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When pressing pause is the only answer

I am on box rest again. This time, I have to stick to it, because my husband is seriously considering having me put down.

 

It isn’t the pain from damaged muscles that’s causing me the problems, but the fact that I can’t ride. It’s driving me crazy and him crazier, because he has to put up with my sulks and tantrums.

 

 

Ironically, I caused the injury by over-doing a stretch in an exercise class designed to keep me balanced and supple. Until now, I’ve seen nothing but benefits, and I’m looking forward to getting back to it – and getting on a horse. In the grand scale of things, six weeks is nothing, but it seems to be dragging on forever.

 

My minor mishap has reinforced how much riding and being around horses does for you, both mentally and physically. It’s also reinforced my respect for those who combat disabilities to look after and ride their horses – not just our amazing Paralympic competitors, but those who quietly get on with it despite injuries and illnesses that don’t always leave visible signs.

 

I did listen to the osteopath, who warned me that I would need six weeks off with nothing more than gentle walking and specially prescribed exercises. However, after two weeks his advice seemed over-cautious, and I got back in the saddle.

 

It was a big mistake, and it came with a big set-back. This time, I’m doing as I’m told, although I have turned snappy from the stress and I’m tempted to kick anyone who points out what a shame it is to miss so much of the summer.

 

As horse owners, we all sometimes push ourselves harder than we should. Occasionally, we may push our horses harder than we should – and there have been enough high-profile examples to prove that this is never acceptable.

 

Have we lost patience, or is it merely a symptom of our rushed lifestyles, when we seem never to press the pause button? A wise friend commented that although advances in veterinary science mean we can now diagnose and treat our horses’ injuries quickly, there are still times when only time itself is the answer – time to rest and repair.

 

 

Many years ago, there was a rule of thumb for certain injuries: about three months off for a horse who damaged a check ligament and three months to a year for tendon strains, depending on the severity. Now we expect vets to work miracles in the space of a fortnight.

 

So, I’ve put my riding boots away – the equivalent of having my shoes taken off – and am doing as I’m told. There are just two weeks and four days to go, and I can start a regime of walk work.

 

All that remains is work out how to stop being unbearable while I’m waiting. If you’ve any ideas, my husband would love to hear them.

In praise of horsey teenagers

Teenagers. Just that one word is enough to make you sigh, roll your eyes and flounce out the room. And that’s if you’re a parent.  However, horsey teenagers have many saving graces. Here are ten reasons to be cheerful – well, most of the time – if you have one in your household.

 

1.      When your friends moan about their teenagers refusing to get out of bed at a reasonable time, you can tell them how yours is so passionate about horses, (s)he is up and ready to go at the crack of dawn. Unfortunately, this only works on the morning of a show or event.  When the prospect heralded by that early morning call is school or college rather than a horsey day out, things are different. Of course, you don’t have to tell your friends that.

 

2.      When you want a picture or a video of your beloved horse and your mobile phone is defeating you, ask a teenager. Thirty seconds later, it’s not only done but is good enough to be nominated for an Oscar.

 

3.      Need to reply to an urgent text or email while you’re trying to plait a horse’s mane? Ask a teenager, because she’ll probably be able to text with one thumb while plaiting at the same time, without looking at the screen. I’m not being sexist; girls usually love grooming and plaiting, so by the time they get to be teenagers, most boys have mastered the art of persuading a sister or friend to do it for them.

 

4.      Need an honest opinion? Ask a teenager. The catch is that you’ll get an honest answer that might not be what you hoped for. Questions such as “Does my backside look big in these breeches?” are not recommended.

 

5.      Putting together a soundtrack for a dressage to music class? Your teenager’s suggestion for a playlist might surprise you, but not necessarily in a bad way. Having said that, trotting down the centre line to indecipherable rap lyrics, as suggested by a friend’s son, isn’t recommended. To be fair, it was a wind-up, and it worked. He then came up with a fantastic selection of golden oldies/classic songs (delete where applicable) that were perfect.

 

Teenager with her Horse

 

6.      When your teenager is down in the dumps or feels misunderstood, a horse will always put things right. You might not understand, or not appreciate what it’s like being a teenager – because after all, you’re too old to remember what it was like – but a horse is always a good listener.

 

7.      When you’re fed up with your teenager taking pouting selfies, suggest (s)he takes one with her or his best friend on four legs. There’s something about horses that makes everyone smile.

 

8.      A teenager’s bedroom might be full of clothes that should have been put away and coffee cups that have been left there so long they have secondary mould growing on the first lot, but a teenager’s horse’s bedroom will be mucked out with pride. Take heart – one day, the teenager’s bedroom will meet the same standard.

 

9.       However many disagreements or pointed silences you share, there’s always a way to solve the situation. You can’t be bad tempered around horses, even if you only have a temporary truce!

 

10.      When others complain that teenagers have no staying power, patience or sense of responsibility, look at your teenager and his or her horse – and feel proud.

Wallace sets a wonderful example

So, who is the UK’s most famous four-legged dressage star? 

 

A few years ago, Valegro was the name on everyone’s lips. Now, the most famous ears looking through a dressage bridle are rather larger.

Yes, it’s the wonder of Wallace. Wallace the Great, to give him his full title – the charismatic, lovable and talented 11-year-old mule who has won all our hearts.

 

Wallace might only be competing at Intro level, but he and his rider, Christie Mclean, have reached Grand Prix level in showing what can be achieved through faith and determination. They’ve even prompted British Dressage to re-define what it means by a horse.

 

At first, BD couldn’t allow this amazing pair to compete under its rules because it only admitted horses, and Wallace’s lovely ears are due to him having a donkey for a dad. But after mass support from the horse world, it adopted the FEI’s wording: “Horse: Refers also to a Pony or other member of the genus Equus unless the context requires otherwise. A Horse shall be born from a mare.”

 

So, thanks to Wallace’s mum being a horse or pony, he can now strut his stuff with the best of them. That’s great news, not just for owners of mules, but for all riders who pursue dressage dreams but don’t necessarily ride most people’s idea of what a dressage horse should be.

 

 

It isn’t just about diversity, important though that is in all areas of life. I don’t think British Dressage was necessarily prejudiced when it originally said that Wallace couldn’t join its ranks. Let’s be open-minded and assume that it merely applied a rule which needed to be brought into line with those for international competition.

 

The support Wallace and Christie have received is amazing and well deserved. Dressage supremo Carl Hester was one of the first to back them, pointing out that his first experiences of riding were on a donkey on the Isle of Sark.

 

If you watch the video of Wallace’s test, he works in a lovely rhythm and a correct outline. He and Christie are inspirations to all of us who want to do the best we can with the “ordinary” horses and ponies we love.

 

Full marks to the many judges who appreciate and reward correct work, whether it’s from a mega-money warmblood, a hairy pony, a re-trained racehorse or a cob. As for the very few onlookers who turn up their noses at anything other than mega-money warmbloods – they really don’t know what they’re missing.

 

Wallace and Christie are the ultimate ambassadors for us all, in and out of the horse world. They are also a reminder that while dressage is an Olympic discipline, the word translates to mean simply “training” – from dresser, to train.

 

That is within the reach of every rider, and every equine. So go for it, Christie and Wallace. Next stop – top hat and tails!

Could you be our Events, Marketing and Customer Service Assistant?

 

Job title - Events, Marketing and Customer Services Assistant

 

Feedmark enjoys an enviable reputation for making quality, science based equine supplements - delivering research led, customer focused nutrition direct to horse-owners throughout the UK and overseas. We've been in business for nearly 40 years and continue to go from strength to strength.

 

We are looking for a full time Events, Marketing and Customer Services Assistant to develop, organise and attend a programme of events to drive revenue for Feedmark. The role will include providing a high level of customer service and nutritional advice, both at shows and for the Customer Service Department when office based. The candidate will also support the Marketing Team with activity to increase sales, growth and customer retention.

 

To fill this position, you must have an interest or experience with horses.

 

The ideal candidate should have:

  • Past event experience ideally focused on driving sales
  • The ability to organise, travel to, set up and manage stands at large shows
  • Excellent customer service skills, with the ability and confidence to advise customers in a friendly and professional manner about their horse’s nutrition over the phone, online and at events
  • Skills to support the administration duties required by the Customer Service Team, including processing orders and the ability to resolve customer enquiries
  • Experience of on and offline marketing to help drive sales
  • Ability to produce clear and concise messaging across a range of channels with experience of writing accurate and engaging copy
  • Social media and email marketing experience
  • Equine experience

This position would suit a driven, enthusiastic and well-organised individual who enjoys talking to customers and is willing to travel and work away at shows throughout the UK.

 

The candidate must be a team player with the ability to work independently, with excellent project management skills, attention to detail and the ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously, whilst working to strict deadlines.

 

They will enjoy working in our rural idyllic offices surrounded by open East Anglian countryside and will have a full driving licence.

 

To apply, please forward your CV and covering letter explaining why you are suitable for this position to [email protected]

Weighing up the value of ponies

Are you a show pony, with fine limbs, elegant lines and natural grace? Or do you have the stamp of a show cob, with a chunky build, powerful stride and the ability to put on weight at the sniff of a crisp packet?

 

Beauty and talent comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you’re talking about horses or people. And as long as you are fit, healthy and realistic about the type of horse or pony you expect to carry you, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t fit into a pair of size 8 breeches.

 

 

Of course, no one wants to see an animal’s welfare compromised. The general advice that the combined weight of rider and saddle should not exceed 20% of the pony’s weight is accepted by most; as a rough guideline, that means an up-to-height Dartmoor pony should be comfortable carrying around 69kg in total.

 

Unfortunately, publicity over policing at the Great Yorkshire Show, where some adult riders were asked to dismount, has had unfortunate repercussions. Some people now have the impression that our native breeds – and not just the Dartmoor, Exmoor,Welsh A and Welsh B, who are amongst the small breeds category -  should only be ridden by children.

 

There are plenty of adults who are light enough to satisfy the 20% guideline. There are also plenty of individual ponies who are more suited to an adult rider, either because of their powerful way of going, level of experience, or both.

 

We should also remember that native ponies were bred to do a job, and that job was far harder than the average workload of today’s animals.

 

 

For instance, the Exmoor Pony Society says the breed “was used by the hill farmers to undertake all kinds of work from being ridden for shepherding to being used in harness for ploughing, harrowing, taking feed to stock and the farmer's family to market and church. Today, their sturdy build makes them excellent family ponies, being small enough for a child but with enough substance and length of stride to make an excellent mount for a small adult.”

 

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watch list says that the Dartmoor and Exmoor are endangered. The Fell pony and Highland are vulnerable and the New Forest pony is at risk.

 

If you’re a (reasonably) small adult, please don’t automatically “think big” when you’re looking for a new equine partner. Small can also mean long-striding and versatile, as I discovered when I fell for a Fell pony. I’m 5ft 6in and 55kg; he’s only 13.2hh, but we have huge fun.

 

Don’t automatically raise the bar in your expectations. Lower it, to 14.2hh or below. You won’t regret it – and if you’re an adult riding a native pony, we’d love to see your pictures!

Could you be our next Web Developer?

We are recruiting for a C#.Net Developer to join our IT department to support the Senior Developer/IT manager in the daily tasks and projects. The successful candidate must be technically skilled, enthusiastic and passionate about problem solving, and IT in general.

 

We are a small, fast-growing online equine supplement business, that has been around for 30 years. We process over 15000 orders a year and we do our own production in house. Our e-commerce website is powered by ASP.NET MVC Framework and our inhouse sales systems and production management software are written in C# WinForms, and MS SQL.

 

Responsibilities:

  • Write high quality C# applications matching the business/project specifications
  • Work across the full software development cycle (Full Stack from start to finish)
  • Excellent ability to work and communicate effectively with both colleagues and business management
  • Get up to speed with the existing systems/applications and provide ongoing maintenance and support for both software and hardware solutions

Technical Skills:

  • C#, Microsoft .NET technologies (MVC Web, WinForms, Console apps)
  • .NET, Asp.Net MVC
  • Web API 2, RESTful services
  • JavaScript, jQuery (JSON), Bootstrap
  • Entity Framework
  • MS SQL Server
  • Agile/Scrum Methodology of work (Bonus)

Experience:

  • Experience as a developer working on web-based projects for 2+ years would be an advantage.
  • We are looking for a talented individual who is organised, methodical, motivated, gives attention to detail, and can envision building a long-term career within the company.
  • Strong will to learn new technologies and motivation to experiment and write code on your own

In return we are offering:

  • Competitive salary package £26,000 - £30,000 dependent on experience
  • Holiday: 20 days (increasing each year to a maximum of 25) plus bank holidays
  • Pension contribution (3%)
  • Relaxed rural working environment
  • Free Parking

Please submit your CV and covering letter to [email protected] or call 0800 585 525 for further information. We will endeavour to respond to your contact/application within 5 working days.

 

Seeing old advice in a new light

Advances in science and research have improved our knowledge of horses by light years – but sometimes, the most valuable advice is timeless.

 

My secret weakness is collecting old horse books. Some exhortions are fearsome; one recommends that owners ensure their grooms plait straw inside the doorway to help prevent it blowing on to the yard. Good luck with that one.

 

Yet much is worth remembering, not just for the sentiment but for the philosophy behind it. In 1937, D W E Brock – David Brock – gently chided those readers of his book, Stablecraft, who followed the popular practice of offering their horses water only after feeding.

 

 

This, he explains, means that the horse “probably only drinks about four gallons a day, instead of the eight or ten which its health demands.”

 

Our first reaction might be: How could they be so ignorant? But when you read Brock’s advice to “…keep a bucket of water in with the horse, watch him, and count the number of times in the day you have to fill that bucket up” and his observation that “If you watch him, you will find that a horse who drinks after feeding slowly swallows quite a small quantity of water, and neither the rate of its flow through the stomach, nor its volume, is sufficient to wash undigested food into the bowel” there is another lesson to be read between the lines.

 

Brock observed his horses’ behaviour, appearance and performance down to the last detail. How many of us can, hand on heart, say that we do the same? How often do we follow accepted practice because “that’s the way it’s done” rather than mixing science with common sense?

 

In those days, of course, horses were true working animals as well as being used for sport and leisure and most households with horses had at least one full-time groom who was the fount of all knowledge. Today, we look after our horses alongside family and work commitments and even though there are thousands of dedicated owners, it’s another world.

 

 

But one of the best things we can do for our horses is to occasionally stop, look, think and give them something precious – time. This is especially true when dealing with young horses.

 

My favourite bookshelf golden oldies are by Tom Roberts, who was born in 1900 and at the age of 16 became the youngest certified riding instructor in the British Army. Re-reading his books, The Young Horse and Horse Control and the Bit, often spark lightbulb moments by reinforcing what we need to remember.

 

If I had to choose just one paragraph from his thousands of words of wisdom, it would be this:

 

“If you are fond of a horse and wish to do him a favour – train him well. Teach him good manners and  good habits, both under saddle and in the stable. You need never worry about the future of such a horse if for any reason you may need to part with him. You assure him of friends wherever he goes. Perhaps the greatest kindness you can do any horse is to educate him well.”

 

Maybe you’ve had a piece of advice from someone with long experience of horses – just a few words of wisdom that have made all the difference. If so, we’d love to hear what it is!

Triple success and stand out performances

I am glad to report that the evergreen, ever wonderful Ever So Much (below) has continued his rich vein of form this year, and gave himself his third win of the year, at Hexham, in June. He is an absolute delight to have around the yard, and to see him record the tenth success of his career, all achieved for us, was extremely special. Back over the bigger chase obstacles, he looked in a class of his own the whole way round under Richie McLernon, and it was probably the least stressful race I have ever watched, as victory for his owner J.P. McManus never looked in doubt!

 

 

Ever So Much is a horse that is particularly reliant on Feedmark’s Replenish, as he is a very free sweater on the way to the races (frustrating, as you never feel him move a muscle when he is on the box!), which is particularly problematic in this heat. However, Replenish makes sure we don’t have to worry about this resulting in a loss of energy and performance, and it certainly seems to be doing the job so far!

 

 

Epeius (above), another older favourite on the yard, but this time on the flat, has also been keeping the momentum up well for the team. A big, consistent sprinter, he has only managed to get his head in front once before, but always runs his race well in defeat. Entered for an Amateur race at Hamilton, he was given the job of getting our yard Amateur Dylan McDonagh back on the track after a couple of years away from race riding – and boy did they make a good job of it! Fluffing the start, both kept their cool, and whilst it looked like mission impossible at the furlong pole, Epeius kept responding to pressure and they nabbed the spoils just on the line – I think a few voices were lost in the process! Yard morale at an all time high, both horse and rider hugely deserved it.

 

 

Finally for stand out performances, our best horse Castle Hill Cassie (above) ran yet another valiant race at the York, a very special racecourse everyone must visit. She travelled like the best horse in the race, but gets a little lazy once she hit the front, and took her second 2nd placing in a row here in a hot fillies handicap. Frustrating but better than coming last, and you cannot fault her. She is a very special girl who will hopefully be stepping up in class in the near future, powered of course by Formulate!

 

Alice Haslam

Don’t sweat it out at summer shows

You look after your horse in the heat, so give yourself the same consideration, says Carolyn Henderson

 

This summer has given a whole new meaning to hot competition. So why are so many of us sweating it out in black or navy jackets and hats?

Obviously people don’t want to miss important shows and events – and the fact that social media has been deluged with information on what we can do to keep our horses comfortable and safe proves that their welfare is most riders’ top priority – but tradition has a lot to answer for.

 

Showing classes are a prime example. Three cheers for TSR (The Showing Register) which published sensible advice ahead of its summer show to protect horses and riders. One concession was that show jackets were optional, with the proviso that shirts had sleeves to offer some protection.

 

Other shows have made the same offer, yet the reaction from some is as if it had been suggested that competitors bare all.

 

“I don’t feel dressed without my jacket,” was a typical comment. Other riders claimed that riding in the ring without a jacket was an insult to the judge and/or would affect their chances by spoiling the overall picture.

 

I love showing, but common sense and comfort must surely score over tradition. Does anyone really think that the shock of seeing jacketless riders would affect a judge’s eyesight?

 

 

Showjumpers have got it right, with white breeches and lightweight shirts incorporating round-necked collars a favourite – much cooler than traditional collars and ties. As we all know, showjumpers know how to party, and no showjumper I know need worry about being mistaken for a vicar.

 

Endurance riders know what they’re doing, too. They have long known the benefits of white or pale-coloured helmets or hat colours, so why are black and navy so often stipulated for other disciplines?

 

Side-saddle riders are the epitome of elegance, but they suffer for it. Earlier this month, I helped a friend get ready for a side-saddle equitation class. Watching her kit herself out in breeches and boots, apron, jacket, and veil was enough to make me overheat, but at least the veil helped disguise the fact that by the end of the class, she was doing a great impression of a tomato.

 

Those who insist on wearing jackets when they don’t have to can always opt for false shirt fronts. Just remember that if you forget that your modesty is barely covered by the little bib, you provide extra entertainment when you remove your jacket. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.

 

 

Staying hydrated is as important for riders as it is for horses, so make sure grooms and helpers keep an eye on you as well as on your horse to make sure you keep up your water intake.  A dehydrated rider has slower reactions and poorer concentration – so you’re putting yourself and your horse at risk.

Endurance frustrations with Annie Joppe

Well Fantom duly completed his training for his 1* at Euston and he was scrubbed to within an inch of his life and his mane had a makeover; actually it was hogged!  He is a very good boy about having all this fuss and pampering and seems to appreciate all the attention.

 

This planned competition was to be a ‘sort of’ test for Fantom to see if he had overcome his tying up difficulties.  It was a long journey of about 8 hours with a couple of stops to offer water, fibre beet tea and carrot with the liquid being rejected but the carrots gratefully accepted.  It wasn’t good that he didn’t drink but he seemed to be relaxed and ate some haylage.

 

 

The afternoon was spent setting up our space in the vetgate, reccying a new crew point on the course and taking Fantom to the pre-ride vetting which went very smoothly.  The following morning someone (no names, no pack drill) had chucked all our equipment out of the shade and put theirs in its place.  Well there was no time to change anything so we had to live with it.

 

Warming up was not great with Fantom feeling like a seaside donkey going nowhere.  However, he brightened up a bit at the start and we cantered steadily away for the first few kilometers.  Disaster struck when he ground to a halt and I knew that again our race was over.  Fortunately he recovered extremely quickly from this episode and didn’t require any treatment but it was so frustrating.

 

 

Initially I thought that this would be the end of Fantom’s endurance career however, after having a chat with Feedmark, I am making some changes to his diet which, in conjunction with his own special Formulate, could just be the turning point.  He is even helping himself by topping all the nettles at the side of the field, preferring these to the grass offered.  I have now brought him back into work with the help of Jan who rides with me once or twice a week, and he has now had a full training session on the beach and dunes with no adverse effects although perhaps not quite as exuberant as he can be.

 

 

This has not been the best of months at Watergate Endurance.  A double whammy in that I now have to have an operation on my back next week as a result of an ill-judged jump from a rock whilst avoiding penguin poo in Antarctica earlier this year.  This may keep me out of the saddle for a few days (that might be wishful thinking) and out of serious competition for a few weeks.  However, I have constructed a series of plans based on my projected recovery times!

 

My main aim this year is to qualify Chiara for the Europeans next year or at least complete either the remaining 2* needed or complete the 3* and do the final qualification early next year.  It has just been confirmed that the European Championships will be held in Britain next year in Suffolk which makes it doubly important to me to be able to put myself forward for selection with at least one horse.

 

The good news is that Chiara’s FEI passport has arrived; all crisp and new and ready for action!  Chiara is also back in work as she was planned to run at King’s Forest in the 3* this weekend but my impending operation made that impossible.  However, training continues although at a lower level for the time being with the focus moving more to schooling and strengthening work.

 

A few weeks ago I had a chance ride at the local Boconnoc Estate on a friend’s ex FEI pony as one of her qualifiers to restart her FEI career.  This was a hot ride but all went pretty smoothly and Brookleigh was well schooled, obedient and, most importantly, achieved a Grade 1.

 

 

The hot weather we are all experiencing; even in Cornwall, has made the ground like iron and long training sessions have had to be on the beach and dunes.  Yesterday whilst training Chiara and Fantom on the dunes, we had a close encounter with a snake.  This snake, which was probably an adder, shot across the path missing one of Chiara’s cantering hooves by inches.  Great care was taken after this to check for these fast-moving reptiles.  Another consequence of the hot weather is the huge number of flies, mostly the house fly variety but interspersed by giant horseflies with massive jaws and phenomenal blood-sucking qualities.  The Feedmark Blue Bottle fly spray goes some way to combat that and they are all on the Fly Formula and covered in fly rugs, but this year it is a hard task to protect the horses from these persistent vampires.