Category Archives: Lifestyle

Horse owners winter survival tips

There’s no getting away from it, winter is fast approaching. I’ve compiled my top 12 tips for winter survival, Dragon style!

 

1 – Save your hay! No I don’t mean be stingy when deciding your hay rations, you need to preserve as much as you can once it goes out in the field. Some people prefer keeping it off the ground at all costs. I really like feeding in haynets on ground. Our natives never waste a single stem. You could also try using a compost bin, or an old wheelie bin with a hole cut in the bottom as a hay feeder.

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2 – Lost your knife? Use a spare piece of baling twine to cut through another baling a hay / straw bale. Thread the loose twine underneath the twine securing the bale, grasp one end in each hand and alternately pull back and forth quickly and repeatedly. Hey presto, one opened bale!

 

3 – Be organised – There so little daylight this time of the year it pays to be organised. Make a feed chart  so that others can easily help out if required and make all your feeds up in advance.

 

4 – Keep your feet warm – I always suffer from chilblains on my toes in winter but since discovering merino wool socks I’ve seen a huge improvement. I also have neoprene wellies (Muck Boot Co.) which are also amazing!

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5 – Embrace the outdoors! If your horse has company, and your yard allows it, keep him outdoors all winter. Bringing in at night makes for a lot of extra work and your horse will very happily keep himself busy and active outdoors as nature intended.

 

6 – Take a winter break – No, not you, your horse! Further to the previous point, you can save yourself a lot of misery (if the weather is bad) if you feel obliged to ride all through the winter. Why not give your horse a couple of months off? He’ll come back fully refreshed and ready for more, I promise he won’t forget what he’s been taught! If your horse lives out he’ll keep himself occupied and reasonably fit.

 

7 – Put your feet up – Sorry not you again! How about taking your horses shoes off if his workload is reducing. It does so much good for their feet to have a few months out of shoes. If you’re worried about him being footsore, this could be a good time to review his diet.

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Spot the difference

 

8 – Muddy gateways – As tempting as it is to dump used bedding / hay in muddy gateways to soak up the water, don’t! It will work in the short term, but very quickly you’ll end up with the mess decomposing just like a muckheap, and have a far worse mud / muck problem! Far better to use hardcore / road planings for gateways as a long term solution.

 

9– Ditch the rugs! Can your horse manage winter without a rug? Most natives in England can manage perfectly well providing they have good access to hay to top up their amazing central (h)eating system! You’ll save loads of time when you don’t have to change rugs twice a day, and if you need to ride in the morning knowing it’s wet, just pop a no-fill sheet on the night before. You can read more about my thoughts on going rugless here.

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Mega-floof courtesy of Misty Moo

 

10 – Avoid layering rugs – If your horse does require a rug, make sure you have a few different weights for him. My pet hate is seeing horses with multiple rugs on. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it must feel especially around the chest?

 

11 – Beat frozen taps! Keep a good number of full water containers in your tack room or somewhere they won’t freeze. You’ll be grateful if your taps freeze!

 

12 – Hi-viz hacking! This one really is about survival, always have hi-viz on you and your horse when hacking. What with it getting dark so quickly you could be caught out, and when the sun is out be aware that when it’s low in the sky it can really obscure a drivers view of the road. Give yourself and your horse the best chance!

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Spot the horse rider…

Do you have any top winter survival tips of your own? Do share them in the comments below  🙂

 

Emma & Saf x

A poorly Saf

Sorry for the recent silence, we’ve had a nightmare couple of weeks with Saf developing colic like symptoms, which turned out to be caused by inflammation. It’s a bit of a mystery and we have been so, so worried about our special girl. She’s been on bute and antibiotics at home which has kept her happy, just keeping our fingers crossed that the antibiotics help. 🐎🏥😯

Why I’m not clipping or rugging this winter

Ah, we’re knocking on the door of October! If you’ve not already done your first clip this year I’m sure you’re seriously thinking about getting it done sooner rather than later. September has been a scorcher and with an increasingly fluffy Saf still in full work I almost found myself reaching for the clippers. Before I committed though, I nipped out for a hack last week, in what turned out to be 25C. On returning I noticed that Saf was only slightly sweaty under her girth, and considering how warm it was, we’d done 3.5 miles and that we’d included our usual incline canter/gallop, I was pleasantly surprised.

 

Short term gain, long term pain?

Thinking back to last winter, I tried my first rugless test with Misty and Saffron which was a huge success. At that time I had done my usual chaser type clip on Saf and remember feeling guilty that I had deprived her of her winter protection. It also struck me as ugly (and I admit I’m not the best clipper in the world!) but to see Saf’s beautiful, shiny winter coat interrupted by that clip irritated me more than it should have. The short term benefit of clipping her in circa September to counteract the usual September warmth vs winter coat growth, seemed pointless when there was a long winter ahead. In fact, it’s far more beneficial for Saf to clip her in late winter / early spring and there’s no guilt involved in that instance.

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Exceptions?

There are exceptions to my self-imposed rules. Last winter, Claire and I weaned ourselves and Saf and Mist down to no fill sheets only, and only used in certain circumstances. Any rugs with any sort of filling were put away. I felt a bare minimum rug was necessary due to our field having no shelter, but we listen to the horses and if they are happy in the rain, the rugs stay off. I will pop the sheet on Saf if it’s wet and I have a lesson first thing, there’s not a lot I can do with wet mud on the saddle area!

In case you’re wondering, Rosie Shetland and Raven aren’t mentioned as rugs are not on the radar for them. Rosie goes without saying, and Raven in her present state would just be unhappy if we tried. Penny is the only exception, due to being in her mid-thirties she is utterly mollycoddled but she does have her rug off as much as the weather allows and always has the lightest weight rug possible.

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I won’t attempt to explain the thermoregulation system in the horse, but the lovely people Al Holistic Horse & Hoof Care have this very informative article: Thermoregulation in horses in a cold time of year

Anyone else turning their back on rugging and clipping their working horses this winter?

Emma & (a rather fluffy) Saf x

Weight watchers – a tale of 4 native ponies

Having 4 natives for many years, you learn a few things about how to manage good doers. Over the years we’ve had Penny, cushings and laminitis; Saffron who I believe has some metabolic issues but thankfully has never had laminitis; and Rosie, who is a Shetland, need I say more? In fact the only one we can leave pretty much alone is Misty, who’s a New Forest and happily doesn’t have any metabolic problems.

We’ve made many mistakes over the years, but feel that we have learnt a lot from them.

I’m going to post a couple of photos that I am not proud of, but to illustrate Saf’s obesity problem and what happened when I didn’t know how to manage her or what I was doing at all really.

I’m still unsure how Saf didn’t end up with laminitis, I just couldn’t see it at the time.She had the usual fat covering, but in particular had a huge crest. This was back in 2009 when Penny was having laminitic episodes on and off. Saf and Misty would be on ‘lawnmower duty’ and eat the grass down before Penny went on to it. Not ideal, but at the time I didn’t know what else to do with them.

Years before this, when Penny’s lamintis was fairly regular, being an ignorant child, I was feeding Penny a bag of this new fangled ‘balancer’ mix. Of course at the time I had no idea that the bloody thing contained 20% starch and gawd only knows how much sugar, despite being marketed as being suitable for ‘every type of horse requiring a balanced diet’. Penny thankfully hasn’t had a single lamintic episode in nearly 10 years. I can’t explain why, other than maybe her metabolism has changed with age. Of course she is no longer fed horsey ‘fast food’ either that I guess that helps.

My primary concern now is Rosie Shetland. She has had a few episodes of laminitis over the years, nothing too serious as we’ve managed to nip them in the bud, gaining experience thanks to Penny. We’ve not had her blood tested for cushings as she doesn’t have any other cushings symptoms, but there’s some kind of metabolic issue going on there.

Our field is predominantly ryegrass, which is fine if you want to fatten up cattle who are only required to live for a few years, but a nightmare for natives. Until I get my dream field which I can reseed with a strictly ryegrass free ley, I need to work with what I have.

Enter the track system! Ok we’re limited with what we can do on a livery yard, but I feel very strongly that is the right thing for Rosie and Saf. It’s about 4 metres wide and goes all the way down the field (6 acres). They have their water up the top, hay down the bottom, so they need to walk a fair way for a drink. I’m currently experimenting with the amount of hay they are having (they get fed twice a day). The more time spent eating hay (and there is very little rye in it) the less time they’re eating the grass. This can only be a good thing! Rosie has had a muzzle on, which she accepts, but she’s not wearing it at all currently as I want to see how she goes with the hay diet. I’ve also had her stabled during the day, but I feel that the lack of movement negates any benefits of being off the grass.

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So, to sum up:

Weight watching no-no’s:

  • Molassed, high starch feeds
  • Ryegrass (boo!)
  • Lazing around the field not moving very much

 

Weight watching yay’s:

  • Hay instead of grass (experiment still in progress)
  • Exercise (hacking, hand walking)
  • Exercise (track ensuring more activity in the field)
  • No commercial bagged feeds, but a decent mineral mix such as EquiVita, Pro Balance, Forage Plus etc.

 

Does anyone else have a good doer / easy keeper? Leave your story in the comments 🙂

 

Emma & (a very trim) Saf x

 

Rugless ponies and a slightly bruised me

Absolutely bog all to report from the weekend. I managed to get slightly trampled by Saf on Thursday evening, complete freak accident where we had to pass through a corridor of electric fencing, she spooked when through the first line, then ran forward into the second line and I didn’t let go so got knocked over and trodden on a bit. Anyway, all fine, just bruised my legs, so I didn’t fancy riding this weekend as saddle + bruised inside calf didn’t sound like much fun to me. Anyway, I did do some in-hand work and had my video camera rolling, but when I’d finished I discovered the blinking camera had decided to stop recording 30 seconds in. Not been my week!

Anyway, struggling for something to post, I found this pic of Saf from this time last year. This winter we have weaned both ourselves and Saf and Moo off rugs. Moo is a New Forest Pony, so has an epic winter coat anyway. She dislikes being touched so we stopped rugging her working on the basis that she was constantly feeling hemmed in and claustraphobic when rugged. She is so much happier, and as for her coat, I’ve never seen anything like it, she’s very sheep-like! Saf tagged along as well as she could always do with losing a bit of weight over the winter, and is a real bog pony at heart. The only time I’ve had Saf pull a bit of a face is when I’ve fiddled with the front of her rug, so I wonder if it was a bit uncomfortable. All these frozen nights we’ve been having I’ve wondered and worried about them. However, they have so much hay, if you poke your fingers into their coats they’re like little furnaces and haven’t looked bothered in the slightest. The only exception is that they have their no-fill sheets on if it’s raining. Just because they have no shelter in their field and I just don’t think it is fair that they don’t have that option.

Has anyone else ditched the rugs? Leave a comment 🙂

 

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Ground level feeding, my lightbulb moment

So, I’ve blogged about natural lifestyle, and now I’d like to say a little about natural feeding. I feel that this is a two pronged subject, the obvious point being what food goes in, but firstly I want to talk about how the horse takes in the aforementioned food.

We all know that horses are designed to graze for 17 or so hours out of every 24. They are designed to mainly eat with their heads down, with occasional browsing higher up on trees and bushes. I am always perplexed by the use of haynets (and I was a user of them in the ‘traditional’ way myself – more on that in a minute), and wonder how the inventor of them thought they were a suitable method of providing hay. It’s a classic human convenience instead of it being for the horses benefit. I cringe when I think back at my use of a wall mounted hay rack for Misty, a pony who we would later discover has COPD (or RAO as it is now known). It wasn’t even at head height, but above, so the poor girl had to reach up and most likely suffer the dust etc. dropping down. Thankfully they seem to have mostly fallen out of fashion.

In dressage, and riding in general, we strive to have the horse muscled correctly over it’s topline. A muscled underneck is not ideal, yet this is the muscle the horse is working when pulling hay upwards from a net. Apart from that, I can’t imagine it’s terribly comfortable doing that hour after hour.

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Before our ‘light bulb’ moment

Eating at ground level stretches the topline, a relaxing action. It ensures correct alignment on the top and bottom jaws, which in turn, aligns the teeth for correct wear. Lastly it allows the sinus and guttural pouch to drain effectively.

However the haynet isn’t necessarily the bad guy. An idea shamelessly stolen from a barefoot Facebook group, last year we started feeding our a haynets on the ground. Now don’t panic, I know we’re breaking all the BHS rules but hear me out. I cannot stress enough that this is only really suitable for barefoot horses, otherwise there is a risk of getting the net caught between the shoe and hoof. It is also important to use haynets with as small holes as possible, we use 2″ as anything larger isn’t going to be safe. We fill the net, pull it tightly closed, then daisy chain the rope and tuck it back in the net. The horses love it, I’m happy seeing them eating with their heads down, we’re wasting less hay than we would if we placed the hay directly on the ground, it’s slowing them down, and they’re enjoying working a little harder for their hay rather than just eating it like spaghetti.

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‘Hooves up’ from the girls!

 

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Would love to know your thoughts on our unusual use of haynets! Have you come up with any different uses for horse items?