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A cut above the rest

There’s something ironic about the fact that we’re putting our coats on – and getting ready to take our horses’ coats off. Yes, it’s clipping time – a chance to marvel at how horse hair can find its way under the tightest clothing, even if you fasten rubber bands over your sleeves.

 

Some people have already turned fluffy beasts into sleek beauties. If you haven’t, but plan to, please think twice before removing every hair. How many horses and ponies really need a full clip – and how many owners opt for taking everything off, in a manner of speaking, because they are either frightened of attempting alternatives or simply haven’t thought about it?

 

Keeping a fully clipped horse warm enough takes an especially conscientious owner, especially when it’s cold, raining and windy. It’s said to see riders standing around in collecting rings or meandering around the roads with fully clipped horses, without at least keeping their animals’ backs and loins dry. After all, they wouldn’t wait around or go for a stroll without a coat.

 

 

Some owners are worried that if they try a clip which takes off only part of a horse’s coat, they won’t keep the lines straight, or will end up with one side different from the other. The answer is to use baler string and chalk – place the string over the withers or around the quarters and get a helper to chalk guidelines. Clip just outside the guidelines to allow a little leeway – for example, when your horse decides to rest a leg, resulting in an artistic but unwanted deviation from your line – and you can tidy up afterwards.

 

If you’re concerned about appearance, a minimal clip can achieve maximum improvement. Unless showing guidelines or personal preference dictates otherwise, trimming jawline hair proves that the beautifully chiselled head you admired all summer wasn’t a figment of your imagination. Similarly, a bib clip, where hair is taken off the throat and chest, means a hairy horse in light work is less likely to sweat on sunny winter days.

 

Clever clippers can “improve” conformation. A dealer friend can transform a long-backed or short-necked horse with a carefully-planned blanket or chaser clip respectively. All her four-year-olds get what she says is a traditional dealer clip; she clips the front end in a truncated chaser clip and either trims the jawline or clips the face up to the line of the bridle cheekpieces.

 

 

Professional clippers may choose to clip out the whole of a horse’s head. I never dare, because I have nightmares of the horse spooking while the clippers are near his eyes. I’ve occasionally seen horses with circles of hair left around the eyes, but that looks – well, I wouldn’t want my horse to be laughed at.

 

So be brave. Go for what suits your horse and his lifestyle and don’t be frightened of learning your lines!

 

And if you’re proud of the way your clipped – or unclipped – horse or pony looks in winter, we’d love to see a picture…

Beware mud monsters

I can’t include a sound effect with this blog, so please imagine a cross between the theme from Jaws and the gloopy sound when you lose a wellie boot in wet ground.

 

That’s right – it’s the season for mud monsters. Before your eyes, that smart, sleek summer pony will metamorphose into a beast from forty thousand fathoms. His mud-encrusted coat/rug will resemble something a Dr Who special effects technician would be proud of creating and as for his legs…let’s not go there.

 

 

Unfortunately, mud can be more than a nuisance. If your horse or pony suffers from mud fever, you’ll have to decide whether to clip his legs. For owners who want to keep their animals’ leg hair long, there will also be the question of whether to wash off wet legs or leave them to dry before brushing off dried mud.

 

That’s when the feathers fly, in more ways than one. I’ve collated opinions and come to the not-at-all-scientific conclusion that different methods work for different scenarios, depending on soil type. If you’re waiting for wet clay soil to dry out on a hairy-legged animal, good luck; if you keep him on sandy or peat soil, it might be easier.

 

There are advocates for both sides of the washing versus leaving debate. I’m on the side of hosing with cold water, then drying afterwards. If you use a towel, blot rather than rub; some owners follow this with a hairdryer, though be prepared to desensitise a horse to this rather than blasting him with warm air without warning.

 

 

Don’t feel sorry for your horse and wash off his legs with warm water. For a start, his resistance to cold is better than yours. More important, warm water will open the pores of the skin.

 

It used to be thought that mud fever was caused solely by Dermatophilus congolensis bacterium, but vets now say that there are several factors which can help it take hold. The slightest amount of skin damage, such as a scratch or a rub, can enable bacteria to enter and researchers who have cultured bacteria from mud fever lesions have found other species besides D. congolensis.

 

As with so many conditions that are so common they are taken for granted, but which can be a nightmare to deal with, there are enough questions and pitfalls to prompt a script for a disaster movie. For example…

 

  •          You’re going to be out for a few hours in muddy conditions and will be jumping, or simply riding a horse who is unbalanced and/or likely to get excited. Do you put protective boots on him, or risk mud and dirt becoming trapped between the boot and his leg, predisposing him to rubbed skin?
  •          You school in an arena which has a high sand content and presents a similar risk.
  •          Your vet wants you to stable your horse part of the time – or in a bad case, keep him in 24/7 for a few days – to allow the affected areas to remain dry, and be treated. Said horse lives out all the time and isn’t impressed.
  •          You need to clip your horse’s legs to allow treatment, but he’s not having those clippers anywhere near his sore limbs, thank you very much.

 

The best tactics are to plan ahead, make a risk assessment and take veterinary advice. If necessary, ask your vet to sedate your horse and clip the affected area.

 

 

A balanced diet which helps promote healthy skin, hair and hooves – which may include appropriate supplements – is essential. Sometimes, what you put on the inside is as important as what you do to the outside.

 

Yes, I do mean ask your vet to do the clipping. That’s not a twisted form of revenge; you’ll be more use watching the horse’s reactions. Having said that, the vet’s reactions may also need to be pretty sharp.

 

You might still end up with a mud monster, but hopefully your biggest problem will be cleaning him up sufficiently to ride. And if you have any incriminating pictures, do share them here…

It’s all change here at Watergate Endurance!

Nothing with horses is ever simple.  After the Masters I religiously hosed Chiara’s right fore three times a day for a week then took her to the vet to have the leg scanned.  Even this didn’t go according to plan!  After trotting up and down on a hard surface, lunging her on both reins and flexion tests the right fore looked absolutely fine and if anything there was slight unevenness on her left fore.  The vet was then understandably reluctant to scan her.  On reflection I should have insisted.

 

Following this Chiara had another 10 days’ rest and then started work slowly.  In the meantime Fantom (having had Clarity added to his feed) appeared to have stopped coughing and looked really good so I lunged him a couple of times to make sure that sneaky cough didn’t creep back and had his shoes put back on.

 

I had a new aim now for Fantom; the National Championships to be held in Wales at the Red Dragon ride at the end of the month.  There was one little obstacle to this; I wasn’t qualified.  To qualify for the National Championships it’s necessary to successfully complete one competition of at least 80 km, but it needn’t be a race ride.  This left me with two possibilities: one ride on Dartmoor and one on the Somerset/Wiltshire border.

 

The first one, the Dartmoor ride, would have been pretty convenient for us but I was already booked!  It had to then be a ride, new to me, near Mere about 4 hours away.

 

 

I should explain that the Dartmoor ride hosted the Devon v Cornwall Challenge kindly sponsored by Feedmark.  This is a competition with 9 or 10 competitors on each team competing at various distances.  I had undertaken to organise this and had to do the scoring on the day as well as helping at the venue.  It was a good day weather-wise and the riders largely had the best of Dartmoor.  The competition was fierce going right to the wire – as the last horse was in the final vetting it could have gone either way but in the end Cornwall triumphed!

 

 

The following week we were off to Somerset and the Bonham ride staying overnight nearby with Fantom in a corral which he much prefers to a stable, and Robert and I sleeping in the Equi-trek.  Although 80 kms is a fair distance, this was a graded ride so the sense of urgency was much reduced and crewing, although needed to be good didn’t need to be razor sharp.  I did actually remember parts of the ride from a ride that used to run around here many years ago so it was a bit of a nostalgia trip.  The first loop passed quickly in the company of the three other riders in the class which suited Fantom well as he prefers to follow in the early stages.  After a speedy presentation to the vets at halfway we were soon on our way again with Fantom feeling keener the second time round and finishing with bags of energy to spare.

 

 

That outing not only qualified us for the National Championships, but gave me confidence that Fantom was indeed fit enough to contest the two day 160 km competition and, hopefully, be competitive.

 

 

I had planned to take the wonderful Dilmun to a local ride on the moors but my training endeavours for him did not hit the spot as Dil prefers now to just amble along gently, or not so gently, spooking at things rather than any serious training sessions.  This, therefore, was a plan I scrapped and have decided to just do the odd short pleasure ride with him and gentle hacks around the countryside.  After all, he is now 19 and has done so much in his endurance career so if he feels he would like to take it easy now, then I guess he’s earned it.

 

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working both Chiara and Fantom but haven’t entered Chiara for the last 2* event of the season as I am still not convinced she is 100% sound.  I have had my physio out to look at both her and Fantom and am trying hard to get the saddle fitter to come and check their saddles (no luck yet).  New shoes on Tuesday followed by a trot up and I will decide then whether to enter the 2*.

Who’s on your team?

Recently, I went to one of my favourite showing championships of the year. I love it not just because you’re guaranteed to see top class horses and ponies, but because even though rivalry is keen, the atmosphere is always friendly.

 

There was plenty of showmanship from those who knew exactly how to maximise their horses’ good points and minimise the less than perfect ones. There were also heart-warming stories of equine rough diamonds who, with care and hard work, had turned out to be blindingly brilliant – and a few human ones who met the same criteria!

 

Every successful competitor, whether of professional or amateur status, insisted that they couldn’t do what they did without help. Friends, parents, partners, trainers – all were appreciated.

 

 

The exception, and the most poignant, was the competitor who confessed that the sash her pony was sporting had been won despite fellow clients on her livery yard, not with their support. It had taken her a long time to pluck up the courage to show him at this level, because several “knowledgeable” people had told her that she was wasting her time with her hairy little pony.

 

What they didn’t appreciate, but the judges at this show did, was that her pony was a great example of his type and as such, deserved to be rewarded. She had spent a year assuming that because her fellow livery owners had owned horses for longer than she had, they must know more than she did.

 

There are fine lines between ignorance, well-meaning but misleading advice and bullying. This case sounded to be a cross between the first and the second – but even though no malice was intended, it proved that when you ask for advice, or it’s offered whether you want it or not, you need to assess its provenance.

 

If you want to know if your horse has the potential to compete at a particular level, book a lesson with a local professional producer/specialist trainer; don’t ask a livery yard committee. If you’re not sure if your horse is sound, ask your vet. If you want to know how to ensure he has a balanced diet, ask a nutritionist from a reputable company who will talk about principles as well as suggesting products.

 

Teamwork is everything, as top riders stress again and again. You only have to listen to interviews with winning riders after big events to know that, because they always stress that victories are down to the people behind the scenes as much as the rider in the limelight.

 

Just make sure that the people on your team deserve their places – and if there’s anyone who has helped you succeed when doubters said you couldn’t, we’d love to know about them!

Be inspired by success

The controversies of the World Equestrian Games were balanced with the news that Britain’s Ros Canter finished as individual as well as a team gold medallist.

 

Her story is an inspiration to every young rider – and a few not so young ones, too. Ros started, like so many, as a member of the Pony Club, but didn’t begin eventing at affiliated level until she had her first horse.

 

Silver Curtis, who came from a local stud, was talented but not easy. Some would have given up on a horse who decided at first that he would be in charge, but Ros persevered. Their partnership blossomed, and he became her first horse to get to advanced level.

 

Everyone needs a bit of luck, and Ros made her own by taking what was meant to be a temporary summer job with former leading event rider, now top trainer, Judy Bradwell. She stayed for four years, riding and winning on four to six-year-olds, before striking out on her own in 2011.

 

 

By then, she had become expert in everything from spotting potential to establishing a solid foundation in a horse’s training; and, of course, dealing with downs as well as ups, as progress rarely follows a consistently uphill line. Such experience is priceless, and worth far more than being handed a horse that is ready to go out and win.

 

Only a handful of those who dream of hitting the big time in equestrian sport actually make it. It isn’t enough to be talented, because you have to pay the bills. We all know that at times, owning a horse makes you feel that you might as well just set fire to £50 notes, but no one can survive on prize money.

 

Between them, the top ten at this year’s Badminton Horse Trials netted more than £360,000, with £100,000 going to the winner. At the lower levels – and at top level in some other disciplines – you’ll be lucky to get back the cost of your entry fee, let alone your fuel costs.

 

That’s a fact of life, not a complaint, as running any competition costs more than most competitors realise. But it does explain why riders need to work so hard, in so many ways, to succeed. It’s why they teach, train and sell some of their horses, including those they’d rather keep.

 

Some young riders ask for sponsorship when, to be honest, they have little to offer but dreams and self-belief. But unless you have a solid CV, as well as other attributes, you’re unlikely to attract support.

 

So, if you’re a star desperate for the chance to shine, don’t envy Ros Canter. Copy her example.

 

Work with and/or for people who can help you stay on the right track. Ride as many different horses as you can, because each one will teach you something. If you have a talented but tricky horse, stick with it and get help. You’ll learn a lot.

 

Good luck – but remember that the best riders make their own luck!

Looking good is a smart tactic

Behind every great rider, there’s a great groom, whether that’s a paid member of a professional team or a parent/other half doing it for love.

 

So, congratulations to supergroom Georgia Pitcher. Georgia, who works for Feedmark-sponsored rider Will Furlong, has just won the Shapley’s best turned out award at Blenheim Horse Trials for ensuring Cooley Zest looked a perfect picture.

 

Photo credit: Adam Fanthorpe and SsangYong Blenheim Palace Horse Trials

 

Don’t dismiss awards like this as superficial, because there’s a lot more to them than perfect plaiting. Cooley Zest had a great hair day, but his glossy coat owes more to correct nutrition and management than to spray-on shine. Best turned out awards recognise skills behind the scenes, all of which require teamwork, as well as window dressing.

 

Non-horsey people think we must all be mad to take such care turning out horses for a matter of minutes – or, in the case of a horse trials trot-up, seconds – in the public eye. A friend’s husband once worked out a complicated equation which equated the time spent plaiting a mane to the time spent performing a dressage test.

 

According to him, it was a waste of time: he reasoned that if a judge could be persuaded by the symmetry or otherwise of plaits that a horse wasn’t bending correctly, he or she shouldn’t be judging. What he didn’t recognise is that turning out a horse to the highest standard you can achieve helps sharpen your focus, shows your pride in your partnership and is a compliment to the person who gives time and skill to assess your performance, usually without payment.

 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional who can achieve perfection in minutes, or a first-time pony owner struggling to secure golf ball plaits with rubber bands. You’re saying “This is my partner, and we’re going to do our best.”

 

That’s why children should be encouraged to help as much as they can, as soon as they can. Someone brave enough to judge at local shows tells me that one of the first rules of judging any junior “best turned out” class at a local show is to ask young riders how much of the preparation they have done.

 

If they have a pony turned out to professional standard but say “My Mum does it all” she is less likely to give them a red rosette than if they have a row of uneven plaits but are obviously being truthful when they say they have done it themselves. If they’ve been primed to say they’ve done it all themselves but don’t seem too sure about it, that too is noted when the rosettes are handed out.

 

 

You might disagree; in most cases, schedule wording means that the final picture is being judged, without taking into account who produced it. However, my vote goes to the judge who rewards children’s efforts, because practice makes perfect. It must be a bit embarrassing if you get to the age of 25 and still have to ask your Mum to plait up for you.

Putting in the effort gives you a psychological boost, too. It’s all part of gearing up for a performance and bolstering your confidence. If you can ride down that centre line or enter a competition arena feeling reasonably confident, your body language will transmit that to your horse.

 

And guess what? If you both feel reasonably secure, you’ll probably turn in a better performance. From the brain down the reins, as a friend who is a professional rider puts it.

 

When you’ve put in the effort to ensure your horse is well turned out, you know you’ve done your best. That, whether you’re preparing for your first walk and trot dressage test or a national championship, is all anyone could ask for.

The real winners

Successful amateurs are the ones with professional standards, says Carolyn Henderson

 

The dictionary definition of an amateur participant in any sport or activity is someone who takes part without payment. So why do so many riders assume that “amateur” is synonymous with second-rate?

 

By definition, professional riders should be top class or on the way there. But amateurs can be top class, too. In all disciplines, there are amateur riders who take on and beat those whom produce and compete horses for a living.

 

There are many reasons why some amateurs are hugely successful and others find a level below that of top performers. They may have natural talent and they must have dedication and determination. They must also have a horse with the necessary attributes, with whom they have built a great partnership.

 

And yes, some may have comfortable bank balances behind them. Competing at any level is expensive; competing at affiliated level sometimes makes you feel that the only answer is to sell one of your kidneys.

 

The thing amateurs who rise to the top have in common is that they have professional standards. They don’t look out the window and decide not to ride because it’s raining and they’d rather not get wet, but they do pay attention to every detail of management and schooling.

 

 

They get help when necessary – as do professional riders. Everyone needs an eye on the ground, whether you need suggestions or structured training. They may complain about the rising costs of diesel, entry fees, and training, but they work hard and go without other things to pay for them. I know one rider who has three part-time jobs to pay for her eventing and rides as soon as daylight allows, all year round.

 

Professional-standard amateurs don’t blame their horse for not being good enough/the judge for needing an eye test when things don’t go to plan/that inconsiderate rider who upset their horse in the collecting ring.

 

Human nature being what it is, it’s natural that amateur riders sometimes get disheartened because they can’t crack that glass ceiling, let alone break through it to beat the pros. That’s why every discipline has competitions restricted to amateur riders.

 

Even so, some aren’t satisfied. A recent survey showed that many of the 904 respondents were unhappy that an animal which qualifies for Horse of the Year Show in showing classes could be ridden there by a different rider from the one who gained the qualifying ticket.

 

In showing, it’s the horse which is being judged, not the rider. Implying that all judges pick faces on top rather than the horses underneath them is unfair and insulting and also reveals a level of ignorance.

 

There are professionals who can get on a horse, assess it and pull out a better performance than its regular rider. They know how to ride a ring, how to give horses confidence and how to show them to their best advantage. Because they do it all the time, they stay calm on big occasions, whereas anyone competing at HOYS for the first time who doesn’t get nervous must have ice running through his or her veins.

 

 There are arguments from both sides. As you’d expect, it’s a hot topic on social media. But it’s clear that the riders who express opinions calmly and politely – whatever argument they support – are the ones with professional standards.

 

Full marks to those who inspire the rest of us. At Burghley Horse Trials, that included Sarah Pickard, an amateur rider from Kent. She rode Polo Striker, a 12-year-old she has owned since he was four, so plenty of dedication went into their first appearance here.

 

The Burghley Young Event Horse five-year-old final went to Ellie Ormrod on Keyland William. Ellie bought Keyland William from his breeders two years ago and had some very well-known names below her in the final line-up of this competition, which is designed to spot potential international four-legged stars.

 

Views on whether amateurs are penalised or pampered will all vary, but here’s a thought. In all disciplines, there are riders who delight in any improvement in their and their horse’s performance – especially if they’ve overcome problems - regardless of whether they get a rosette.

 

If you’ve exceeded your expectations, we’d love to know about you and your horse. In my book, you’re the real winners.

 

Endurance catch up with Annie Joppe

I have now had my back operation and am back in the saddle albeit a little shakily.  I did wait a week before attempting to clamber on but once on board things improved on a daily basis.  I then decided to enter the Endurance Masters at Euston Park some four weeks after my operation which I know was a bit rash.  Training with Chiara went well although I was unable to do any sustained cantering and my core muscles were weak following the operation.  My aim, therefore, was to try to just complete a 2* so she would then have the required two for Championship qualification just leaving the 3* to do early next year.

 

 

As the event approached I began to collect together all the equipment I would need, buying new bright orange dustbins for the iced water, making sure all the dry feeds were pre-made with their added Formulate supplements and taking everything I could think of for Chiara including spares of all her tack except for a spare saddle!  I packed up all the human and crewing equipment and food and we were ready to go.  One last thing, a quick check on my weight even though the 2* was unweighted I didn’t want Chiara to carry any more than absolutely necessary.  I was horrified to find that I had put on about 10 kgs until I turned round and found Robert (husband) had put his toe on the back of the scales!

 

We arrived nice and early at Euston Park so that Chiara could settle in and absorb the atmosphere having gentle hacks around the training loop and a quick visit to the hold area to familiarize her with the British area.  Chiara was duly spruced up and ably trotted up by crew, John, for the pre-ride vetting.  I should mention at this point that this was the Nations Cup and we had been chosen to represent team GBR.  This is a competition similar to a championship except at the 120kms distance and in this instance comprised 13 teams of up to 5 horses and riders with the top three times to count.

 

 

The start could have, should have been exciting to say the least with 130 horses en masse.  However, with careful planning I managed to leave the hold area just after the pack crossed the start line meaning I could quietly trot out with my initial riding companion, some time crew, Jo.  The first loop was testing for me with Chiara begging to go faster the whole way round and me trying to stay at a quiet sensible speed, ideally in trot to save my back but in reality just adding to the discomfort.

 

The vetting was as usual quite difficult with Chiara refusing to keep still and in a high state of excitement with one of my new orange bins becoming a casualty of her flying feet!  For the second loop I made the decision to go ahead of Jo and ride on my own if possible and life became so much easier, alternating between trot and slow canter and the time flew by followed by another high octane vetting.

 

 

The third loop was more testing with sharp flints and more uneven ground but was pretty uneventful for us with Chiara speeding up slightly and passing several horses.  Preparing for the vet this time took even longer as, after 100kms, she was a little tired as well as excited but eventually she went into the vet.  Unfortunately she was vetted out lame in front although it wasn’t visible to us or the team vet but undoubtedly they had seen something and it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

The following morning Chiara was sound but had some slight tenderness on that right fore so I was advised to have her checked out.  However, all in all it was an excellent experience for us both riding in the largest endurance event I have ever experienced with facilities and care for the horses second to none and we will both learn from this.  Another plus was that Team GBR completed in 4th place which is one of the best results for a long time.

 

I will now have to wait until next week to have Chiara’s leg scanned to see whether we will be able to have another attempt at a 2* later this year or whether we will have to start very early next year to gain the Championship qualifications still needed.

 

Well, just as I thought I was getting Fantom back to work following his tying up incident at Euston Park, he started coughing with a runny nose.  Ok, this isn’t anything drastic but does mean quarantine and a rest.  By the time he will be over this and back to full competition fitness the season will have ended so I have made the decision to remove his shoes and give him a good holiday; 2019 is another year….

 

When the best laid plans go pear-shaped

When the excitement builds at big events such as Burghley Horse Trials, we see the tip of the iceberg. Years of hard work have gone into building horse and rider partnerships to that level and months of preparation have been targeted on specific goals.

 

When it goes right, it’s fairy tale stuff. When it goes wrong, it’s a kick in the teeth.

 

That’s why we’re so sorry for all the riders who had to withdraw from this year’s Burghley event. Forgive us our favouritism, but we’re particularly gutted for Feedmark-sponsored rider Will Furlong and his lovely mare, Collien P 2 – aka Tinks.

 

 

After a great start at Haras du Pin, Tinks knocked her stifle while going cross-country. The great news is that she’s on the mend and will hopefully be back on competition track in October, but Will says that her wound hasn’t healed enough for her to compete.

 

The timing means that what would probably have been a blip earlier in the season is a huge disappointment. Most of us know what it’s like when carefully laid plans go pear-shaped, even when we’re not in the same league as Will.

 

And while our hopes and dreams may be played out on far less prestigious stages than Burghley, it can still be hard to accept that they’ve melted away. A friend who qualified for a riding club championship admitted that she cried like a spoilt brat when her horse pulled off a shoe and bruised his foot the day before the competition. Hands up if you know how she felt!

 

Children are often better than adults at dealing with disappointment. Another friend’s daughter had been counting down the days to her first 10km ride after weeks of building her pony’s fitness. When the pony overreached and the ride was ruled out, his young owner was upset, not because of missing the ride but because the pony had hurt himself.

 

Her vet advised box rest, with short in-hand walks. She turned these into what she called “pony picnics”, taking sliced carrots and apples and feeding them to him halfway around their circuit. This, she hoped, would stop him being disappointed that they’d missed their ride.

 

 

As adults, we know that ambitions and disappointments are solely our preserve. Horses, of course, would far rather eat grass than jump around a cross-country course, no matter how much they seem to enjoy their work.

 

Accepting and overcoming setbacks, whether you’re a serious competitor or someone who rides purely for pleasure, is easier said than done. But when you can put your hand on your heart and say you did the right thing for your horse, it’s worth more than any trophy.

 

And when you make your comeback, be that at top level, a local show, or around a favourite hacking route, you’ll have even more pleasure and satisfaction.

 

Have you had a setback this season? If so, good luck with getting back on course – and if you’ve overcome it, we’d love to know your story!

Fair play for crib biters

New research supports the theory that crib-biting relieves stress and should not be prevented. Instead, we must try to keep horses who practice the behaviour in ways which minimise their need to do so.

 

Researchers at the Royal Agricultural University and Aberystwyth University have found more evidence to back what others have long believed. For too long, crib-biting, weaving and wind-sucking were labelled “stable vices” and the emphasis was on preventing them rather than asking why they occurred.

 

 

Crib-biting, with or without the accompaniment of wind-sucking, has always been held up as the most expensive problem. Cribbers damage the surfaces they bite, so many yard owners didn’t like them.

 

Twenty years ago, I turned down the chance to buy a lovely four-year-old with huge jumping talent and a generous nature. He was a crib-biter and wind-sucker and the owner of my yard wouldn’t take him. My trainer said that if I didn’t buy him, he would.

 

Fast forward four years and that horse was jumping at Grade A. He still cribbed, but if anyone commented on it, my trainer said: “He’s Grade A and rarely has a pole down. As far as I’m concerned, he can do what he likes in his spare time.”

 

Over recent years, we’ve realised that we should keep horses who show stereotypic behaviour – a much fairer label than stable vices – on a management routine with maximum turnout and a high fibre diet, and that extra nutritional support in the form of supplements may also help. Showing understanding rather than condemnation is a huge step forward and has practical as well as welfare benefits.

 

 

If you’re content and relaxed, you perform better and stay healthier. The same applies to horses.

 

In the UK, we’ve abandoned the ghastly practice of severing muscles in a horse’s throat to prevent him arching his neck to crib. Two years ago, an American vet was performing a “modified version” of this and reported that more than 80% of horses operated on were not cribbing a year later. There was no report of their well-being.

 

We can’t be complacent. Cribbing collars with metal inserts designed to dig into a horse’s throat and cause pain when he takes up the cribbing stance are still available. So are plain leather versions, but whether they are described as “humane” as a matter of accuracy or to ease the conscience of those who use them is a matter of opinion.

 

As for the practice of setting a live tape across a horse’s door so that if he cribbed, he received an electric shock – what can you write that is fit to print? I’d love to electrify the door knobs in that inventor’s house.

 

One of the best livery yard owners I know is practical, full of common sense, takes no prisoners when it comes to owners’ behaviour and is passionate about horse welfare. She doesn’t discriminate against horses with stereotypies, but helps owners adapt their animals’ lifestyle.

 

These horses are out as much as possible: preferably 24/7. If they have to be stabled, they have ad lib forage, extra nutritional support, stable “toys” and salt licks. If a horse cribs, she fastens a section of old tyre over his stable door or other preferred cribbing surface to minimise damage.

 

 

Some owners worry that their horses will “catch” the behaviour by watching another animal display it. You’ll find anecdotal evidence of this, including reports of foals copying their dams, but many researchers believe that any horse who starts a stereotypical behaviour after watching another was already predisposed to it.

 

The RAU and Aberystwyth researchers warn that if we physically prevent a horse from cribbing, we remove his strategy for coping with stress. While stress isn’t all bad – without it, we wouldn’t survive – too much has serious detrimental effects, as many of us know.

 

“It isn’t stress that’s to blame – it’s the way you handle it,” says a psychologist of the pressures of life and work.

 

That may be right. The big difference is that we can make our own choices. Horses can’t, so we must make sure that the choices we impose upon them are fair and informed.