Monthly Archives: March 2017

Keeping traditions in the right place.

We horsey folk live in a funny old world, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Sometimes, it seems like an alternative universe.

While everyone else has been pounding keyboards over Brexit, sections of the horse world have been getting hot under the collar over dressage riders wearing brightly coloured boots and show horses sporting the wrong browbands. The latter might sound like a Wallace and Gromit film, but feelings run high.

Adult side-saddle riders usually wear silk hats or bowlers when showing. Image: Carolyn Henderson.

It all comes down to tradition. In some cases, there are acceptable reasons behind mysterious rules – for instance, chunky show cobs wearing brightly coloured, ribbon-bedecked browbands look like elephants wearing tutus, whilst plain leather bridles with broad nosebands and browbands complement their workmanlike looks.

I’ve been writing about horses long enough to remember the days when wearing the wrong boots in the show ring was the equivalent to riding in your PJs. I’ve passed on professional show riders’ tips about having garter straps sewn to the tops of your boots and counting the number of plaits your horse should sport.

For the record, garter straps go back to the days when breeches were made from non-stretch fabric. They were designed to help keep your boots up, and your breeches legs down.

And while we’re playing Trivial Pursuit, tradition dictates that there should be an odd number of plaits down the horse’s neck, plus one for the forelock. Perfectionists always aimed for nine, but although gurus now advise putting in as many plaits as suit your horse’s conformation, the style police won’t arrest you if you have the “wrong” number.

As new enthusiasts from non-horsey background entered the equestrian world, many traditions were questioned or ignored. Dressage riders started it with blinged-up browbands, and when Charlotte Dujardin admitted that she “loved a bit of bling” the rest of us felt no guilt about releasing our inner divas.

Some traditions were made to be broken, and I’m glad they’ve gone. After dandy brushes at dawn on social media pages, showing riders accepted that in most cases, they had to wear hats with three-point safety harnesses.

Charlotte Dujardin chooses a safety hat. Image: Kit Houghton.

Common sense prevails in dressage and eventing, too. Even riders who are permitted to wear top hats often choose to wear stylish safety helmets instead. That includes the lovely Charlotte Dujardin, who sets trends as well as breaks records.

I wouldn’t wear bright blue boots in the dressage arena, but I can’t find a sensible reason why anyone who wants to should be permitted from doing so. The 2017 British Dressage members’ handbook makes no stipulation on the colour of riders’ boots, and says: “As long as the core dress rules are adhered to, embellishments and additions to any item of dress are permitted as long as they do not pose a welfare risk to the horse.”

So, is tradition best consigned to the dustbin? Not always.

At one time, competitors were always polite to judges and officials, even if they went home and moaned about people with failing eyesight. Private moans stayed within a small circle because that, of course, was before social (or anti-social) media had been invented and people didn’t need reminding to engage their brains before they engaged their keyboard fingers.

Some traditions are rooted in safety. Riding left hand to left hand when two or more horses are in a school avoids accidents, as does jumping practice fences only from the direction where the red marker is on your right. Yet some riders either don’t know, or don’t care.

Traditional values of courtesy and common sense? Yes please.

Tradition for its own sake? It’s up to the individual. But whatever side of the fence you choose, please be kind to each other.

Racing into a new future.

There was plenty to set racing fans’ hearts fluttering at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. But for me, the most emotional moment wasn’t seeing Sizing John power home to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Instead, it was the sight of eight wonderful ex-racehorses being paraded by the riders who have taken them on to new careers. All had more than earned their keep on the racecourse and some –  like Denman – had become household names.

However, it wasn’t their racing lives we were celebrating. It was the fact that they and ex-racehorses we’ve probably never heard of thrive after they have retired from their first job, thanks to dedicated owners and registered charity Retraining of Racehorses.

At one time, many ex-racehorses had no future. Then RoR was formed, a charity which has done so much to boost the profile of ex-racehorses. It gives help and advice to those thinking of taking on one of these horses and offers prestigious competition series especially for them.

Now, some riders look for ex-racehorses specifically to take part in these competitions. That’s great, but – as with any breed or type – these horses aren’t for everyone. Re-training them takes skill and you need to understand the lives they’ve been used to as you introduce them to their new ones.

Horses are, of course, individuals. I admit that many years ago, before RoR existed, I did something I would never dream of doing now.

I bought a little three-year-old out of a Flat racing yard in Newmarket because a friend knew the trainer and said she deserved a chance. We turned her straight into a field with my other horse, who immediately fell in love with her, and couldn’t understand why she grazed a perfect 15-metre circle.

Then we realised that for the past two years, she’d only been allowed to graze in a round pen. After three days, she got braver and seeing her canter around the field for the first time was wonderful.

Four years later, after a successful showing career, she broke a hock in the field and had to be put down. I never had another ex-racehorse because I didn’t think I’d strike gold twice, but I’ve
met and heard of so many lovely ones since then – including ones belonging to Feedmark customers such as Kathy Boothman, who is a member of the RoR Musical Ride on her stunning 16.3hh ex-racehorse Middlebrook.

Don’t take on an ex-racehorse on a whim, but if you’ve thought it through – and have read all the advice and information on – you could be starting a rewarding journey. There are ex-racehorses excelling in all fields, from hacks to competition animals, and trainers who can help you build a bond with your new partner.

Temperament is everything, and that applies to you as well as to the horse. Patience and calm persistence always pays dividends, but if you know you have them, you could be on to a winner.

Victory for Gorgeous George!

Good evening!

I hope you all hugely enjoyed watching the Cheltenham Festival, what a feast for the eyes it proved to be! I very unfortunately didn’t manage to get my tips up last week, but naturally knew that Buveur D’Air, Special Tiara, Nichols Canyon and Sizing John were the way forward! There is nothing more endlessly thrilling than watching those wonderful battles up that hill, and it was fantastic to see our owner JP McManus have such a brilliant week with his horses, who were in sparkling form. Giant Redwood was particularly awestruck by the performance of Premier Bond, who shares his MPR colours, who defied his inexperience to run a fantastic third in the Kim Muir and looks a real horse to watch out for in the future – Giant now has his game face on and is determined to get to the Festival next year! He has a long way to go, but at this stage (not yet run due to waiting for decent ground) the dream is still very much alive!
Whilst the cheers were ringing around Cheltenham, our own team were making a hell of a noise up at Newcastle racecourse on Wednesday night, where Percy (Prancing Oscar) (left) and George (Epeius) did well not to break the lorry under their combined weight on the way there! First up was Percy, one of the most handsome (according to the fillies) colts around, who was going for his second start in a mile maiden. Looking at the runners, we would have been very happy with 3rd or 4th, as he is a big clown who is still growing into himself, so we were absolutely over the moon with him when he ran on well into 2nd. Though well beaten by an experienced winner, the rest of the field was well strung out behind him and the experience will have done him loads of good. Hopefully, he is a horse who will have a nice future for us and his MPR owners, though I am ordering a DNA test as he is supposedly by sprint sire of forward two year old’s Sir Prancealot, yet a step up in trip may be in order for this quite backwards three year old.

The last race of the day saw Gorgeous George (right) stepping up to the plate, and he looked as typically stunning as ever. We have worked on him hard over the winter after all his near misses last year, finding lots of little niggles that may have been holding him back, so we were hopeful of a good run as we now felt we were on top of them. He nearly had Graham Lee over his head on the way to the  start, which we took as a good sign! He travelled nicely throughout the 6 furlong sprint, and a furlong out I was worrying we might be filling 2nd or 3rd spot yet again! Luckily, Graham is the master of his trade and knew all was well, unleashing him in the last half furlong to run out a cosy winner by 1/2 length. I cannot tell you how much this victory meant to us all – he is a horse that Ben has always liked and it has been quite frustrating for us and his owners Trojan Horse so far, with all of us scratching our heads a little as to how he hadn’t won yet. However, I must thank Lynn and Gary for their faith and patience with us, and we were over the moon to be able to provide them with a first winner in their colours. Hopefully, George has a bit more to offer this season and will keep us all crying for the right reasons!

With any luck Newcastle will continue to be a happy hunting ground for us as we head back there on Friday night, possibly with Loopy (Rey Loopy) and Percy in tow. Loopy is very fresh and well at home, and we are hopeful he will put in a nice show in the 7 furlong handicap, having hopefully learned plenty from his last experience there when he finished a green 4th a couple of weeks ago, only just getting rolling at the end. Percy may go for a mile maiden, but we will monitor how he is this week, though he was giving his rider plenty of jip this morning so looks fresh and well after his run!

Saturday may see our newest arrival, Cup Final, heading to Kelso. We were delighted to be sent this really classy horse, who runs in the JP colours, and he has settled in nicely at home. We don’t know an awful lot about him yet, other than he finds the work easy, so will be looking forward to learning a bit more at the weekend. Door (The Doorman) will be joining him, and hopefully we will do a George and change the seconds into a first, as will Hawk (Hawkhurst), who we hope is steadily improving.

We were really sad this week to say goodbye to Nicola, who has been a hugely important part of the team here for the last year or so. Unfortunately, we were rather keeping her from her family, with racing hours and young children not being very compatible, so it was with a huge amount of reluctance we agreed to let her return to them! At least George, who she has always looked after and cherished, rewarded her with a win before she left, and I am sure she will still be up to visit plenty! We had a good joint leaving do/celebrating George party on Saturday night, and the whole team definitely enjoyed the evening, though possibly the Sunday morning less so! Silly me forgot the camera, but here is a gratuitous photo of the whole team on parade (left), ironically excluding Nicola to whom I apologise! The horses have someone new to get used to now, as we were very pleased to welcome Chris to the yard a couple of weeks ago, and he is already proving a great asset.

Until next time






In praise of happy hackers!

Riders who choose not to compete are often looked on as inferior to those who do, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Even worse, they often look on themselves as second class citizens of the horse world.

We’ve all heard it: “I’m just a happy hacker.” Maybe you even say it, with the accepted tone of self-disparagement.

Please – just stop it. There’s no reason why riders who hack can’t be just as competent as those whose weekend isn’t complete unless they’ve added to their tally of rosettes. Nor are their horses necessarily less well-schooled.

Many riders, like me, keep a foot in both camps by mixing hacking and competing. In one week, my riding buddy and I have turned a corner to meet deer crossing the track just in front of us; ridden past a field of pigs who rushed at us, squealing, because they thought we were bringing breakfast; and met a convoy of tractors and trailers.

I live in what’s often called great hacking country. We’re lucky in that we don’t encounter much traffic, but vehicles we do meet are usually large, noisy and sometimes driven by people who seem blind to high-vis clothing and either don’t know or don’t care about slowing down when passing horses.

While I admire the finesse of top dressage riders, the athleticism of their showjumping counterparts and the boldness of those who power around big cross-country courses – they know what’s coming. They’ve learned the test, walked the course and (hopefully) know how their horses are going to react.

Out hacking, you must be ready for anything and everything. And that’s where some dedicated competitors miss a trick.

Horses like a change of scene, just as we do. And as show producer Allister Hood reminded participants in his brilliant clinic for the British Skewbald and Piebald Association recently, you can school on a hack as well as in an arena. Get an active walk, practise transitions, work on straightness…the list is endless.

After all, we school to help make our horses safer and more pleasurable to ride. Hacking helps and reinforces that: I know one of my horses can perform decent lengthened strides, because the ones he showed going past the pigs would have earned us at least an 8 in a dressage test.

It works both ways, because schooling can help hacking. We proved that on our Christmas Day hack, when a local farmer fastened an inflatable Santa to his gate. If it hadn’t been for our nifty bit of shoulder-in, we’d never have got past.

Some riders don’t have access to safe hacking and some riding schools can no longer take pupils off the premises. But if you can get your horse out in the open, even if you have to box up to a nearby bridleway, it’s worth the effort.

Please be a happy hacker, in the literal sense. Just don’t apologise for it.

The First Outing of the Endurance Season 2017.

The horses’ work is continuing to be full on with Dilmun and Fantom having now completed four weeks’ steady walking work building up to 1.5 hours per day, Chiara alternating between schooling, lunging and groundwork sessions and faster training sessions and Wizard ticking over being ridden approximately three times a week.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel as ‘the boys’ move into the next phase.  They are still being exercised by riding and leading for the most part but now I will introduce short spells of trot work and mini schooling sessions.  It is, however, important to not trot for more than five minutes on the road in a session to avoid unnecessary and unproductive concussion but rather to introduce the trotting on more giving surfaces.

Chiara’s schooling in walk and trot, transitions, leg yielding and turns on and around the forehand appears to have improved immensely and is almost established.  Reining back on command is also coming on well and should be good enough to try on gate opening which, after all, is the main reason for teaching it.  Longer training sessions are, however, still a little problematical as once Chi has been somewhere she reckons she knows it and the next time she needs to go as fast as possible, throwing caution to the wind.  There is not an infinite amount of variety in our routes so some kind of compromise must be reached.

The first outing of the endurance season was all for Wizard; the much-promised pleasure ride around the beautiful Colquite estate and along the Camel trail.  This was only about half an hour away as we are so lucky in Cornwall to have such a variety of different types of ride.  This one is mostly woodland, tracks and a little farmland.  Although at this time of year it was pretty muddy, Wizard didn’t mind this one bit and tackled the whole thing with his customary enthusiasm.  I hope I will be able to get him to another one later in the year but with the packed programme involving the other three, I can’t promise him that.

To do my bit to assist my horses by making sure I am riding straight and in balance, I booked myself a session on a mechanical horse with a lesson by Felicity Mann BHSI who also practices the Alexander Technique.  Although I had an hour and a half drive to Felicity’s immaculate yard, it was well worth it with slight but important adjustments being made to my position whilst riding ‘Eric’ the mechanical horse, in all three paces.  I now feel much more confident of my ability to remain in a central position and to make any small adjustments needed to ensure that I am as ‘in tune’ with the horses as possible.

A couple of weeks ago we had our first International squad session.  This was a get together without the horses where we listened to our Chef and the Management Team and gleaned much information on training methods, prohibited substances, for both horse and humans; shoeing and physio as well as exercises to improve rider fitness.

All four of my horses look so well at the moment and are clearly feeling extremely full of joie de vivre.  Thanks in part must go to Feedmark for the wonderful supplements.  Dilmun and Chiara are on Hardy Hoof as they are prone to soft feet, especially with all the mud at the moment.  Their feet are now rock hard and they seem able to just float over the stony tracks much of their work is done on.  I am thinking that maybe Fantom, although usually with iron hard hooves, could probably do with some as the mud has definitely made his soles softer and his frogs more prone to thrush.  Dilmun and Wizard, as they spend a lot of time inside, have Clarity to help keep their airways clear and this is working so well for them, not a cough or sniffle between them.

This weekend Fantom and I are off to our first squad assessment; all the way to Milton Keynes.  Fingers crossed everything goes well!

Horsing around is good for you!

New research from Japan shows that riding improves children’s ability to learn, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. This reinforces something Feedmark customers will take for granted – that horses are good for us.

Scientists at Tokyo University of Agriculture have found that riding activates the sympathetic nervous system, so improving learning. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean an hour’s schooling will help us acquire new skills, but it does prove that the time, money and love we devote to our horses is worthwhile.

It’s also the perfect comeback to the comments every horse owner will be familiar with. You know, the disbelief that we spend £65-plus every six weeks on shoes for a horse but wear our own until they fall to bits.


Then there’s the really annoying one; “You must be rich, because you’ve got a horse.” The best answer to that one is meant to be a joke:

Q What’s the best way to make a small fortune in the horse world?

A Start with a bigger one…

Most of us make sacrifices to keep our horses, even if we don’t begrudge them. However, the fact that horses pay back everything we give them – whatever our age, way of life or experience – is recognised by researchers and therapists.

A British Horse Society research project showed that recreational horse riding benefits physical and mental health. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed reported that riding boosted their happiness.

Chartered psychologist and horse owner Dr Dorothy Heffernan isn’t surprised. She points to two ways in which bonding with horses may help.

One is that it may stimulate production of the hormone oxytocin, sometimes known as the ‘cuddle hormone.’ The other is that it can help get us into the flow state, when we focus on interacting with our horse.

When oxytocin is released in our brains, we feel comforted, which is why stroking a dog or cat lowers blood pressure and pulse rate. Little research has been done looking at horses, but it’s logical to assume that the same benefits apply.

Ever had a bad day, felt too tired to ride, then got on your horse and felt much better for it?  That’s because exercise boosts levels of serotonin, a ‘feel good’ chemical in the brain that helps ward off depression. It can also improve fitness, stamina and flexibility and help in a weight loss programme.

There are also those magical moments when you feel that you’re on the same wavelength as your horse and that nothing else matters. This is what scientists mean when they talk about being in a “state of flow.” It might happen during a riding session, or it could be that you’re watching him graze or grooming him and it seems as if nothing else matters.

It’s good to know that science can prove what every horse lover knows. Time spent horsing around is precious, so make the most of it.


Are you fit for the job?

Everyone in the Feedmark team has been cheering sponsored rider Will Furlong after his latest achievement, writes Carolyn Henderson. Super-talented Will has just completed a top event – this time, without a horse.

Will finished the Brighton half-marathon and already has a full marathon in his sights. He’s proved that he’s fit for the job…and it’s making some of us feel rather guilty.

How many of you, like us, have been concentrating on getting your horses fit for Spring and conveniently forgetting about your own fitness? After all, riding and looking after horses is a fitness regime in itself, isn’t it?

Actually…no. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t work. Mucking out will help burn calories, but it won’t make you fit enough or flexible enough to be a help to your horse, unless you’re throwing in some clever moves as you shovel the you-know-what.

Nor can we hang on to the idea that riding automatically makes you fit to ride, although if you have perfect flexibility and core stability, you can look away now.

Still with me? That’s not surprising. If top competitors give so much dedication to their own fitness, we lesser mortals certainly need to.

With riding, as with any other sport, quality means as much as quantity. If you ride every day but lack balance and suppleness, you’re riding around the same vicious circle.

Practice makes perfect, but only if you’re practising in the right way. If you’re not, you’re repeating the same mistakes, which inevitably become more ingrained.

On a serious note, you owe it to yourself and your horse to be fit enough. If you’ve religiously built up his fitness and are looking forward to your first cross-country course or event – at any level – will your stamina, suppleness and reactions match his?

If they won’t, you’re putting yourself and him at risk. Just imagine you’re getting near the end of the course and also getting slightly off the pace. Maybe you’re a bit out of breath; maybe you aren’t quite as balanced as when you set off.

That’s when accidents happen, and horses and riders get hurt.

Ah, you might be saying. I don’t need to worry, because I only hack. Wrong! You still need to be fit to ride, because you and your horse need to be in balance.

So, what’s the answer? Basically, it’s finding strategies that will help you and which you also enjoy.

Running and swimming are great for building cardio-vascular fitness. They don’t float my boat, mainly because my knees creak and I’m scared of water. A brisk walk and short bursts of skipping with a rope are much more fun – or maybe you agree with my treadmill-addicted friend, who watches TV while she pounds the rubber highway.

If I had to choose just one activity, though, it would be Pilates. Thanks to a horse-owning friend who is also a qualified Pilates instructor, I’ve become hooked.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Pilates – and a beautifully designed saddle, which is another story –  I might not be riding at all. An involuntary dismount from a startled four-year-old which saw me damage a leg ligament and hurt my back nearly retired me to the spectator lines, but Pilates helped me get back to riding.

I hope you’re fit for anything this season. And if you have any tips for staying that way, we’d love to hear them – so do get in touch, either via  or through the Feedmark Facebook page.