Monthly Archives: October 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.

The honourable all-rounder

Are you and your horse all-rounders – and proud of it? Or do you confess, in an embarrassed sort of way, that you “just do a bit of everything”?

Riders are so eager to specialise that being an all-rounder has acquired a tinge of being second-best. I’ve even heard it used in a derogatory way, along the lines of the old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

While it’s great that young riders can develop a passion for a discipline, they and their parents should remember that pyramids are built on broad bases. If you don’t have a good grounding in all-round horsemanship and riding, you won’t make it as a dressage, showing or showjumping star.

I don’t mean that youngsters who show a natural talent shouldn’t be nurtured. This summer, I watched a friend’s ten-year-old with a natural eye for a stride produce a fabulous flowing showjumping round over a tricky course. She dreams of being a professional showjumper and maybe, one day, she’ll achieve that.

The thing is, she was at Pony Club camp. That week, she and her pony had flatwork lessons, enjoyed gymkhana practice – where she cheerfully admitted she was “rubbish” – and tackled a small cross-country course.

Another friend revels in new challenges. Her latest venture has been to try barrel racing on her ex-showjumper, and they ended up in the rosettes – just as they do when competing in dressage and showjumping.

Surely it isn’t a coincidence that horses and ponies who have varied lifestyles seem to be the happiest, or that many riders who are at the top of their game insist on their horses having time out from their specialities to go hacking, work over poles and so on.

And where do you see so many examples of horses with their ears pricked, enjoying every moment? You’ve guessed: eventing. There will always be riders who equate the dressage phase to swimming with sharks, or wince at the thought of the showjumping poles clattering down, but they still love the challenge of this ultimate test of all-round ability.

A horse who can do everything at riding club or Pony Club level is a joy and a treasure. A rider who can do the same has every right to be proud.

So don’t put yourself down or let anyone assume that an all-rounder is inferior to a specialist. Tell yourself – and everyone else – that one-trick ponies aren’t necessarily the best.