Category Archives: news

Happy (slightly damp) Easter!

What can one say about the weather?
Appalling?
Dreadful?
Dire?
Unnatural?
I know this is England and this is what can be expected but Really Now! Although the permanent topic of English conversation, the unbelievable amount of rain does cause real problems for those of us who work with and love horses. So what can we do when we live and work in a slurry of mud?

The single most important thing you do is to keep your horse’s legs clean. There is a nasty little illness called Mud Fever and it is caused by the bacteria in the mud. This bacteria infects the horses skin causing painful swelling and scabbing. If your horse gets Mud Fever, then a period of box rest and topical salves are needed. There are several that can be purchased OTC at your local tack shop and I have know some folks to use sudocreme. What is important is that the infection is treated quickly. Severe cases will need to be treated by your Vet. Washing your horse’s legs is not a 100% guarantee that he or she won’t develop Mud Fever, but it is most definitely the easiest preventative measure.

If your horse does not have Mud Fever and you want to turn him/her out, then be aware of how slippery it is.  If you are slipping on your two legs, imagine how it must feel for those who have twice as many to contend with! Mix the mud with the joys of spring emotions and you have a recipe for disaster.  I watched one of our big boys (17hh & 630kg) take a fall by the gate and it was very scary. Equines are renown for their sure-footedness. We as riders depend on this.  It is both dangerous and terrifying for them to hit the ground. Not only was he covered in mud, he had it  up his nose. Remember that horses can’t breathe through their mouths, so he was fast to get his airway clear. We then had to check him over for injury and bring him in. He was fine, but the next day, we had an excited and frightened horse to take to the field.  Remember to go slow and that you pick the speed to get to the field, not them. Go Slow and be calm and confident.

Now this always irritates liveries… Don’t let your horse stand for hours by the gate. Right now everyone’s, and I do mean everyone’s, fields are awful. It is the end of winter. The grass has been eaten down to nothing (unless you have 1 horse and lots of acreage). The horses will have churned the field so the field is not in good shape. The gate will be a swamp. Yes, horses should go out. It is natural. But if you are operating on the minimum space for a horse, then you must use logical field management. It might be easier for you, the human, to turn them out and not spend the extra money on hay and bedding, but is it the best for  them? I challenge you to go stand in a wet field for 5 hours with nothing to eat and nothing to do because it isn’t safe. I doubt you will find it a fun experience. Right now we are keeping to a minimum turn out time and watching  to see if they congregate at the gate. If they do, then they want to come in and get clean and dry. Horses may be animals but they aren’t idiots!

Mr Weatherman says that we are in for a dry period starting next week. I really, really hope he is right! It will take some time for us to dry out. We have lots of field repair to do. Fortunately we rested a field since Christmas so my equine friends will have a place to eat and play. With hope and hard work, we may have the winter fields back in order by June and full of grass by July. All we need is some sunshine.

Assessment Lessons

It might seem strange, but one of the most important lessons any teacher will ever take is an assessment lesson. They are vitally important for both teacher and rider because that lesson is the “proof of the pudding” after you, the rider or the parent of a rider, tell us the skills which have been learned.

All riding schools should do Assessment Lessons for new but experienced students. These riders have learned their skills at different schools, sometimes in different countries. Each school, no matter if they are BHS or ABRS, have guidelines and ideas regarding a teaching plan which no other school will have. A Novice rider at one school could easily be a Beginner at another. The levels of riding are not set in stone, unlike the teaching platforms which are. It is important not to get hung up on the class title, but rather what is going to be taught in that class and what skills you/your child are needing to master.

So what do I look for in an assessment lesson? It’s 4 areas but a long list….
1. Proper Mounting.

Do you greet this unknown horse first? Do you collect up your reins and make sure the girth is tight before putting foot in the stirrup? Do you fix the girth or do you expect the groom to do it? Do you mount straight and sit gently in the saddle or do you bend over the saddle and flop in heavily? Does your leg clear the hindquarters or do you drag it across? Do you easily find the right stirrup? Can you adjust your stirrups or do you expect your groom to do it?

2. Posture.

Do you sit straight in the saddle? Are your shoulders back? Are you holding the reins correctly with your thumb on top? Do you have your heels down? Are your toes forward and your legs wrapped around the horse? Are your shoulders, hips and heels in a straight line? Are your arms close to your body? Are your arms in a relaxed yet ready position with a natural curve to them? Are your hands close together on the mane or wide apart above your knees? Is you head up and your eye line level? Are you looking where you are going?

3. Confidence.

Are you comfortable when walking the horse? Are you rising confidently in a trot? Do you sit deeply in a sitting trot or canter? Do you maintain your balance on downward transitions or do your fall forward? Do you like the canter? Do you like jumping? Do you like laterals or do they scare you? Are you put off or upset when your horse doesn’t get what you are asking for the first time you ask?

4. Technique.

This is where there is the most difference in teaching. Each teacher has their own ideas of what is right and important at every level. However, all teachers agree that falling off is not good. So I am looking at your balance — are you moving with horse or are you sitting on top with little to no seat connection? Do you make a positive upward transition or do you force your horse into it? Do you use your leg(s)? Do you depend your whip to create your horse’s impulsion? Do you know your diagonals and do you use them? Do you know your leads and do you correct them when they are wrong? Can you ride positively in light seat or do you collapse back? When you canter are your hands quiet with proper contact or are you flapping or “rowing the boat”?

So when you come to ride at Sunshine, that first lesson you aren’t going to “learn much” because I or my teachers have lots to learn about you. We have 30 minutes to decide what you can and can’t do; what riding group or level you are at; what is the first thing we need to teach you. We can’t make a mistake. Too much is on the line for us to blithely not check everything as you/your child could fall off and be injured; our insurance could be voided if it is found we were not competent when assessing your level; we could lose our license for negligence.  However, we keep this information to ourselves and you in the dark. And you question what you just paid £25 for.

I read the reviews. Both the bad ones were for assessment lessons. Perhaps I need to be more clear as to what is going on. I don’t want these lessons to turn into examinations because then I don’t see what is actually natural to the rider. Perhaps I shall print this off and post it on the office door. In any case, my main concern is that the rider is kept safe and extended just enough to learn one thing and learn it well. Those who went other places, I wish you well and hope your riding develops both you and those around you

Sometimes, the education has to go both ways.

Keep riding,
Kimberly

Horses in Springtime

Well, Spring is officially here. You might not believe it as you dig out from under the snow, but yes spring has arrived. I am very sure that after this last “HaHa!” of what has proved to be a very long, wet winter, the rising green and soft winds will be more than a relief for a weary soul.

So what happens to our four-legged friends? Actually Lots! And it is the time of year when we, as their carers, need to spend the most amount of time caring for them and their things. Believe me when I say they will appreciate both now and later — as will you.

The first thing we need to aware of is that their winter coat will be shedding. Our yard is going to be covered in fur for about 10 weeks as the horses lose the thick coat that kept them warm most of the winter. Even the horses who were clipped for shows this past winter will be dropping some fur. So deep grooming is needed all around. The use of a hair removal comb for 30 minutes a day should get it under control relatively quickly, followed by an industrious use of the curry comb and dandy brush. If you don’t want to eat, breathe and wear horse hair, then a cheap coverall and a facemask will be your best friend.

Horses will try to rid themselves of their unwanted hair as well. This can make exercising or riding a bit more challenging as they will want to drop and roll. Rolling is a way to scratch your back and get rid of that fur. That’s great! That’s natural! Rolling with tack on is bad and can be expensive with regards to saddle damage and injury to the horse. Try very hard to NEVER let them do this. If there is a concern that rolling might happen, then lunge your horse without tack first and if he wants to roll, let him. This lunging will also get rid of his pent up energy.

Nature also gives horses gifts. With the warmer temperatures, they lose their coat which means the question of whether to rug or not to rug raises its ugly head. There are no hard and fast rules which makes this issue very contentious amongst owners.

One of best gifts of spring is the new shoot, buds and leaves. The lush green grass smells wonderful, and I am assured by Charlie that it tastes as good as it looks. The reason he, and 99% of the rest of the world’s equines, likes it is the sugar. Young, new shoots of grass are loaded with sugar. It tastes divine and after a winter of dried grass (hay), they will gorge themselves silly. For older or lamenetic ponies, this is dangerous as it can kill them. For horses and ponies with easily upset digestive systems, again this could kill them when they develop a fast moving colic. So, as much as they love it, it is important that they are monitored during the spring and not allowed to over eat.

The last gift of spring is babies. In nature, now is the time for foals. Horses have an 11 month gestation period. Naturally it is better for the foal to be born when there is plenty of grass so that the mother will have lots of milk. Also the temperatures are better as there is less of an overnight chill. Of course this means that the mares who don’t have a baby will have babies on her mind. Yep, they are at their strongest for being in season. The males, gelded or not, will respond. So suddenly your barn of sweet tempered dobbins start acting like a bunch wild stallions. They are just frisky. They will ride harder, faster and sharper than you might expect. They will be quick to the field and an absolute bore to bring in — if you can at all. As their carer what is important is to understand why they are behaving that way and to manage it in as safe a way as possible. Never rush and never put yourself in danger.

The last of the joys of spring (which could hold to early summer) is the tack. Now is the time to have the saddle fitter out and check to see if the saddle is fitting properly. Your horse will have lost weight and possibly condition over the winter. It is important that their “clothes” fit properly before you take them out showing. You may get lucky and only have to change the girth, which means the old one can be checked for wear and cleaned until needed again come autumn. Speaking of cleaning, this is a great time to deep clean the leather with saddle soap and give it a good oiling. Your hands won’t freeze in the water and it does feel good work in the sunshine!

Adding to the financial woes will be inevitable washing and repairing of rugs. Don’t leave this to September as there will be crush of people who have left it to the last minute. Get them clean and stored properly where there will be a minimum of damage from water, bugs or vermin. I’ve know some folks who put lavender in the strong plastic bags we store rugs in to deter these critters. This is also the time when you can pick up rugs on sale. Think carefully about how much it costs to repair a rug and how much further wear you will get versus the cost of a new rug.

Less expensive but equally dirty and necessary, it’s time to clean that stable. Get on the wellie boots and a t-shirt you never want to wear again, and lift those mats! Also try not to breathe too deep. Once the mats are lifted and out of the stable, clean the floor with Jays Fluid and leave it to dry. Wash the mats down all-purpose cleaner on BOTH sides and leave to dry in the sunshine. Now assess the stable for repairs. Do the walls need filled in from winter kicks? Does the light bulb need replaced in the stable? Does the stable need a spruce up? A quick lick of paint can make the whole stable look brand new. One last thing…change the water bucket. I’ve learned over the years to change them out in the spring (whether you think it needs it or not) because often the bucket has suffered under the cold, and will break easily and unexpectedly during first warm days. Also, it’s a nice treat for your horse.

So lots to do. I suppose I should get off of the computer and get to work… once it quits snowing.

Keep riding,
K.

A Very Busy December

It’s December and I’m all excited about Christmas when a friend of mine decides now is the time to “enlighten” me. She starts explaining that December does not belong to the Christians as other religious groups celebrate holidays too. My response was I know — there is Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as well. This was greeted with a sigh and a shake of her head. “There are 18 different ones!” she exclaimed. So I hit the net…..

Yes, there are 18 non-Christian holidays — in fact, there are more than that, but let’s stay with the simple list you can get off Wikipedia. As I studied these various religions I discovered that most of them centre around the Solstice. There is something magical, wonderful and powerful about the shortest day of the year. The other days are important touchstones for the faith or idea.

If you follow the Unitarian Universalists, the you have a holiday that spans the first week of December — Chalica.  This a week reflecting on your Fundamental Principles. If you are Buddhist then December 8 is Bodhi Day. On this day Buddha received enlightenment. December 10 is Human Rights Day which is celebrated by many Atheists. Our Jewish brothers and sisters begin the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah on December 12. Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati from 21 to 25 December in honour of Lord Ganesh.

Now if you are Pagan, you calendar could be very full! Saturnalia begins on 17 December and ends on the 23rd, with a final blast on Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun) on the 25th. Yule starts on the Solstice and continues for 12 days, but if you are Iranian, then Yalda is celebrating the victory of light over darkness. During Yule logs are covered in prayers and burnt, there is a Great Hunt, and much feasting and storytelling to be done! December 24 is Modraniht or “Mother’s Night”, celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons as the new year was born. The Vainakh religion of the Caucasus and Southern Ural Mountains celebrated Malkh — The Birthday of The Sun on the 25th.

Humanists also celebrate on the 23rd with Human Light Day, hoping to bring a positive approach to the New Year.  The Atheists have decided to have Newtonmas on December 25 as it is Isaac Newton’s birthday under the old Julian calendar. The Chinese celebrate Dongzhi on the Solstice by eating rice balls or dumplings and praying to the ancestors. Kwanzaa, a Pan African-American holiday was created in 1966 in the USA to celebrate a positive black identity.

Yes there is lots going on for everyone!

Some holidays are medatitive and prayerful (Bodhi Day, Hanukkah, Modraniht, Advent), while others are full of feasts (St. Lucia, Pencha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Sol Invicti and Hanukka). Some people light candles (Advent, Immaculate Conception, St. Lucia, Modraniht, Saturnalia, Hanukka, Yule) and some people give and receive gifts (St Nicolastag, St. Lucia, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Sol Invicti and Yule — Hanukka has gelt). This is truly a season of family, joy and love.

So whether you are Christian or not, December is wonderful time.  Enjoy this time and share your traditions. The more we celebrate and love, the more we have to celebrate and love! So I wish you a very happy holiday season.

Kimberly

A Bit of Whimsey….This Month’s Zodiac

It is tail of the month and a thought may have gone through your mind, Gentle Reader, of what could she be considering in the gap between Thanksgiving and Advent. The Answer is whimsey. So I turned to the stars…the Zodiac to be exact.

Since November 22 the zodiac turned to Sagittarius. We will be under the influence of The Archer until 22 December. After much diligent researching, I have learned lots about those of you who are Sagittarians.

Those who are born under this star sign are considered the happiest ones in the zodiac. You are probably light hearted and happy-go-lucky. This manifests itself in an adventurous spirit and an optimistic outlook on life. Because of this drive for adventure, Sagittarians can be easily sidetracked and even a bit reckless. Does this mean you want to ride Flo? You bet!

Sagittarians aren’t idiots however (even if they want to ride fast horses!). They also have a deep love of learning — about everything. Their adventurous spirit means they also need variety in their education. They are quick to draw differing ideas together which can make them both very insightful and very witty.

Other bits I’ve picked up are:
Your colour is blue.
Your Day is Thursday
Your Planetary Ruler is Jupiter
Your Lucky Numbers are 3,7,9,12,21 (ooo! lottery numbers!)
You generally like freedom, travel and being outdoors
You generally hate clingy people, contraints, off the wall theories and details (hummm, that could make Dressage difficult).
You have big energy which you will turn to your big dreams.

Now, have any of you Sagittarians looked at your sign? Yes, the short version is an arrow with a line through it, but the real symbol is that of a Centaur. The Centaur who is far sighted and looking to the future. Very romantic.

I just have a few questions…..

1) How does Centaur anatomy work? Half man-half horse. Man to the waist and horse for the rest. Or horse from neck down and man from neck up. That’s a lot of beastie no matter how you look at it. So, do Centaurs have 2 hearts? 2 stomachs? 2 sets of lungs? Is The Doctor really a Centaur and not a Time Lord/Lady?
2) Considering the body mass of a Centaur, how much food do they eat? Taking Shannon and glueing her onto Mollie, that would mean a seriously large McDonalds order. And would Shannon have to be a herbivore? Would Mollie become a carnivore — more than she already is? And don’t even start me on the Beowulf-Charlie possibility…..!
3) Do Centaur’s equine parts also include the possibility of being zebra, donkey or mule? Would that mean you would be racially identified by your equine part or your human part? And what about Shetlands? Would that mean their human part would be a dwarf? I can almost see Peter Dinklage with an equine part that looks a lot like Mini Magic. Now that would make GOT truly interesting….

I’m sorry if you think I’m being a bit odd, but it is the Libra in me showing itself by having insatiable curiosity and see both sides of the argument. That being said, those of you Sagittarians riding with us, perhaps a Thursday lesson will be ideal and don’t worry about being cold — you’re a fire sign!

Until next week, keep riding!
Kimberly

A Very Thankful Sunshine

This week is Thanksgiving. As you all know, I am an American lost in the depths of Bedfordshire, but I still celebrate that which I think is very important. Before we get to Christmas with all the giving and receiving, it is right and proper that we should take a moment and count our blessings. After the hardships of the last couple of years you might say, “What have you got to be thankful for? What blessings have you got?” My answer is easy. We have much to be thankful for and about the beautiful community that has formed here at Sunshine.

It is not things we need to be thankful for but people. The people who come to Sunshine Riding week in and week out, month in and month out, have provided for us support, inspiration and love. By helping the staff feel we are not alone in the battle of weather and elderly horses and the bad things that people do to animals, our Volunteers and our Clients have helped make this yard a wonderful place to be. By caring for each other and the animals (I’m including all the cats and dogs as well as the horses), real friendships have formed. Relationships between people who would never have met in other circumstances are now the social glue of Sunshine. And for that I am grateful.

And these wonderful people are not only the Staff, but also our Volunteers and Handlers who give so freely of their time and energy. They are really what makes Sunshine, Sunshine. We have our Clients from age 3 to age “Do You Really Need To Ask Me That Question?” who delight us with their wonder and love for horses. And we are thankful for the parents who don’t question the need to get out of bed at an early hour on a Saturday or Sunday to bring their children to work or ride. We aren’t perfect here at Sunshine, but all of us are giving the extra mile and for that I am so very thankful.

The Community of Sunshine has grown a lot over the last few years. We have lots of new riders and their families as well as lots of new Handlers who are leaving their mark on Sunshine. This is the security of our future. Because the Community is strong and the atmosphere is open and accepting, we are financially secure which means the very important investment into new programmes can be made which will aid us in helping and developing others. Because we are secure, we can do our part in securing the safety and protection of the environment and green spaces around Luton. Sunshine isn’t going anywhere and for that I am so very thankful.

The last thing I am grateful for is Education. Sunshine is now able to offer more than “just” riding lessons. We are now offering Apprenticeships and NVQs, GCSEs & BTecs which all go along side our long standing tradition of offering Work Experience to Secondary School pupils. Our Handlers Programme slowly, almost sneakily, builds confidence and imbues a sense of fun when it comes to work. Our practical approach to Equine Education proves that not every qualification need be purely academic. I watch young and not so young become more confident, full of promise and self belief, doing more than they ever thought they could, and I am the one who is blessed.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for but none of it would have ever been possible if it were not for the Community that surrounds us. To each of you who are in our ever growing Community, I thank you for everything and I wish you a fulfilling holiday season. I know that mine will be fantastic because it started by me knowing I have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kimberly

A Brief History of Sunshine

How does one go about telling the story, the history, of what is a local landmark? For over 30 years Sunshine Riding School has been providing Luton’s children and adults with the opportunity to learn to ride horses and experience the wonders of our local hills and villages from horseback.

Sunshine Riding School started in the early 1980s in Mrs Pat Williams back garden on Ashcroft Road, Stopsley. They had 4 ponies including Nookie, a Shetland, and Jackson, 15/3 HH Thoroughbred. The riding school was renowned for giving pony rides at Warden Park as well as going to the local schools fêtes. As the school became more successful, the search for new premises began.

It was in 1989 that Pat and her husband, Nick, acquired our current site. Together they built 8 new stables, which comprise our East Stable Block today.  They worked to develop the land, erecting fencing for grazing paddocks and a jumping field. In spite of claiming that they would not have more than 4 ponies, it was obvious how popular Sunshine would be.

Sunshine was now working with Bedfordshire Police’s “Splash” programme helping young people who might slip through the cracks of the social welfare system.  This proved to be highly successful and even more of Luton began to ride. This family owned business was busy!

In the mid-1990s expansion was necessary. The horses needed some place to live as the herd was growing rapidly.  The Western Stable Block was built and a permanent, secure tack room was put in place.  A small office was created and is still standing as our Handlers’ Den. The biggest asset Sunshine made was a sand ménage for lessons and shows. Sunshine was now teaching flatwork, jumping and providing carriage drives for weddings.

As Sunshine Riding School continued to expand and provide for the people of Luton, Pat and Nick wanted to retire to their farm in Lincolnshire.  In 2006 they sold Sunshine Riding to Geoff and Debbie Lambert. Working with their daughter Emma, Sunshine continued as a family owned business.

Building on the successes of the past, Geoff and Debbie became involved with the Associated Board of Riding Schools and with the FEI’s Hoof Programme.  They had a big success with Get Back Into Riding and were able to expand the site further with 2 new buildings. Their belief that Sunshine Riding should be shared far and wide, Geoff started working with both Red Letter Experiences and Groupon.

Sunshine became the place for flatwork lessons as Geoff had the sand menage turned into a lovely rubber topped school. Improvement in the drainage meant that the school could be used year round.  Dressage became the goal and jumping took a bit of a back seat.  The Hacking Programme became huge as more and more people took the opportunity to explore Warden and Galley Hills via the 3 bridle paths at our doorstep.

It was under Geoff and Debbie’s management that Sunshine Riding faced its biggest threat.  A plan by Luton Borough Council to put a new road system in to create a by-pass from the A6 to the A505 would mean that Sunshine would cease to exist as the new road bed would go straight through our main grazing and teaching paddock. Geoff worked very hard with the wildlife and conservation groups to ensure the safety of both Sunshine Riding School and Warden & Galley Hills.  In 2012, Sunshine Riding School’s land was declared a County Wildlife Site and no further development could be done on the paddock lands.

Another family came into Sunshine’s history in 2014 when Geoff and Debbie retired.  The McGuinness family purchased the school and brought with them a different vision.

Over the last few years, buildings have been replaced and new ones added; the Jumping Programme is full on and competitive both home and away; Dressage competition is done monthly either in house, locally, or internationally; several new hacking programmes have been introduced including faux hunts for the inexperienced and the experienced.

A graduated, measurable teaching plan has been introduced which has made it possible for parents and riders to gauge their progress. There have been some new horsey hellos and some sad pony good-byes as our older horses have retired. It is a real smile maker for the staff as many of our riders are now a Sunshine Second Generation.

And everyone remembers Simon…….