Saving our heritage

When dressage and showing classes for ridden heavy horses were introduced, social media was awash with disparaging comments. One of the kindest labelled them as “gimmicks” – and one of the cruellest referred to “elephants in tutus”.

Critics have egg on their faces, as the classes are hugely popular and standards are high. But heavies, along with breeds ranging from the Cleveland Bay to some of our most prized native pony breeds, are on a rollercoaster path to survival – so the more riders realise the huge talent they offer, the better.

This year, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust predicted that our iconic heavy horse breeds could die out within ten years. The Suffolk Punch is on its critical list, with fewer than 300 registered breeding females in the UK, whilst Clydesdales are vulnerable (500-900) and Shires are at risk (900-1500).

That’s bad enough, but how many people realise that the Cleveland Bay, Dales pony, Eriskay pony and Hackney horse and pony are also on that critical list? Or that the Dartmoor and Exmoor breeds are endangered, and Fells and Highlands are vulnerable?

Even the New Forest pony is at risk. If you drive through the New Forest, you might not believe that, especially when you have to wait whilst ponies amble across the road.

These animals aren’t just part of our heritage. In some cases, they shape it.

Last year, naturalist Chris Packham claimed that ponies were destroying the biodiversity of the New Forest and criticised the system which allows those with commoner status to graze ponies there. Natural England’s Jenny Thomas said he was more worried about the loss of commoning, rather than too many ponies being grazed.

She said the New Forest was “the last remaining stronghold” of several plant species that would otherwise be lost, and which only grow where there is heavy trampling from grazing animals. That’s also why Exmoor ponies are used for conservation grazing.

It’s easy to say that more people ought to breed these animals to preserve our heritage, but they need to be bred for a purpose and to be fit for that purpose. We’ll never return to the days

Image credit: Carolyn Henderson

when horses worked the land as a matter of course – though if you get the chance to see skilled practitioners in a ploughing match, don’t miss it – but we should be aware of their value for riding and driving.

That may mean that breeds must evolve, without losing vital traits. When I started reporting on showing classes for Horse and Hound in the 1980s, Exmoor ponies were inevitably straight in the shoulder and when you sat on one, it was as if its ears were in your mouth. Similarly, many New Forest ponies had straight shoulders and big heads that were out of proportion to their frames and you’d have been laughed out of the ring for suggesting that a Highland pony could canter.

Today, the best examples of these ponies epitomise quality, versatility and breed type. As long as we stick to those aims, and there are breeders dedicated and passionate enough to preserve them, we can hopefully keep them safe.

Don’t forget the value of partbreds, either. There is an argument that purebred mares should only be covered by purebred stallions, which I’ll leave to more knowledgeable people to debate. But why not cross a heavy horse stallion with, say, a Thoroughbred or warmblood mare?

We can’t all breed or buy animals to preserve bloodlines, nor should we breed field ornaments. But we can be open-minded and we should all heed the RBST’s call to support the National Livestock Gene Bank.

If we don’t collect genetic material from these breeds now, we’ll lose them forever. And then it might not be “Dead as a dodo” but “Dead as a Suffolk Punch”.

Creating the right image

Congratulations to Debbie Smith, who has won a BHS award for her work trying to help make riders safer on the roads, writes Carolyn Henderson.

When more than 100,000 people signed her petition calling for a legal requirement for drivers to go past a horse wide and slow, and to be compelled to abide by hand signals asking them to stop and slow down when asked, Parliament was obliged to debate the issue.

I doubt the law will be changed, if only because of the difficulty in enforcing proscribed width and speed restrictions, but we should all try to get drivers on our side. Most are – but it’s also up to us to make sure we don’t give the wrong impression.

We need to give our image a makeover. There are still too many people who think that all horse owners have big cheque books and a big sense of their own importance, when most of us go without things non-horsey folk take for granted to pay for our passion.

Just a smile can make all the difference, so when I drove past a young woman rider in textbook wide and slow fashion and she didn’t even make eye contact, I stopped in a safe place, got out and asked if she had a problem.

No, she said. Why would I think that?

I explained that because she didn’t acknowledge the fact that I’d slowed down, I thought she might be worried about something.

She shrugged, didn’t spot the sarcasm and said she was thinking about something else, so hadn’t noticed.

I suggested that she should notice, because she was causing problems for those of us who showed drivers that we appreciated their courtesy. You don’t even have to take a hand off the reins to show appreciation – so there’s no excuse.

We can’t assume that other road users understand that the quietest horse can spook occasionally, even though rule 215 of the Highway Code says: “Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard; they can be unpredictable, despite the efforts of their rider/driver.”

And yes, you will get the occasional moron who thinks that you’re using a hand signal request to slow down just to antagonise him or her. Again, the Highway Code is on our side and tells drivers: “Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop.”

Much of it is down to education, so maybe we should ask driving instructors not to just tell pupils to follow the code, but explain why. And yes, if a rider doesn’t acknowledge a learner’s efforts, maybe instructors should explain how getting the message across to learner drivers is good news for riders, and that courtesy on both sides helps keep us all safe.

I can see why so many riders are now wearing head cams. You can find frightening footage from these, showing what happens when drivers don’t think – or think that riders shouldn’t be on the roads.

Without being stroppy for the sake of it, we have as much right to be on the roads as any other user. We need to protect that right – which is why we should all thank Debbie Smith – but we need to monitor our behaviour as well as that of the drivers we meet.

Horses for courses

Being in the wrong job is miserable. If you’re stuck in an office when you’d rather be outside, or crunching numbers when you’re longing to be creative, you’ll know what it’s like.

So, what’s it like for a horse to be in a similar situation? Obviously, horses don’t grow up dreaming of career paths, even if they’re bred to race or have top showjumping or dressage bloodlines. But because their owners choose what they do, there are times when horses can be square pegs in round holes and owners need to think about their horses’ needs rather than their own ambitions.

There are racehorses who don’t want to race, dressage horses who go sour at the sight of white boards and showjumpers whose pedigrees spell out the promise of ability but who appear to have very little in real life. How much of that is due to poor training, over-drilling and/or bad experiences is another topic for debate.

Likewise, how many disappointments are down to riders who buy an expensive horse with the magic P-word – potential – but don’t have the experience or talent to bring it out?

The flipside is the riders who spot special talent in a horse who just wasn’t meant to do what he’s doing, let alone do it so brilliantly. Steph Croxford’s unlikely dressage star, Mr President, was part Hackney, part Gelderlander and part warmblood and was meant to be a driving horse. He – and, fortunately, Steph – realised that his talents belonged in another area.

Then there are the ponies who somehow find the scope to power around huge courses, or even reach the top in eventing: horses like Marion Coakes’ showjumper and Olympic silver medallist, Stroller, or Karen O’Connor’s Theodore O’Connor (Teddy), a 147cm pony who was part Thoroughbred, part Arab and, unbelievably, part Shetland pony. The latter pair was shortlisted for the USA Olympic team but sadly, Teddy had to be put down after a freak accident at home.

Unfortunately, horses who defy the odds are much rarer than horses who fall foul of them. While any horse should be capable of working in balance on the flat and over schooling fences, there are times when the two halves of a partnership are best suited to different things.

In that situation, there are two options. One is to find the horse a new home with a like-minded rider. The second is to switch your focus to the area in which your horse excels – and some people prefer to do that rather than part company. Either way, you both need to be happy.

If you’ve switched disciplines to keep your horse happy, or have uncovered unexpected talent, we’d love to hear about it!

Half price during November

This month only, we are offering the following supplements at HALF PRICE:

Steady-Up Advance (2kg)

Steady-Up is our popular and effective calmer to help horses relax and focus. It contains two forms of Magnesium, an essential nutrient that helps with the regulation of nervous tension. The herbs Chamomile and Lemon Balm are included to encourage calm behaviour, working together to relax your horse and soothe the nervous system. Steady-Up contains Brewer’s Yeast, a prebiotic to support the bacteria in the hind gut, helping to keep your horse happy and healthy especially during times of stress. Steady-Up is fortified with B-Vitamins to promote optimum function and impulses. Ideal for horses and ponies of a nervous, over excitable or fizzy nature to aid concentration, Steady-Up Advance does not contain synthetic sedatives and can be fed long term to make riding and handling your horse a pleasurable experience.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

Clarity (2kg)

Clarity maintains your horse’s natural lung defences against external challenges such as dust and pollen, for optimum respiratory health and clear airways. Clarity helps to keep your horse’s respiratory tract in good health and allows your horse to perform at their optimum level. The addition of Garlic, beneficial herbs such as Liquorice, and antioxidants to the horse’s diet have been shown to support the horse’s respiratory system and target healthy lung function. Traditionally used herbs such as Thyme, Elderflower and Coltsfoot help to soothe the respiratory tract, whilst Oregano, Sage and Lemon peel help to keep the airways clear. Clarity maintains your horse’s natural lung defences against external challenges such as dust and pollen, for optimum respiratory health and clear airways. Excellent for horses and ponies stabled for long periods, such as those on box rest or those that are in during the winter months.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

Settelex (1.8kg)

Settelex is ideal for horses that display oral stereotypies, or undesirable oral behaviours, especially when stabled. This supplement is designed to soothe the digestive system and help to maintain healthy amounts of acid within the stomach, which in turn helps to maintain normal behaviour. The horse secretes HCL (Hydrochloric Acid) almost continuously, and when horses eat they produce saliva which contains bicarbonate that buffers this HCL production, keeping the pH of the stomach within correct levels. When horses become stressed (due to competition, travel, extended times in the stable) or are fed a high cereal grain diet, the amount of HCL produced increases and the amount of saliva produced decreases. In these cases, it is particularly important to optimise stomach health. Settelex provides Calcium Carbonate and Magnesium Carbonate to promote a healthy level of acid within the stomach, and Magnesium Hydroxide to maintain a healthy stomach mucosa and pH level.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

No Fill (1.3kg)

The perfect blend of herbs to banish filled legs. No Fill is a revolutionary herbal supplement that promotes fluid movement and distribution in the limbs via the lymphatic system. This supplement combines herbs that support a healthy lymphatic system with those that optimise the circulatory system, specially designed for horses who have to be stabled or stand in for periods of time, which can lead to ‘fat legs’. Marigold flowers work synergistically with Clivers to maintain normal fluid retention in the legs, and Dandelions keep the liver and kidneys healthy and promote excretion of excess fluid. Hawthorn is a plant traditionally used to support the heart and circulatory system. It contains Rutin, a powerful compound which helps to maintain flexible and strong capillaries and, along with Nettles, contributes greatly to cardiovascular health. Lastly, Ginkgo is an antioxidant herb, supporting small blood vessels and capillaries for healthy circulation.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

Echinacea (750g)

Natural support for optimum immune support. Echinacea is great for older horses, and ideal for those who have been a little ‘down’. Echinacea was traditionally used by native Americans for a variety of health reasons such as digestive distress and respiratory health. Echinacea is well-known for its immune supporting properties, it can benefit many horses, especially those in more challenging situations, or horses going through management changes.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

Magnesium (1.26kg)

Magnesium plays an important part in nerve and muscle function and can be helpful in calming horses and ponies. Used daily, Magnesium can help to reduce difficult behaviour and produce a more relaxed approach to work. Magnesium can also assist in attaining normal fat coverage in overweight equines, especially those with a ‘cresty’ neck or fatty pockets. Each daily serving provides 6g of bioavailable Magnesium Oxide per scoop.

Half price during November. For more information, click here.

 

Terms and conditions: Order online at feedmark.com. For telephone orders please call 0800 585 525 / 01986 782368. Half price offer on Steady-Up Advance, Clarity, Settelex, No Fill, Echinacea, and Magnesium applies to selected sizes only and is valid from 01/11/2017 until 30/11/2017.

Make a fuss about fireworks

If you’re a horse or pet owner, chances are you hate fireworks because of the distress and even injury that they can cause to animals. Hopefully, you also share my loathing of Chinese lanterns, which can cause devastating harm to wild and domesticated animals as well as damaging property.

I’d love it if the sale of fireworks to individuals was banned and that “quiet” ones only could be used solely at licensed, organised events. As for Chinese lanterns, I’d be ecstatic if they were banned, full stop.

Am I the anti-social one? If so, I don’t care. I don’t think we in the UK enjoy fireworks. I think we’re caught up in a tradition that could be consigned to the history books without anyone feeling hard done by.

Think back to your childhood memories of Guy Fawkes Night, if it’s part of your family tradition. Do they give you a glow as warm as a crackling bonfire and a sense of history? Or are you more likely to remember loud noises, cold hands and feet and a sense that you weren’t really enjoying yourself?

For many people, Guy Fawkes Night is simply Bonfire Night. It isn’t really a commemoration of the failure of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, when activists planned to assassinate King James I and blow up the Houses of Parliament in the name of religious freedom.

Instead, it’s a chance to stand around a bonfire, eating jacket potatoes, sausages and toffee apples, washed down with mulled wine/beer/beverage of your choice. If that appeals, go ahead – but why not ditch the fireworks and save money and stress?

Every year, petitions to the government demanding restrictions or bans on the sale of fireworks are started on the government website. Every time a petition on petition.parliament.uk, attracts 10,000 signatures, the government must respond, while 100,000 signatures mean that the petition must be debated in parliament.

Such petitions regularly attract more than 100,000 signatures, so if you feel strongly, search for and sign current ones. If you think I’m curtailing your freedom of choice, and know that you only use fireworks responsibly, please remember the many who don’t and the heartbreak they can cause.

The only fireworks display I remember with pleasure was staged as part of a performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. It was held on a summer’s night at a stately home, well away from “ordinary” houses.

Unfortunately, I have a sharper memory of what happened to a neighbour’s mare six years ago. The organisers of a nearby event in a rural area forgot to warn neighbouring farms that they would be letting off loud fireworks for ten solid minutes and the mare, who was stabled, panicked.

She cut her eyelid, developed stress colic and was later found to have damaged a suspensory ligament. All that because of ten anti-social minutes.

Ever since, her owners have added a supplement designed to promote calmness to her winter regime. The memories of that ghastly night are so strong, they say they’re tempted to sprinkle it on their cornflakes.

These days, fireworks are everywhere and Guy Fawkes Night lasts for a fortnight. I appreciate that fireworks are part of Chinese New Year – after all, the Chinese are said to have invented them and 90 per cent of the fireworks we buy are made in China – but fireworks and those unspeakable Chinese lanterns at weddings, for heaven’s sake?

Stick to sparklers and let the happy couple make their own fireworks. They’ll have much more fun.

Words of wisdom

The best trainers know how to spark light bulb moments. With just a few words, they make you understand what others may have failed to get across.

A quote from legendary showjumping trainer George Morris is going viral. If you’re one of many struggling to see a stride, he has this to say…

“Distances are like men. Never take the first one you see, there will always be another one.”

Then there’s the wicked sense of humour from a dressage trainer desperate to get a female pupil to lengthen through her upper body…

“Headlights on!” Obviously, it only works with the female anatomy.

Or there’s the simple suggestion, again from a dressage trainer, to help a rider who produces fabulous work in the warm-up and goes to pieces as soon as it’s competition time:

“Don’t think about riding against other people. Think about riding against your last performance.”

Sometimes, wisdom comes out of the mouths of children. The rider who used to go to pieces before entering at A improved thanks to the previous suggestion, but cracked it after she heard her seven-year-old daughter say:

“I don’t like horse shows. Mummy’s sick, then when we go home she says she’s enjoyed herself.”

First it made her guilty, then it made her laugh at herself. Once you can do that, you tend to feel better.

Search for great horsey sayings and you’ll find plenty of erudite ones. “The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse” has been variously credited to Lord Palmerston, Winston Churchill, Will Rogers and others. Whoever said it first was, as we all know, dead right.

I also like the sentiments of actor Viggo Mortensen: “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”

While we’re taking horse sense into real life, remember the lines from comedy writer Allan Sherman. The sentiment might not be original, but if you happen to work in a place where they have meetings about meetings, you’ll love:

 

“They sit there in committees day after day,

And they each put in a colour and it comes out grey.

And we all have heard the saying, which is true as well as witty,

That a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.”

 

Horse sense – defined by comedian and actor W C Fields as “The thing a horse has which stops it betting on people” – has been shared down the ages. Talk to top riders in any discipline and they’ll often say that horses which are challenging as youngsters often become their brightest stars. For instance, Oliver Townend says that his 2017 Burghley winner, Ballaghmor Class, was so sharp as a youngster that he had every member of his team on the floor at some stage.

Guess what? Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, the biographer and philosopher Plutarch (AD 46 – AD 120, if you’re interested) proclaimed that “The wildest colts make the best horses.”

So, whom and what will riders be quoting two centuries from now? We have to assume that horses and riders will still be forging partnerships, because the alternative is so depressing.

I hope George Morris stands the test of time, even if dressage trainers of the future are telling their pupils to fire their lasers, or whatever.

And if you have any inspirational quotes, do share them.

Annie’s horses have a well-deserved break

Well I haven’t ridden now for about 5 weeks as I decided to give all the horses a break after a busy season.  All shoes have been removed and they are out 24/7 in the fields finishing up the last of the season’s grass before winter arrives. 

This is the time for all those jobs that you simply don’t have time for when the horses are in work.  This includes, to my delight, a revamping and extending of my tiny tack room.  Luckily just before the Europeans I went through all my equipment, sorting and dusting off the thick black cobwebs that seem to congregate in dark, hidden corners.  Now that the extension has been completed I am just waiting for the husband to put up some more hooks and shelves for me and to run the electricity in for my kettle and music.  I may even have the luxury of having an old washing machine plumbed in somewhere to save my poor household one from overuse and the dreaded horse hair!

The horses are very much in a state of ‘au natural’; their manes are wild and muddy, especially Dilmun’s, their tails keep gathering twigs and leaves and they are liberally coated in mud.  Dilmun, especially, has made it his mission to cover every available body part in thick, dark mud but even this doesn’t hide his ever-growing grass belly.  I think I will have some work to do before training recommences and the winter routine begins.

I must confess I felt a little pang of regret that I did not go to the Red Dragon ride this year as it is the last major ride of the endurance season in this country.  This year saw the hosting of the Endurance GB National Championships with the introduction of three other layers of Championships, at novice, open and advanced.  I understand, however, that the weather was dire on the Saturday and the going consequently deep and slippery on the Sunday so a true test of endurance.

I am looking forward to next week when Wizard and Chiara have their shoes put back on and work recommences.  The ancient Wizard will start his winter regime of light hacking and maybe a little dressage again (if he behaves!).  I feel it is important for him to do light work over the colder, damper months now that he is getting on a bit just to keep the old joints free and supple.  Ideally, he would live out all the time in the winter but he, unlike the other three, actually prefers to come in at night in the winter and be cuddled up in his stable.  To help keep him supple he has ExtraFlex HA with Rosehips daily and a little Opti Muscle as he has experienced some muscle tightness in the past.

Dilmun, much against his wishes, will come in at night too as he gets sensitive skin in the wet and muddy conditions of winter but generally it is easy enough to manage with a 50/50 in/out regime.  He, too, benefits from ExtraFlex as well as his Gastric Comfort to prevent the return of gastric issues which he is rather prone to.

Fantom and Chiara are much happier with 24/7 access to the field and they will share the largest field with a good field shelter over the winter.  Chiara will come into work too after her holiday and I plan to work on her schooling with regard to rhythm and balance especially in canter.  She also needs to experience more natural and manmade hazards so we will be out and about.

Already both the FEI and Endurance GB calendars for next year are filling up with events.  Plans are now starting to be formed for all the horses.  My main focus next year will be on Chiara’s progression to, hopefully, the elusive 3* 160kms qualification with a view to the Europeans in 2019.  I would like Fantom to do another 3* too and, without selection pressure, be as competitive as possible, now this would be nice if it could be combined with the national championships…

Horses moving home

According to a 2016 survey, moving home is in the top five most stressful “life events” – and that’s just for people.

Imagine what it’s like for a horse. One day, he may be in a place and with people he’s come to know. The next, everything’s different: new environment, new people, new horses.

Inevitably, most horses change homes during their lifetimes. But do we put enough thought into making the process as painless as possible? And can you also go too far and create problems because you’re trying too hard?

A dealer friend who specialises in riding club all-rounders advises customers to get their new horse home and get on with it. She tempers that with a few warnings: lunge the horse before you get on him for the first time; ride in an enclosed arena, if possible, and get the horse listening to you without putting him under pressure; and finally, don’t stuff him full of hard feed from day one.

She reckons that the owners who ring up claiming that the nice all-rounder she sold them has turned into a fire-breathing monster have inevitably ignored her advice to feed nothing but forage and a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement for a few days. Instead, they give the horse a week “to settle down” while feeding for the work they aim or simply imagine they’ll do, not appreciating that they might as well just light the blue touch paper and stand back.

It’s easy to anthropomorphise, but I love the analogy someone gave me many years ago when I was anxious about how an unbroken three-year-old I’d bought from his breeder would settle. He had been with the same group of youngsters from birth, so how would he adapt?

This wise woman told me to remember how it felt to move from a primary school to a much bigger one. It was strange, and sometimes a bit scary, but there were reliable people in charge and you soon made new friends and adapted to a new environment and routine.

As a new owner, you have to be that reliable person in charge. Your horse will settle, even if some things are more challenging than others.

Just as country kids can find cities overwhelming, and city kids can take time to adapt to a country environment, horses have to adapt. In my part of the world, we know it takes time for any equine which has been in a busy, built-up area to adapt to our wide, open spaces.

It can take up to a year for them to get used to our particular challenges, which include hares taking off from under hooves, field irrigators rotating and spraying you just as you ride past, and herons lurking in drainage dykes to lumber into the air at the wrong moment.

Give him time, keep him thinking and lay off the rocket fuel. And if you’re building a relationship with a new horse and have tips to share, we’d love to hear them.

The perfect end to a great season

The event season has now come to an end and what a year it has been. The highlight definitely has to be winning the U25 National Championships at Bramham, other memorable moments

Collien P 2 enjoying the mud and relaxing in her field.

including making my Nations Cup debut earlier in the year at Houghton International. Although the horses don’t have long term holidays they will have some time off in the field to reflect and regroup both mentally and physically ahead of their winter training.

 

 

 

 

Collien P 2 is now qualified for the 4* and will hopefully head to Badminton next year which is all rather exciting. Although it is still a long way away, things will come around quickly after Christmas so she will have to be super fit and ready for action come the start of the

Livingstone at Little Downham.

season next March. She was super at Blenheim, finishing up 6th in our first Senior CCI3* together. By far our best test together for a 39 which was good enough for 2nd after the first day of dressage. It was a shame that so many of the lower scores came on the afternoon of the second day but unfortunately these things happen! We were early to go XC on Saturday morning so I didn’t have chance to watch any go before me, but I stuck to my plan and we sailed round just 5 seconds over the optimum time. She was a little strong and I felt like I wasted time in the first few minutes setting up for fences. Nevertheless, the cross country caused its fair share of problems and we moved up a place to 5th overnight. She

Elstar flying at litte Downham.

jumped super on Sunday afternoon, just having one rail down at the first part of the influential treble. She has improved massively over the course of this season and we are all very excited about her future!

 

Livingstone finished off his season with a win in the competitive OI section at Little Downham, on what might have been our last run together. He hasn’t taken to 3* as well as we’d hoped and we feel he may be better suited with a Junior or Young Rider to go and

Will with his number one fan, his Mum!

win some more medals. Elstar picked up a couple of smart placings in her last two events and is starting to become a bit more established at Intermediate level now. She is a big horse at 17.1hh and has taken a long time to catch up physically, having only started eventing as a 6-year-old. We still have very high hopes of her and we will aim for her Blenheim 8/9 year olds next year.

 

 

We will now have some quieter time on the yard; doing some cleaning and sorting out the winter rugs. We will get the babies out to some local hunter trials before having a holiday in preparation for the start of their eventing careers next year!

Are you a high-tech horse owner?

Are you a high-tech horse owner? Or does the thought of apps and data analysis send you running for cover?

There are opportunities out there in technoland that we should all appreciate. Gait analysis has been a vital tool for our Olympic equine athletes as well as “ordinary” riders who want the best for and from their horses.

I spent a fascinating day watching a combined gait analysis and saddle-fitting clinic. Sticky markers were applied to a horse’s joints and a camera 25 times faster than the human eye measured his gaits and identified any deviations, such as one hindlimb flexing less than its partner.

Rider analysis, using a special jacket and the same cameras, was equally absorbing. No rider is symmetrical, and it cheered me up no end to learn that I have the same problem/bad habit as a top Olympic rider – but learning to correct the problem and remember how it feels for you and your horse when you get it right is a great motivation.

When gait analysis was combined with saddle fitting, you could see how a slight tweak could make a big difference. It also showed that a “favourite” saddle might not be doing a horse or rider any favours.

You may also see benefits from a headcollar that is safe to leave on a horse overnight and which monitors his vital signs, adapting to his normal patterns and sending an alert if these change beyond an acceptable level. It was invented by an owner whose horse died from colic; even if someone lives on site, there are occasions when signs of distress might not be spotted until it’s too late.

There are apps galore for your mobile phone, from ones which track your hacking route to some I can’t appreciate. For instance, I won’t be asking Santa for headphones which fit inside an ear bonnet and play music from my mobile playlist into my horse’s ears. In case you’re wondering, I did check that this information wasn’t released on 1 April.

The idea is that it distracts a nervous horse, but how do you know you’re not distressing him further? And I don’t just mean inflicting a dedicated Abba playlist.

Some high-tech applications are just the same old things we’ve always done, in a different format. I know when the vet and farrier are due and when I need to arrange worm egg counts, because I have these quaint-old fashioned things called a calendar and a diary. I can also set my phone to remind me, should I need to, so I don’t need to pay for a special horse owner’s app.

As an oldie who had to learn about technology rather than grow up with it, I’ve learned that it’s as good as the people who develop and apply it. The brilliant saddle fitter who worked with gait analysis combined his skills with the information it provided and the data was recorded and analysed by someone who is also a rider and trainer.

Technology can’t work alone, but in the right hands, it’s awesome. It can’t tell you how to ride, worm and feed your horse, but it can provide information that helps you make decisions and corrections.

At the end of the day, the responsibility rests with you. And if you have a favourite app – or even if you’re a total technophobe – we’d love to hear from you.