Tag Archives: natural horse

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

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

Lesson – Relax those hips!

Scorchio lesson on Saturday morning. Spent today working on keeping my upper legs and hips loose and ‘off’. I need to allow Saf room to lift her back and she can’t do this if I’m squeezing her! I think I got a good feel for this so will try be aware of what’s going on there. We did a bit of work in canter as well, which felt lovely, I’m really learning to love Saf’s canter, which I never thought I’d do. Concentrating on keeping my hips and thighs relaxed is particularly important at this point, especially given that I tend to squeeze her if I feel she’s slowing down as mentioned in yesterday’s post.

I need to just ask Saf to do something, and then let her do the work. I’m too much of a ‘doer’ and end up doing more work than her and stifling her.

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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?

A natural lifestyle and why it’s important to me

So, a little more about this whole natural lifestyle I’m always raving about. Why is it so important to me and so important to the horses? Maybe I’ve just been lucky over the years, but having native ponies, that is, ponies bred in the UK for their hardiness and versatility, it’s just happened naturally. As such, any subsequent horses (even though they will likely have a large proportion, if not all Welsh blood) will surely gravitate towards that lifestyle. Horses, being nomadic creatures, wish to roam vast distances in search of food and water. They require the company and security of their own kind.

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Modern horses often live a life far removed from their not-too distant, wild cousins. Small paddocks for turnout (if any) often pristine and free from ‘weeds’ with just one or two types of grass on the menu. It does frustrate me when I see such pristine lawns. For an animal which is designed to graze for 17 or so hours per day, how dull it must be to have only one or two grasses on which to browse. Nettles? Thistles? Docks? Why they are weeds, unsightly, and must be exterminated! Humans have a perfect, flat, green field which pleases us, but can’t be stimulating for the horses.

We are lucky at our livery yard. In summer there are all manner of ‘weeds’ growing. Nettles around the edges, dandelions dotted about, chamomile by the gate, comfrey down by the river and a few milk thistles every now an then. It is a joy to watch the horses browsing and clearly enjoying the variety.

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Saffron enjoying the nettle & thistle hill (aka the muck heap!)

24/7 turnout is also something I feel quite strongly about. I know a lot of people who do stable their horses at night, and I appreciate they have various reasons for doing do, however personally I would aim for none of mine to be. I realise I have an advantage as such, given that the herd are all natives and better equipped to deal with whatever the British weather throws at them. I just feel that we humans anthropomophise horses too much. Horses are happy to spend their time grazing, wandering about the field, playing etc. and sleep for about 4 hours in 24, not consecutively, but in small ‘cat naps’.

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The girls having a post-breakfast snooze

Do any of you keep your horses naturally? Leave a message in the comments.

Natural Lifestyle

Our previous blog gave me an idea for a blog today. I haven’t said a huge amount about the horses’ lifestyle. Looking at it critically, one could wonder whether a competitive career could be improved by being on a bigger yard with amazing facilities, a floodlit surfaced arena would be a start. Imagine all that extra schooling we could fit in, the ponies would be snug and clean in their stables and there’d be no mud!

There are several things wrong with this as far as we’re concerned. On a purely practical level, the horses and ponies that come into our lives are treated well, do their work throughout their lives, and have a happy (and hopefully long) retirement. Our lot really do have a home for life, and as such it’s not financially viable to keep the whole gang on some flash competition yard.

We try to give them as natural lifestyle as possible. Strictly speaking they all live out 24/7, though Rosie comes in during the day when the grass is growing due to her laminitis. We’re very lucky at our lovely yard that we have a 5 acre field to ourselves which we enjoy managing. It’s lovely that the 4 of them can live out as a herd during the winter, with Saffron and Rosie going on a more restricted track during the spring and summer whilst Mist and Penny munch the long grass to their hearts’ content.

The lack of a lit arena also means that Saf and Mist both have an enforced winter break, which at their age, can only be good for them. A few months off from schooling and Saf is already raring to go!

They have straightforward feed, no cereals, just lots of hay, linseed, brewers yeast. Penny has a large soaked feed due to her current gummy status (note to self: new pet name for Penny, ‘Toothless’!) They’re all unshod as well, though this isn’t a ‘big thing’ since 3 of them have never been shod, it’s only Saf who’s made the transition.

They may be covered in mud and hair and currently looking a bit manky, but they look like pretty happy horses to us!

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