Category Archives: Articles

Kicking the guilt trip

Hands up if you spend half your time enjoying your horse and the other half feeling guilty, writes Carolyn Henderson.

Maybe it’s because you seem to only see your other half/family in the gaps between getting home and rushing off to ride. As for non-horsey friends – well, you might see them on social media, but as for conversations in real life, forget it.

And how about the guilty certainty that you’re a second-rate owner? You don’t have time to take your tack apart and clean it every day and sometimes – shock, horror – you ride without brushing all the shavings out of your horse’s tail. Even worse, some days you can’t find time to ride at all.

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Here are some suggestions that I hope will make you feel better:

1.The fact that you feel guilty means you want the best for your horse/other half/family. If your life is so perfectly organised that you don’t suffer occasional twinges, you must be either Superwoman or Superman. Have you seen any riders wearing underwear over their breeches? Me neither.

2.Having a passion might make you a more interesting person, or easier to live with. In the interests of research, I asked my husband what he thought I’d be like to live with if I gave up horses.

He turned pale and said, “It would be awful.” Before I had time to feel hurt and even more guilty, he added that the fact that we had different interests meant we had plenty to talk about. (We have been married for a very long time and you have to work at these things.)

He also highlighted our unspoken deal that we do things together that take these interests into account. That means I’m due for another trek around an RSPB reserve; I suppose you can’t have everything.

3.More seriously, riding and looking after horses helps keep you sane, fit and active. The older you get, the more you appreciate that. If it wasn’t for a combination of pushing wheelbarrows and Pilates, I reckon I’d be living at half the pace.

4.There are people who dismantle and clean their tack every day and whose horses are always impeccably turned out, with never a hair out of place. The first ones are called grooms and the second are professional riders, owners with grooms or owners who keep their horses on full livery.

I’ll stick to making sure bits are rinsed off and there is nothing on my tack that could irritate a horse before I ride, and cleaning it thoroughly once a week. If I occasionally leave an odd shavings flake in a tail, I can’t see when I’m in the saddle, so who cares?

5.Above all, remember that no one’s perfect. If you do your best, your family and friends still recognise you and your significant other still loves you, you’re doing well.

In praise of schoolmasters

Schoolmasters (and mistresses) are worth their weight in gold – as long as you get the real deal, writes Carolyn Henderson.

The Mum who posted online looking for a jumping pony schoolmaster doesn’t stand a chance. She wanted a “kick, point and shoot” pony that was guaranteed to take her daughter around 85cm courses.

She’ll probably find one, but that pony won’t be a schoolmaster. He’ll be a robot, and her daughter will learn very little from riding him.

The true schoolmaster is the horse or pony who knows its job inside out and will jump confidently/perform that perfect lateral movement if the rider presses the right buttons. If the rider asks the right questions, the horse will give the right answers; if the rider gets it wrong, the horse will set his own agenda.

The best schoolmasters I’ve known seemed to have a sense of humour. I know that’s anthropomorphising, but I can’t find any other way of describing it.

One was a beautifully schooled gelding who would turn and stay perfectly in balance from subtle weight aids. If you got it wrong and used too much inside rein, he would put himself in shoulder-in and stay there.

When you realised what you were doing and made a correction, he’d float across the school. You could imagine the thought bubble floating above his ears: “At last! I thought she’d never get it.”

The other was a former advanced event horse who, at the age of 18, still enjoyed showjumping. His proviso was that the rider had to establish a canter rhythm and stick to it; the moment you tried to hook back or ride for a long one, he put the brakes on.

It was a salutary lesson, because those brakes could lock on in an instant. It got the message across to riders who couldn’t help themselves trying to adjust their horse’s stride, no matter how many times their trainer told them that their job was to get the horse to the fence in a good rhythm and the horse’s job was to jump it. I know – I was one of them.

Most horses are in their teens by the time they reach schoolmaster status. They’re hard to find and they need and deserve every care we can give them. The best trainers protect their schoolmasters as fiercely as they protect their family, and heaven help you if you blame the horse for your mistakes.

So what if a schoolmaster has a few lumps and bumps? So what if he comes out a bit stiffer through his joints than he used to and needs nutritional support, careful warming up and so on?

Give him all he needs, and if that includes regular massage treatments, appropriate manipulation and downright mollycoddling, good for you. It isn’t just that horse who will benefit – it’s every horse you ride through the rest of your life, thanks to what the schoolmaster has taught you.

Holidays and horses

Yippee! It’s holiday time, writes Carolyn Henderson. No work, no pressure and – because there’s a downside to everything – no horses.

Here’s how you know that you’re a certified horse addict:

  1. Before you started looking at holiday destinations, you negotiated the length of your stay with your nearest and dearest/travelling companions. A week? Ideal, you can bear to be parted from your four-legged(s) for that long. Ten days? Bearable. A fortnight? Now you’re on the limit.
  2. Going on a dream riding holiday? Then ignore the above. The chance of riding great horses in fantastic surroundings is enough to tempt anyone. The chance of riding your own horse in fantastic surroundings is just as – or even more – tempting. Getting away from it all does wonders for your relationships. All of them.
  3. You’re exhausted by the time you set out because there’s been so much to sort out. Even when you know your horse will be getting the best of care, you keep remembering things his holiday host needs to know. As for the packing…
  4. Ah, packing. Apart from the obvious things, like his passport, headcollar and any medication or feed supplements, there are the extras. You never know what the weather is going to do and while you might be able to survive two weeks with the contents of a teeny suitcase, he needs to be equipped for heat, flies, rain, gale force winds, earthquakes. OK, let’s stop there.
  5. Your eyes are still red when you head to the airport, because you’ve written THAT email to your vet. The one that says you’ve given the carer permission to call said vet if there are any problems and to authorise any action the vet deems necessary. Horrid, but it gives everyone peace of mind.
  6. The first time your phone pings with a text from your horse’s carer, your heart rate gallops faster than Frankel. Fortunately, it’s just your horse, telling you he’s having a lovely time chilling in the field and attaching a picture to prove it.
  7. You’re on the way to your holiday base and you pass horses grazing in a field. If you’re driving, you stop to look. If your other half is driving, you know he/she is the one for you because they stop so you can look.
  8. You either a) gain a Brownie point because you remembered to match your white bits to your rider’s tan with the spray or bottled equivalent before you left or b) spend your first evening applying fake tan lotion.
  9. Your fingernails grow at a remarkable rate. And whoever new that the tips were naturally white?
  10. Alternatively, you’re feeling smug because you’re an equestrian goddess with beautifully moisturised, glowing skin – no join lines – and perfect nails. These women do exist: it’s why I spend ages talking to them at social events, wonder why they’re giving me funny looks and realise I know them really well. You look different with riding hats on, honestly.
  11. That collection of holiday novels has at least one which features horses in the story line. If not, download a sneaky Zara Stoneley or Fiona Walker – the horses are incidental characters, so you needn’t feel guilty.
  12. You have a fabulous time and genuinely feel sorry that your holiday is coming to an end. But on the last day, you secretly dance a little jig because it’s only one sleep until you see your horse again.
  13. You’ve read and recognised all the above – but think I’ve missed something out. Do tell us…

Let’s hear it for the girls…

They say that you should tell a gelding, ask a mare and discuss it with a stallion, writes Carolyn Henderson. But as anyone who’s benefited from the horse equivalent of girlpower will appreciate, a good mare will give you everything she’s got.

Why are so many riders prejudiced against them? If a stallion makes his opinion clear, it’s accepted far more readily than if a mare tests a rider’s ability, yet both are ‘entires’ who demand equal tact.

Of course, geldings should also be treated with tact. But how many times have you heard the words ‘stroppy mare’ being used as an insult? And though it’s a reverse compliment, how many riders almost apologise for their lovely horses by insisting that they’re ‘not at all marish’?

The fight against prejudice goes back a long way. In 1837, Charles James Apperley, aka the author Nimrod, commented that the prejudice against mares as suitable hunters was “much to be lamented” and meant they were more likely to fall into the hands of those such as farmers, who would not be able to make the most of their ability. Apologies to any farmers…

Horses are individuals and there are probably as many geldings with oversized personalities as there are challenging mares.  However, riders with a special affinity for mares say that whilst a good gelding will often work for you, a good mare will work with you.

There are many more successful geldings than mares competing, but it would be interesting to know how much of that is due to rider prejudice. Here’s a thought – if event rider Lucinda Fredericks hadn’t taken on the double whammy of a little chestnut mare called Headley Britannia, would she have won all three Rolex Grand Slam events? Lucinda is super-talented on any horse, but on Brit, she was unbeatable.

There might be times when mares are ruled by their hormones, but owners should be able to cope with this via good management and nutritional support, a sensitive approach and, if necessary, veterinary advice. Don’t just take my word for it: listen to the realistic assessment of event rider Will Furlong, who is sponsored by Feedmark.

“Mares are great when they are on side, not so good when they aren’t,” says Will. “The brain and temperament are the most important thing for me in a mare. When you find one like that, she will try harder and dig deeper than any gelding will.

“You have to treat each individual horse differently. What works for one horse might not work for another. In general, you have to be a bit more sympathetic with mares, but I think there is a traditional and unfair image of all mares being horrible to deal with and difficult to ride.”

So, let’s hear it for the girls. And if you’ve got a great mare, we’d love to hear about her.

“It’s worth spending more time on the ground with them to develop some more trust, something I do with all my horses. I don’t necessarily go out looking for mares but I think that in general, people should be more accepting of them.”

Go native

Are you an adult rider tempted by the adverts featuring native ponies for sale? If so, adjust your brain before you buy, writes Carolyn Henderson.

A friend who events her 14.1hh Connemara – and regularly beats the big boys and girls –  says the first thing to decide is whether you think like a pony, or think like a horse. It all comes down to the old joke about how many equines it takes to change a light bulb:

 

Warmblood – “Light bulb? What’s a light bulb?”

Thoroughbred – “The light bulb’s gone! How terrifying!”

Show hack  – “How dare you ask me to change a light bulb?”

Show pony – “Lights? Where? Just make sure you get my good side.”

Native pony – “Why bother? I’m not afraid of the dark – and if the bulb’s gone, you can’t see me raiding the feed bin.”

 

Before anyone points out that they have a warmblood which deserves the equine equivalent of a PhD or a Thoroughbred which would win an award for bravery, it’s a joke. Apart from the bit about the native pony…

Let’s say you’ve bought a fabulous Connemara with fabulous paces, so you decide to do some serious schooling in preparation for a dressage competition. Everything goes well on day one, but on day two, you take him into an arena and it feels as if the handbrake’s on at every stride.

Lesson one: With a warmblood, you might have to remind him of everything he’s supposed to know before moving on to a new concept. With a native pony, you’ll probably need a constant stream of new concepts, because once you’ve trotted three circles, he’s bored.

In fact, when it comes to flatwork schooling, you might have to forget that arenas exist. Pick markers out hacking and ask for transitions, or practise lateral work on a bridlepath or in an open field, and you’ll usually get a great response.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re fooling him by schooling on a hack. You can’t fool a native – but you can negotiate. If you keep him interested, he’ll co-operate. As going to parties is interesting, you should also find that the work you do on a hack can translate to a decent test away from home.

You can also negotiate by combining flatwork schooling with jumping. In pony terms, lengthened strides over trotting poles have much more value and canter circles at one end of the school are worth the effort when followed by a jump down the long side.

Going native can be challenging. Instead of shopping for sparkly browbands, you’ll be looking for grazing muzzles and getting out your weigh tape every fortnight, because these ponies can turn into balloons on four legs with remarkable speed and remarkably little grass.

You may also have to put up with unenlightened remarks from people who think ponies are just for children. Grit your teeth, smile, and tell them it’s horses for courses, and that you’re in good company.

If a 13.2hh Fell pony is good enough for Her Majesty The Queen, it’s good enough for me. It’s also one hell of a lot of fun.

 

Searching out the science

Are you blinded by science, or are you having the wool pulled over your eyes in the name of pseudo-science?

Reputable companies give good, free advice, writes Carolyn Henderson. While they’ll obviously give their own products as examples, they should be able to explain their recommendations in plain English.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mis-information out there. Some comes from well-meaning folk who think they’ve stumbled on a magic herb that will do everything bar raise the dead; the rest is down to claims that really shouldn’t be out there and before the days of social media, probably wouldn’t have surfaced.

There’s a fine line between clever but responsible marketing and exaggerated claims. But before you splash out on a bag of Wonderfeed or a bottle of Piaffe Better, make sure the claims are legal, decent and truthful.

In the UK, companies are not allowed to market veterinary products unless they have a marketing authorisation from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. That means non-veterinary products, including feed and supplements, can’t be ascribed veterinary properties. Those who break the rules face prosecution and the latest case, earlier this month, resulted in a £5,000 fine for the company concerned.

Nutraceuticals – products derived from food sources which have extra health benefits in addition to their basic nutritional value – have become part of modern horse management. We’ve all got our favourites, but if your horse has a problem, start by getting your vet’s advice.

If you’re a competitor, the buck stops with you on banned substances. It’s frighteningly easy for a horse to consume or absorb a banned substance and fail a subsequent dope test, as the recent case of the horse affected by an ingredient in his owner’s hair-thickening product proves.

The list of banned substances grows longer by the year and some riders believe the system can be unfair. However, as long as there are unscrupulous people, there will be rules designed to protect horses – and you can’t argue with that.

Our responsibility as owners is to make sure we buy feed and supplements from the safest sources we can find and feed them responsibly. Look for products which have been audited to meet the British Equestrian Trade Association’s NOPS (naturally occurring prohibited substances) code. Make sure that every horse has his own feed and water containers, and keep them scrupulously clean to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

Some companies also volunteer to join the Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) which requires them to adhere to stringent production procedures. These companies are regularly audited to retain their accreditation and use high quality, traceable ingredients, to meet legislation and safety standards.

If you’re confused, ask questions. If you’re competing and aren’t sure whether an ingredient is banned, check the FEI banned substances list at https://inside.fei.org/fei/cleansport/ad-h/prohibited-list and if necessary, ask your vet.

Be careful. If the blurb on a product or the claims on a social media page sound like science fiction, they might be just that.

Riding out the weather

Other nations reckon we Brits are obsessed by the weather, writes Carolyn Henderson. They could be right, but horse owners have a special take on it.

Long summer evenings? Some people might be dreaming of relaxing in the garden with an equally long, cool glass of something. But as a member of the Feedmark team points out, what’s important is that we can ride late in the evening without having to pile on layers of clothes or worry about getting everything done before it gets dark.

That presumes you haven’t already ridden at silly o’clock in the morning. When the temperature soars, 6a.m. hacks or schooling sessions set you up for the day, unless your horse or pony is susceptible to sweet itches and you need to avoid the midges.

Unfortunately, I’m a lark who is married to an owl and my owl gets grumpy about being woken up before he’s had his allocated hours of beauty sleep. Any tips on how to avoid a dawn chorus of grumbles will be gratefully received.

Another British characteristic is that whatever the weather, we’ll find something to moan about. The June Mediterranean heatwave was a novelty and there were smiles from those making hay while the sun shone, but then we got fed up with it. It was all #toohotforhorses and #toohotforjackets, although a few die-hard showing people dedicated to tradition insisted on staying buttoned up when judges suggested they remove them.

In my part of the world, the heavens suddenly opened and for the next 48 hours, we were studying instructions on how to build your own ark. The grass needed the rain, we assured ourselves – but couldn’t whatever deity controls the weather arrange for it to rain at night? Between 10pm and 5am would do nicely.

That rain soon turned to floods and had we built that ark, it would have been very handy for a trip to the Royal Norfolk Show. I take my hat off to the riders who gritted their teeth and turned in such spectacular performances – especially the showjumpers, who were rocking the  retro look  in what looked like transparent “pac-a-macs.” If you don’t know what I mean, ask your granny.

It could be worse. We could have the wrong sort of leaves on the bridlepaths, or snow balling up in our horses’ hooves. But even when the long days are just a memory, we’ll carry on riding – bundled up in layers and waterproofs if need be – because that’s what true Brits do.

 

The look of champions

The Hickstead Derby has a roll call of equine legends, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON.  If you had to pick one of those illustrious names to be the champion of champions, who would it be?

For many, the title would go to a one-eyed horse called Adventure De Kannan. When he powered round with rider Trevor Breen in 2013, he won our hearts as well as the prestigious trophy.

That’s the reason for his final lap of honour in this year’s Derby – a chance for the crowd to acknowledge not just his brilliance, but his courage, in a special ceremony before he retires from competition at the age of 17.

Addy, as he’s known at home, doesn’t realise that in theory, he’s at a disadvantage. You could say the same for the miniscule Stroller, who won the Derby in 1967.

Stroller was only about 14.1hh (145cm) whereas Addy is 17.1hh (175cm). Yet the one thing they have in common is the one thing you can’t put a price on – a great brain.

A long time ago, my then trainer tried to persuade me to buy a horse who could help me make the jump from the lower levels of affiliated classes to “proper” Grade C competitions. This horse, he said, had the heart of a lion and the mind of a saint.

I tried him and loved him, even though he dished so badly, he could – in the words of the Irish dealer selling him – trot down the road and kick out the windows on either side. “He won’t stay sound for jumping,” said the vet who looked at him, so I didn’t buy him.

What I learned the hard way is that sometimes, the most important part of a horse’s conformation is the bit between the ears. That horse had a better brain than me: a few years later, he was winning Grade B classes with a rider who had followed her heart rather than her head.

Adventure De Kannan had already proved his ability when he had to have an eye removed due to recurring uveitis. But how many of us would buy a horse with one eye, even if it didn’t seem to affect him?

I hope I would, now that I’m older and a little bit wiser. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet a horse who is so generous, you know he’ll help you even though he doesn’t look the part.

And sometimes, if you have the sense, you say “Thank you” – and buy him before someone else does.

Tell us about your experiences where you’ve gone with your heart rather than your head, or where you wish you had.

Help your horse cope in the heat

The current heat wave is a godsend for most of us, but for your horses, excessively warm weather can be detrimental, leading to dehydration and even heat stroke if not managed well.

By following a few simple rules while the weather is hot, you can significantly reduce the risk of your horse suffering with problems due to the heat:

  1. PROVIDE PLENTY OF WATER – Having access to fresh, clean water is vital all year round, but as temperatures increase, horses lose more water from their bodies in the form of sweat to keep themselves cool. This means that they require more water to stay hydrated so make sure your horse has plenty available to them. Grass has a high water content, and feeding soaked feed or hay, will also contribute to their overall liquid intake.

 

  1. PROVIDE ELECTROLYTES DAILY – These vital body salts are essential in many bodily processes, and are particularly important for hydration, activating the thirst response in the horse, and for muscular health and performance. Contrary to popular belief, these should be fed daily, not just provided when competing, as it takes a long time to make up for any deficiencies or imbalances. Even horses that are not in work will sweat when the weather is very hot, and horses in hard work will lose up to 15L of sweat per hour. This sweat contains around 150g of electrolytes, hence the importance of daily supplementation. The best way to ensure that your horse is receiving all the electrolytes that they need is to add electrolytes such as Feedmark’s Replenish into their feed- but, if you haven’t already been feeding them, do this gradually.

 

  1. ENSURE ACCESS TO SHADE – If possible, turn out in fields with shelter from the sun, or if stables are cool bring horses in during the day, to avoid the hottest midday sun.

 

  1. RIDE WHEN IT’S COOLER – Either don’t exercise your horse during periods of extreme heat, or avoid riding during the hottest part of the day; instead aim for early morning or evening exercise when it’s cooler. If you have to work your horse when it is hot, keep to low intensity exercise, and cool your horse down slowly after you finish working them.

 

  1. WASH DOWN: Washing your horse off after riding is particularly important in the summer when they are likely to sweat more – cold water, and the evaporation of it from the coat helps the horse to cool down, and washing also removes dried sweat, which if left on the horse would attract flies. If your horse is overheating then continuously cover the whole body with cold water and get expert advice.

 

  1. APPLY SUNCREAM! If your horse has any delicate pink bits of skin, applying sun cream to these areas will stop the skin burning.

Let’s hear it for helpers

Schooling your horse is only the start, writes CAROLYN HENDERSON. Unless you have an endless supply of horsey helpers, you must also train your nearest and dearest.

That way, you get the help you need, avoid arguments about the time and/or money you devote to your horse and keep everyone happy. It takes skill and stealth – but it’s worth it.

With apologies for blatant sexism, men are usually more responsive. The secret is to find something they know more about – or think they know more about – and make them feel indispensable.

It doesn’t matter if you can reverse a trailer full of hay into the tightest space and keep your cool, knock up a set of jumps to professional standard and fertilise a field like a pro. If these are jobs that take you away from your horse, persuading that special someone to do them gives you time for the important things in life, like riding.

At every show, you see fathers, partners and spouses supporting wives/partners and daughters. Some get to the stage where they enjoy being part of the action and become as competitive as the riders; others are just filling in the time until the return journey.

Showjumping has most to offer, especially if you’re as inventive as one of the Feedmark team. She persuaded her father to time her jump-off rounds, just to check that the show’s equipment was accurate.

Keeping dressage dads happy isn’t so easy. If they don’t ride, then as far as they’re concerned, you’re going around in ever-decreasing circles. Even if that’s true, never admit it.

Instead, give them a checklist. Get them to check that bridle straps are in their keepers, your number is in place and you’ve removed your horse’s tail bandage.

Hint: Every now and then, allow an extra ten minutes for your warm-up and leave the tail bandage on/’forget’ to affix your bridle number. It helps to keep them keen.

If you’re a showing competitor, hard luck. If you’re showing the family lead rein M & M pony, double hard luck. Only true aficionados enjoy watching showing…and even they can run out of steam when there are 30-plus M & M lead reins in a class, as happens at some county shows.

Hint: Give them a few phrases that they can deliver at the ringside, thus impressing other spectators. “Nice horse, but perhaps slightly back at the knee” is a good one. It doesn’t work, of course, if your man happens to be standing next to the said horse’s connections – if he’s that unlucky, the get-out-of-jail answer is to blame the unlevel ring.

Seriously, do try and get your nearest and dearest hooked on horses. It’s a blessing to have someone who will bring in your horse when you’re working late, calm your nerves before a competition and (I put my hand up for this one) tell you to keep breathing while you ride a dressage test so you never again halt at G and nearly pass out.

They deserve medals, because we couldn’t manage without them. If you’ve got someone who deserves to stand on the virtual winners’ podium, do tell us. All secrets will be gratefully shared.