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!

 

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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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!