also starting to plan our schedule for the rest of the summer – fingers crossed we can get some of those clinics in after all!

And they’re off…

This is my (or our) “Hello World” blog. Since it’s traditional, we’ll begin with an introduction!

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This is the ginger pony, he’s a French Trotter who was imported to the UK as a two year old when it became clear he had not inherited his grandfather’s skills as a racer. In his first few years in the England he was lightly backed; broken to harness; accidentally became a dad; and then was mainly left to his own devices for a year or two except the occasional drive out with his carriage.

When I first arrived at his field it was to help school a 5 year old dressage potential, but a few twists of fate brought me together with the gangly 8 year old field ornament who has now definitively claimed a corner of my heart. Six months later, I had to move away and the ginger beast came with me to start a new life in the Cotswolds – luckily for me, his owner felt it would be cruel to separate us and that he “might as well have a job to do”.

That was two years ago, since then we’ve been battling with dressage and teaching each other to jump. After a recent lesson, my trainer commented on how far we’ve come in the last two years and that comment is what brings me here, to this blog. It can be tough to keep perspective on how far you have come when you are in the moment, so this blog is going to be a record of our successes, failures and, hopefully, gradual progression (undoubtedly with a few detours along the way). Join us for the ride, it’s always more pleasant to hack out in company after all!