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Beautiful Jim Key — The Power of Love

I started this story as a way of telling the tale of Beowulf’s Tango. I have always believed that the best way to teach and train a horse is by using love and patience. I have known for many decades that horses are very special and intelligent creatures who want to please and do their best for their riders. I believe that horses who are rude and mean are only that way because they have had many, many bad experiences and they are responding to that fear. This is where we started with Tango, but this is also where I learned about an amazing horse called Beautiful Jim Key.

Beautiful Jim was born in 1889 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, USA. He was “owned” by Dr. William Key, who himself was an amazing man. Dr. Bill, as he became known, was born in 1833 as a slave to the Key family of Shelbyville, a small town outside of Nashville. As a small boy, Bill showed amazing promise intellectually and his master, Mr Key, was moved to take the boy into his family and educate him properly. This was both almost unknown and illegal as the law forbade slaves from having any form education beyond what was taught as part of a religious training.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1860, Bill joined the Confederate Army to protect his “brothers”, the white children of Mr. Key who he loved and in return was loved by them. Bill also worked as part of the Underground Railroad, helping fleeing slaves through blockade that divided North from South. Eventually Bill was caught by the northern Union Army and was charged with Treason. Somehow, not really known, Bill avoided the customary hanging and became the unit’s cook. In the evenings he would play cards with the soldiers – and he became very good.

When the war ended in 1865 Bill returned to the family plantation. He was shocked to see it in such bad order, but using the money he had won in his card games, Bill with the help of his brothers was able to repurchase the home. The family worked together to rebuild the land, creating a breeding centre and racetrack. During this time Bill became Dr Bill as he studied animal health and welfare. He also developed Keystone Liniment, a wide ranging rub for strained muscles and swollen joints that was good for both animal and human alike. It was a success and provided him a good income.

Dr Bill’s breeding programme had also produced fine, winning race horses. Dr Bill was well liked and highly respected, so it came a complete surprise that he would purchase Lauretta, a lovely Arab horse that came from a circus for $40. She was broken, neglected, underweight and of seemingly no real value, but Dr Bill saw something, “intelligent in her eye”. He took her home and cared for her carefully. When Lauretta was strong and healthy, Dr Bill breed her with his friend’s Hambletonian. At the time it seemed unfortunate, but Lauretta gave birth to an odd shaped, sickly foal who it seems she rejected and Dr Bill named Jim. Dr Bill was advised to put this foal out of his misery, but Dr Bill saw some “intelligence in his eye”. This horse would become the most intelligent horse the world had ever seen and was an intrigal part of the Humane Society.

Jim bonded with Dr Bill and his family. Dr Bill’s wife noted that the young foal was able to answer her question of whether or not he wanted an apple by nodding his head. He began to show responses like those of Dr. Bill’s young children and, in due course, even earned himself a blanket to sleep on in their house. It would be this way for the rest of this Bay stallion’s life. When Jim began to exhibit his quirky behaviour, Dr Bill thought it would be fun to teach him some tricks. Jim quickly mastered laying down and rolling over on command – later this would be his response to people when they asked him “silly” questions. He could also fetch, hand over objects, and after 7 years of gentle training, Jim could spell, add and subtract, do post office filing, make change, recognise bible verses, and answer random questions. Jim also liked to flirt with older women, which made him very popular when he began to tour with Dr Bill.

It was common to sell products such as Keystone Liniment by going to the various county fairs and shows. Jim did not like to be separated from Dr Bill for any length of time, so Dr Bill began to bring him along. Jim, who was now a very handsome, tall and strong horse, was to be Dr Bill’s assistant, but it was not long before Jim stole the show. Dr Bill would ask Jim to answer questions, which he did, but soon Dr Bill opened it up to the audience. Jim would answer questions as long as he was given a treat of an apple or piece of carrot.

Now Jim wasn’t the only horse on this circuit. There was also Clever Hans, who was owned by a German teacher named Helmut von Oston. Hans could answer what seemed like random questions, but it was actually a response from the body language of his trainer. A reporter from the Post Standard Newspaper was determined to prove that Jim was the same. The reporter was taken to Jim and Dr Bill waited outside. The reporter asked Jim questions and Jim refused to answer. When Dr Bill came back in and was told that Jim was a fraud, Dr Bill asked Jim why he was being so difficult. Jim spelled out “FRUITLESS”. Jim didn’t work for free. If you wanted answers, then you gave him fruit. The reporter was stunned and wrote up the experience declaring that Beautiful Jim was no fraud.

In 1894 Beautiful Jim was invited to the Tennessee Centennial Exposition where he performed in the Negro Hall in front of 7,000 people nightly. Although this was a hall reserved for black people, Beautiful Jim was such a draw that it was opened to everyone of all

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colours and he crowning moment was when he met United States President McKinley. Jim answered McKinley’s questions and told him what he though about politics. President McKinley said of the experience, “This was the greatest object lesson of the power of kindness.”

After the Exposition, Promoter (what we would call a Manager now) Albert R. Rodgers learned about Beautiful Jim. He contacted Dr Bill and promised to make them stars. He was as good as his word and the trio earned millions – in 1900 that was no mean feat. Beautiful Jim was valued at $100,000. In 1903 he had his largest audience of 22,000 people at a single performance in Kansas City. He had become the biggest box office draw from 1900 to 1905, and was a Head Liner at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. In 1906 Beautiful Jim and Dr Bill retired from the road. Beautiful Jim was suffering from the onset of arthritis and Dr Bill was now 73 years old.

Beautiful Jim was more than a performer. He was also the subject of close scrutiny. Because Jim’s intelligence was so pronounced, he was studied by various medical bodies including the Harvard Board. After serious investigation it was decided that Jim did his “tricks” because he was very educated and they felt it was on par with that of a 10 year old child. They were amazed that Dr Bill never used violence or harsh treatment to teach Jim anything. By using love and trust, Jim was willing to submerge his head in a bucket of water and retrieve a quarter (a US coin about 2.5cm in diameter). Horses don’t hold their breath and stick their nose in the water!

Jim was also a major part of the Humane Movement. Once the organisation had decided that Beautiful Jim was no hoax, but a lovingly trained horse, the MSPCA Head George Angel supported Beautiful Jim’s endorsement. At it’s high point, there were over 1 million members of the Jim Key Band of Mercy. The children involved would take the Jim Key Pledge and “promise to be kind to animals”. This is an amazing thing as people in 1900 did not see horses as anything beyond a useful tool to be used and discarded when their usefulness had been completed. The Jim Key Band was able to raise $700 to purchase a horse ambulance in Boston for sick animals. The first of it’s kind. People began to want horses trained with love.

Beautiful Jim did have a best friend and body guard named Monk. He was a smallish terrier type dog who protected his friend fiercely. If you wanted to see Jim, then you had to be approved by Monk. Not even Dr Bill had the final say on that front! Monk can be see in many pictures taken of Jim sitting on Jim’s back. Jim would kneel down so that Monk could jump up on him. The two were inseparatable.

Dr Bill died in 1909 at the age of 76. Monk and Jim died in 1912, when Jim was 23 years old. An amazing age for a horse in that period. Their lives together gave us today a wonderful opportunity. They began the serious study into horse intelligence and that study continues to this day. The use of positive reinforcement and supported behaviour have become the best and correct way to train.

Today’s Beautiful Jim is Lukas, a 16/2 thoroughbred ex-racer who suffered massive tendon damage from his racing days. When he was 9 he came to his current owner after being passed from pillar to post, and by using positive reinforcement and patience, he is now the holder of the title of The World’s Most Intelligent Horse. His story can be found on YouTube.

So how does this relate to Tango? When we took on Tango at 7 years old he was an angry, frustrated and difficult horse. He kicked and bit and put many people into A&E (emergency room). It was a conscious decision that we were going to put him on the LOVE OFFENSIVE. I was going to love this beast into the best horse he could be. It has been 5 years now and Tango is an affiliated Show Jumper with a future to look forward to. He is happy. He loves what he does. He loves his people. Yes, there are days when he is a bit tetchy, but then we all have them. Because of love, patience, playful training, Tango has become an excellent horse and part of our family. He will never be a Beautiful Jim or a Lukas, but he has become and is still becoming the best horse he can be.

“The greatest object lesson of the power of kindness” and Love.

For further reading:
Beautiful Jim Key by MimReves
The Biography of Beautiful Jim Key by David Hoffman.
Beautiful Jim Key is about to become a major motion picture starring Morgan Freeman as Dr Bill.

Don’t Feed The Trolls: Social Media & Horses

I tried for years to avoid social media. I was concerned about the amount of time Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram would eat into my already overcrowded schedule. Then one day I wanted to communicate easily with my brother in the States, so Facebook became my method of choice. I then branched out to Twitter as it was the platform that my husband was using. Over time (we are talking years now) and several marketing conventions, I finally broke and set up both a YouTube channel and an Instagram account. All of my sites have 1 thing in common: Horses.

I’m not alone in my obsession…uh, work. All the social media platforms are filled with animals. Humans love their animals. Dogs and cats have the lion’s share (pardon the pun) with dogs filling a whopping 44% of the animals on Instagram and cats racing in at 36% [source: reddit via google big search]. Horses come in at 18%. Now that might not sound like much but if you consider that only 3.5 million people in the UK own horses and in the neighbourhood of 50 million world wide, it is clear that we love photographing our “babies”.

I do use my accounts for showing what we are doing at Sunshine. It is much easier to show a picture of a young lady jumping safely and successfully that to discuss it. Also the photos provide a way of showing the development in a rider. Last year’s 50cm rider is now this year’s 85cm rider. It also shows off the quality of the horses I have. I want to be able to show the world how much we love our horses and this is the easiest way. It also gives prospective customers a clearer idea of what to expect when the come to my yard. Yes, all the bunf the marketing gurus said – okay, they were right and I was wrong to fight it so long!


And it is very big but…. There are people who live their lives in such a way as to make your life difficult. These people are called Trolls.

I am happy to admit or agree to the principal that everyone has their own opinion. Freedom of speech and thought is very important to me. I don’t mind a robust exchange of ideas so long as the information presented is factual, relevant and not intentionally degrading. I do not know all there is to know about horses in spite of being involved with them for 50 years. I am still learning. I spend much of my free time learning new ideas and techniques in care, training and nutrition. Yes, I take this all very seriously because they, my horses, depend on me not to screw up. If someone has a new idea or technique, I will happily look it over and judge it on merit and against my experience. If it is good, then I will use it. If not, then it is quietly discarded.

Trolls don’t work this way. They want to hurt you.

My first real experience with Trolls when when I posted some pictures of one of my horses who had been abused in a field when I wasn’t there. She had cigarette burns to her face and corners of her eyes. She had been kicked and beaten. I had the Vet out and after months of treatment, I am happy to say she is physically fine. Mentally and emotionally, she has never been the same. My purpose was to let local owners know there was psychopath in the area and to keep any eye on their horses.

It did not take long for the Trolls to appear. I was first told that the burns were due to headcollar rubbing (on the corners of the eyes?). I was told I was shit because I didn’t watch over my horse. I was told that my Vet was crap and didn’t know what she was looking at. I needed to get a new Vet. I was made to feel I should not have a horse, much less a riding school. It was all so very painful and for what reason? It was not to help those in the area who could be at risk. It was not to help the police investiagation (which was successful!) It was not to offer aid, support or help to either the horse or me. It was to hurt someone and make themselves feel better. How very sad.

I do worry when I have posted pictures on the various platforms. I worry when our riders do it. I am big and mean and confident and can deal with Trolls. I really don’t want them to have to. I have seen posts of less than photographically perfect jumps and moves. Why would someone post that? Because they were proud of what they did. They had been able to do something they had never done before. On the odd occasion, they post it to say, “please don’t do this!”  But by and large it is to celebrate a special moment in their life.

We don’t know these folks. We don’t their history. Is there an injury that’s been overcome? Is there an educational issue? Is there a disability issue? We don’t know and probably will never know, unless we go to meet them and talk with them. Trolls don’t care. Trolls don’t want to care.

So what do we do when we are being trolled? Ignore them. My eldest son always says, “Don’t feed the trolls. They need your emotion to survive.” He’s right. It would be great to just be able to delete their posts, but that is not always possible. The thing to remember is that trolls are quickly and easily spotted. Don’t engage as if you do, you then give them a larger platform from which to operate.

Also don’t swear at Trolls. You end up looking bad. When someone says a blind, 1 legged monkey could have jumped the fence better than you, do NOT respond by calling them a stupid ba*tch. Ignore them or thank them for their kind opinion. Taking the moral high ground is really hard, but it is the right thing to do. If you engage in a slanging match, more people will remember that you took a troll seriously and ended up looking bad, than just letting the comment die in cyberspace.

Three things to remember:
1. Pictures tell their own stories
2. People are brighter than you think

See you soon and Keep Riding!

The Purple Poppy

It’s been a 100 years since the guns went silent.

A century since we bombarded the other side with mustard and chlorine gas.

It was to have been The Great War – the war which ended war.

My grandfather was at Passchendaele. It’s also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, and it went from July to November of 1917. Both sides each lost between 200,000 and 420,000 men. It was hard to tell as so many were lost in the mud, explosions and general gore. My grandfather didn’t really like to talk about that time, but he did show us his “war wounds” – the scarred feet from his bout of Trench Foot.

FRANCE – 1920: War 1914-1918. Douaumont’s ossuaire (the Meuse(Maas), 1920-1932) and the cemetery, in the foreground. RV-898013. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

I never really appreciated it all until I visited the site and war graves in 2001. Then I understood his far away look and deep sadness each November. My father, a WWII veteran, would join him at sunset each November 11 and drink a silent glass of whiskey. It was their salute to their fallen, but never forgotten comrades.

The years rolled by and I never forgot what my grandfather told me. His happier reflections centred around the fact that he had been able to ride with General Pershing. He would talk about how important this man was and how important the bay mare my grandfather rode was. Again, it is only now that I reflect also upon that unknown horse, who I think one of my aunts may have been named after.

Each year the Royal British Legion sells their red poppies. The poppy is a sign that we haven’t forgotten and it helps raise necessary funds for today’s soldiers. The red poppy is currently everywhere. But what about the purple poppy? The purple poppy is hard to find. It is the flower that reminds us of how many animals were lost in The Great War.

Sixteen million, that’s right million, animals were used during World War I. Horses, dogs, cats and birds filled the trenches of both sides. Dogs provided companionship but were also used to help find the wounded, carry first aid when it was not possible for a human to do so as well as to sniff out bombs. They were also instrumental in finding the dead. As you probably know, birds, specifically carrier pigeons, were used to send messages. Anyone caught with a carrier pigeon was immediately branded a spy and both bird and human were summarily executed. Cats were the first suicide bombers as they would stealthily meander across no man’s land to opposing army’s trench in search of food. Their effectiveness is still open debate. Then there were the equines.

Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the Great War. Britain provided over a million horses in the European Campaign and another 65,000 in the Mesopotamia Campaign . The USA sent 1 million over via ship and another 185,000 with their army. The British “topped up” their animal forces at about 100,000 horses each year. The French provided 17 regiments of mounted soldiers. The German, Austrian, and Russian forces had equal numbers. The various allies of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, Italians, Turks and Slavs all provided immense numbers of equines. These animals were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front, pull ambulance wagons, as well as participate in numerous failed cavalry charges.

For the British, they lost 1 horse for every 2 men.

These animals not only died due to warfare injuries, they died from shellfire, appalling weather, overwork and starvation. Some troops even went as far as to kill the horses for food for themselves.

You may have seen the stage play or film, War Horse. Joey’s story is rather accurate. We all held our breath as tears rolled down our faces when the injured, blind Albert Narracott wanders in desperation to save Joey, his horse, from being shot by the unit Commander. At the end of the war many horses, mules and donkeys were simply abandoned. They were also sold for slaughter to feed the starving human population. Many were simply shot so that the local population would have no access to them. As the troops came home, often their most trusted companion did not. Britain tried to repatriate as many as they could and it was about half a million, but of the nearly 600,000 Australian horses only 1, Sandy, returned home.

Blue Cross Animal Charity began in 1887 as Our Dumb Friends League, but changed its name in 1912 after the Balkan Wars. Its purpose was to help the horses of war. It was instrumental during World War I in making sure that horses had proper treatment for the host of diseases that were rife – ringworm, tapeworm, mange, equine influenza and anthrax were common. They also helped oversee surgery for hoses caught in gun fire. Blue Cross is still active today supporting horses who have been abandoned, neglected or wilfully injured. They rehabilitate them and try to safely re-home as many as possible.

After the war, the millions of donkeys left in the Middle East were cruelly treated. A group of British women were appalled by what they saw and did what they could to provide appropriate veterinary care and food for these animal heroes. In 1930 they formally created The Brooke Trust which operates to this day as a charity to help the donkey population in the Middle East and around the world.

There is a good reason to wear a purple poppy. These animals didn’t ask to go to war nor did they celebrate it. They died for us. They gave their all and until recently no one spoke on their behalf. On 11 November I shall remember those who fell, both human and animal, and I shall remember my grandfather and his bay mare which he left behind in France.

Next year, please wear a purple poppy along with red poppy to Remember All Who Gave Their All.

My Big Bang Theory

No this isn’t about Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj. This isn’t even about Dr. Stephen Hawking or any other scientist. It’s about fireworks – a big bang we all understand.

We understand it if we are human, but not many animals get it. Many of you own cats and dogs, and you have experienced their distress at the sounds which they can’t make sense of. I regularly read about these beloved pets hiding in small dark spaces such as under beds or in bathrooms. No horse can fit under your bed and very few will fit in your bathroom, so what are we to do?

The change of season from summer to autumn is an exciting time as the world explodes in a rich mixture of yellows and oranges which turn our landscape into a beautiful tapestry. Throwing in the vibrant sunsets of reds and purples, one gets to enjoy the magic that is October and November. It is also the time year that we begin to celebrate many things – The Harvest, Diwali, Halloween, Samhaim, Bonfire Night, the list goes on and on. The one thing we do as humans now is to try to mimic the beauty that is Nature at the seasonal change in the night sky. So we light large bonfires and beacons, let off fireworks, and generally have a good time. Meanwhile, Pasha shivers in fear at the back of his stable.

Anxiety in horses can manifest itself in several ways. Your horse could go off of it food, refusing to eat either their concentrates (hard feed) or their hay, or God forbid, both. Your horse could begin to kick their doors or walls (this is supposing they don’t already) in an effort to escape. Your horse could begin weaving or box walking in an attempt to distract itself. Your horse could start to call out looking for support from their friends. In worst case scenarios, your horse could colic, become depressed, or become violent. So how can we help our equine buddies while we enjoy the 3 weeks of fireworks?

I have found that using a variety of things help get my horses through this time. For my high-strung thoroughbred and warmblood, I give them chamomile. Now this doesn’t work instantly and does require some forethought. I find that if I start supplementing their feed on or about the 15th of October, by 5th of November they are very relaxed (Don’t plan a show for this period!). My son’s showjumper is having his nightly feed spiced up with some fennel – calms him down but makes it so he can still jump. And yes, one does get strange looks for the amount of fennel I have to purchase for T. For my big Ardennes, who is usually very chilled in temperament, lavender infused bedding helps a lot. At 750kg I don’t need him going through the side of a stable. For the rest of my horses I find that extra grooming gives them the emotional support they need. I also am not afraid of speaking with my vet if I find a horse is very distressed by the nightly goings-on.

I have also found there are supplements created by companies such as NAF, TopSpec, and Dodson & Horrell. I am not against any of these products so long as they work for your horse. They can be seen as an expensive luxury, but if you consider how much damage a horse can do to you, their stable and themselves, it is well worth the average £25 to get through this period. What is important is to not wait until the day before the fireworks go off to start giving it to them.

Now I want you to understand that I am not against fireworks. I actually rather like them, but I am aware that my pleasure may not be Crystal’s. I do encourage everyone to act responsibly with, near and around fireworks. Even the ones that don’t bang can cause equine distress. Large bonfires worry and frighten horses. Don’t ride to a Wickerman or bonfire if you have not desensitized your horse to this type of fire. We have regular bonfires at my yard and my horses are pretty good about them. This being said, the first one of the season always surprises them and puts them a bit on their toes. I do also admit that on Bonfire Night (the weekend near 5 November), I do spend the time when the fireworks are going off on the yard, checking and reassuring my buddies that all is okay and not to fret. I have to do this because I’m located near 5 different displays – I really do get treated without having to go anywhere! I also do this on New Year’s Eve.

I do want everyone to have a great Autumn Party Time, but please think and plan what you are going to do to help your friend through this time. You may have a horse which sails through with no problem, and for that you should count your blessings. For those of you who have never thought about it, spend a few minutes considering what you could do to make your friend content. It only requires you to be very aware of any changes in their habits, and respond accordingly. It also helps to keep notes of what has happened so that you are prepared for next year.

Wishing you happy Diwali, Halloween, Samhaim, Bonfire Night!

And Keep Riding!

My Good Friend Sue

    We lost one of our own  this week. It wasn’t a surprise – rather expected in fact, but it still leaves us with a missing place in our lives where someone is supposed to be. Death is like that. It’s not like when someone moves far away (like New Zealand). Then you know there is still a chance that you might see one another again someday. Death is the final goodbye until we meet in Heaven, if that is what you believe, otherwise it is just over.

Sue was an amazing lady. She had been diagnosed with cancer years ago, but you would never know it. Sue lived every day like it was her last day. She had a wicked sense of humour and twinkle in her eye. She made us laugh and, in her own quiet way, made us live. After my accident Sue created The Gimpy Ladies Club so we could compare our limps. Unfortunately mine got better and her’s got worse.

Thinking back on life and Sue’s part in it, it makes me think about how little we appreciate what we have. We always think that we have time to do whatever we want. Because we, as Western Civilisation Humans, live such long lives compared to just 3 generations back, it is easy to become complacent. It is simple to procrastinate. Tomorrow I’ll do that thing I’ve been wanting to do for so long, but tomorrow never comes. Maybe it was because Sue knew her time was limited that she had such a zest for life. She was often down at the stables doing a variety of things besides grooming and riding. If there was a need, Sue was quick to volunteer. “Sue, we need another rider for the Gymkhana.” “Oh, just let me get my hat and grab Spot. Are we going to be cantering?” Or, “Sue, I need someone to be the Show Secretary. Are you available?” “Well,” says Sue, “I’ve never done it before, but just explain it to me carefully and I will.” Or, “Kimberly, this tack is simply disgusting! What are you doing with it? I, obviously, need to clean it today.” “Okay, Sue. Need any help?” “If I do, I’ll ask.” There was nothing she wasn’t willing to do or try. I really wish I could say that about myself.

What upsets me most of all is that Sue was younger than me by 4 years. While I would dream about what I would do when I was old and grey, Sue was happy to live the day. I won’t say she was the eternal optimist or a Pollyanna. Sue knew what the score was and was happy to have the time she had. She was grateful to battle into her boots (and it was a battle) because she knew that one day she wouldn’t be able to. And she would tell you that honestly. She loved our Thanksgiving Dinners and was surprised to be made part of them. I shall miss her this year at our table. Sue was part of all our celebrations – birthdays, shows, the We Got Through The Month Bonfires. I can’t picture a single one where she wasn’t a part, telling stories, chastising Simon, and living. Suddenly I realise that we have gone 5 months without a Bonfire. Not because we didn’t have anything to burn (really now, this is a stable. We have TONS to burn), but because we just stop celebrating the little victories in the big battle of life. Last time I saw Sue she said it had been too long and that I should “stop slacking and get it organised.” Sadly, our next bonfire/party will be in memory of this wonderful lady.

Yes, this death has hit me hard. But it has given me the boot up the bottom that I needed. I need to live life like Sue did. I need to find a reason to be happy everyday. I need to fight the good fight and not give in. I need to love my friends more. I need to forgive those who irritate me. The Yard has been quiet since the news came on Monday, but I am not sure this is what Sue would have wanted. She was honest with us about what was happening and how she felt. I don’t want to remember her in black and mourning, but a vibrant woman who gave life as good as she got. So for Sue, I’m going to celebrate more, ride a difficult horse and be grateful for the friends and family I have.

In your Sunset, Sue, keep riding.

Burghley Horse Trials Day 3: Show Jumping & The Championship

If you have been anywhere near the news or social media then you know that Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy won the 2018 Burghley Horse Trials. It turned out to be more than just another Kiwi winning or the Britain v. New Zealand Competition. It was a fascinating and nail biting day for both competitors and spectators alike.

The morning started at 9am with the Trot Up. The Horse Trials had begun with a full complement of 80 riders, but the whittling away started quickly with 2 horses failing the first Trot Up. Friday morning had 2 more withdrawn and Saturday was decimating! So this morning it was announced that another 6 had withdrawn and would not continue competing in the Show Jumping. We were down to 39 to finish the event. The jury began looking the horses over for fatigue and injury. There were several quick discussions while the Rider and audience held their breath. The big shock came when Kristina Cook’s Star Witness was sent to the holding box for re-presentation. He had trotted up with a low head and lack of impulsion – was he tired? Was he lame? After a half dozen riders had been passed, Star Witness re-presented and was a lot more like himself. Again after a brief discussion he was passed and the crowd went wild with joy. Who says showing is boring?

The first round of jumping began at 11:15 over a course of 13 fences, 16 jumps. Jump 11, a triple comprising an upright at 130cm with 2 tight strides to a spread with 2 tight strides to an upright to exit, proved to be a real bugbear as pole after pole fell. The other the jump that caused problems was Number 8, sponsored by the National Lottery (how appropriate), which was also a tall spread. The faults earned this morning went from 4 to 20, some with time penalties. There were no clear rounds to be had. This lead the gossips to wonder if this was going to be the way of the day. Remember that the top 4 leaders had less than a fence between them!

Lunchtime offered a display by the Lancers in memorial to WWI. It brought a lump to the throat as we remembered the huge number of horses that were taken to France only to never return. By 1916 the majority of horses at the front had to be brought from the USA or Canada. They had 8 weeks training and then were sent to the front as either Chargers or Gun Horses. Mules, in their thousands, were used to move equipment and wagons. In spite of the best efforts made by their riders and grooms, 90% of the equines in the war died, most in horrific circumstances. Although horses are still used in active duty in the British Army, this war was the last that would see the horse soldier as a major player.

We were also treated to the Racehorse to Riding Horse final which would give the winner a place at October’s Horse Of The Year Show (HOYS) at the National Exhibition Center, Birmingham. It was wonderful to watch horses, some who were total failures as racers and some who were £750,000+ winners, compete side by side with an equal chance of winning. After 45 minutes the winners were announced. Unfortunately the horse who came in 1st with the HOYS entry failed to behave and stand when being awarded the prize. No matter what the Rider did to try to control the horse and not have it back up or swing it quarters, it just would not listen. The jury was heartbroken and the Rider, in floods of tears, knew that the jury had to obey the rules and disqualify them as winners. The prizes were re-awarded according to this change. It was a cruel way to remember how quickly things can change in the equine world.

The last event before the final Show Jumping was a display by the Gurkha Regimental Band. The band was excellent and provided a much needed break from the drama of competition. Each member carried a Kukri, and although not as big as the one Mark Todd fell at, it was still large enough for Crocodile Dundee to give it appreciation.

The Show Jumping resumed at 2:20, and Jumps 8 and 11 continued to cause mayhem. It took Camille Lejeune of France on Tahina Des Isles to break through and give us the first Clear Round. There still weren’t many, but enough for the tension to build as we drew closer to the final. As poles kept falling I was forced to wonder if it was because of tired horses or tired riders, and I do think it was more the riders than the horses. As the poles kept rattling in cups of Jump 11, I saw many riders taking a very sharp half halt in an attempt to put more power in the jumping flank. The most successful actually used a well set up stride with a softer hand. Andrew Nicholson gave us the Masterclass in how to do that jump and not look like you’re working! He ultimately came in 3rd. Piggy French and Vanir Kamira also made it look easy, but alas, Star Witness (Kristina Cook) wasn’t as good and took 11B down.

The final two…. Oliver Townend on Ballaghmore Class was defending his crown against Tim Price on Ringwood Sky Boy. Burghley 2017 had these two head to head and Townend came out determined to win once more. The ride began positively and Ballaghmore Class soared over the early jumps. Shockingly it was Jump 5a that Ballaghmore trailed a hind leg and dropped the pole. The cries of disappointment from the crowd were both loud and heartfelt. Not giving in, the pair rode the rest of the course like the champions they are, even floating over Jumps 8 and 11. Then came the challenger: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Their round was filled with grit and determination as poles rattled in the cups and the crowd hoped and prayed for this winner to do it on a Clear Round. Their prayers were answered and Ringwood Sky Boy crossed the finish as the New Champion. It was so exciting!

It was a wonderful Burghley this year with lots of new faces and more competitors coming from foreign places. It was truly international, but bound by the love of the horse. The Americans’ technique differed slightly and the Swedish Rider has such style. The Irish proved how much they love their horses, giving pets and rubs between jumps. Yes Burghley is primarily British, but there are a load of Aussies and New Zealanders, which goes to show just how far people are willing to go for this amazing competition.

I am coming home with ideas and inspirations I want to share with my riders. I’ve been to some talks and even cornered someone in the BHS tent. This is a place where it shows what we can do if we are willing to work hard enough for it. I’m willing to put in my blood, sweat and tears, and I hope my riders are willing to as well. Not everyone will be a CCI4* Eventer, but we can all be the best we can be.

See y’all next week!


Burghley Horse Trials Day 3: Cross Country

Burghley Day 3 means it’s Cross Country Day! It was so beautiful that I am now sporting a wonderful late summer sunburn. I spent the last 2 hours under the arena roof in the shade. That is not to say I didn’t do my fair share of wandering around and looking at the fences. And what fences they are!

Burghley’s Country Country course has had a major facelift. In spite of how challenging the obstacles are, there is simply no way to avoid the damage that wind, rain and Storm Doris can do to a course. To be honest, it was looking tired and a bit dated last year, so I am very pleased that Captain Mark Phillips, Burghley’s expert course designer, and his team gave us something to new to look at and consider. Mark Philips, one of the top if not The Top equestrian designers has been actively involved with Burghley for years and has created some of the best new jumps on the site, so this year’s offering was super exciting. There were 30 fence combinations which comprised 50 separate jumps. A herculean task for horse and rider!

This year’s course started in the usual manner with the opening jump being over the Olympic Legacy Horseshoe. The route then heads to the Main Arena where there is a combination that includes jumping through the Land Rover 70 Anniversary before heading out to Discovery Valley. Discovery Valley is completely different. Gone are the palisade and brush shaped vehicles and in are some positively terrifying logs. The trees that had fallen from Storm Doris have been de-barked and moved to the Valley. These trees are between 80cm and 100cm in diameter with the Papa being even bigger. I jumped logs when I was younger and this made my stomach clench. The combination at 5 has 2 offset monster logs with a ditch in front on the rear one. You get 2 strides to between. Yes, this did claim Polly Stockton who missed the line on the first and ended up with both her and her horse on the ground – actually, Polly was in the ditch. She’s fine but her horse decided to finish the course without her and we had a long delay on the course.

If you survive Discovery Valley Part 1, you get to fly on to a redesigned Elephant Trap which is now the Rolex Grand Slam Rails before heading to the Leaf Pit. To be honest, you can’t redesign the Leaf Pit but the alternative jumps didn’t really make it that much easier. Yes, we had 2 off at the Leaf Pit mostly due to not being balanced before taking the triple rail combination that completes the jump. Then you are off back to Discovery Valley for Part 2 – a large log with a downward landing before coming back up to take a skinny log with a back bar.

You leave Discovery Valley and head for the new jump – the Gurkha Kukri. This big knife shaped log took the scalp of Mark Todd. The Trout Hatchery also saw a few folks swimming. The new big thing is The Fly Over. Because Phillips wanted to turn the course back on itself, it was necessary for the riders to be able to cross paths without hitting each other. An oncoming rider is NOT another fence to contend with! So they built a 3 and a bit meter high Fly Over. One horse goes over the top and on to Winner’s Row while another flies down the hill from the Dairy Farm and through the underpass to The Cuttings. In an ideal world, there would be a moment when the riders would cross, but in reality, they didn’t. We hoped, but they just couldn’t comply.

The back half of the course seemed far more controlled and, dare I say it, safe. There were lots, more than normal it seemed to me, of retirements. This always makes me happy because it means the rider knows and cares about their horse. They know when their friend just isn’t up to doing any further. It show sense, compassion and safety. Yes, we all like to see our favourite doing amazing things, but I personally prefer to see my favourite make it home safely.

So today ends with tomorrow being an all out Great Britain v. New Zealand affair. With less than a fence separating the top 4, the Show Jumping will be the most vital component in years. I have no clue who will win as they are all hungry for this victory. If I must choose, then it will be Oliver Townend who has been the most consistent over the last 4 days. But it is all to play for!

Burghley Horse Trials Day 2

Day 2 at Burghley Horse Trials was as lovely as Day 1. The sun shone brightly and the air was warm. There was clearly far more people at the event today as the stands by the 4th Session were standing room only. The riding continued to impress with Mark Todd and Oliver Townend holding most of the top spots. It was interesting to watch obviously frisky horses being made to behave and do as they are told. There was clearly Dressage By Negotiation today.

Because I don’t feel I know it all, we were able to purchase small ear radios which broadcast expert commentary. It did my heart good to note that my observations from yesterday were spot on, not to mention the moment one of the commentators actually said, “Corners are your friends” when discussing appropriate distances in the test. I didn’t stand up a shout Buh-yah! but I did feel like it.

Back to what I saw…. Some things we need to be working on and I will be pushing us toward is a greater use of the back end of the horse. The horse must move from back to front and not the other way around. The back end must provide the impulsion while the front end provides the direction. I know I have said this before, but again, I feel I have more veracity now. This back impulsion is so clearly evident in the Extended Trot where the horses seem to float over the grass rather that stomp through it. The deep step with the upward thrust to make the stride provides the lifting power this movement requires. I see lots of trotting poles in our future…….

Continuing with the use of the flank, the commentators gave a lovely talk about the stretching of the horse from the flank to the bit in the walk. Again, the power of the Extended Walk comes from the inside(!) hind leg which drives the outside shoulder and should make the horse want to step through the bit. I am suspecting this is more than Magic’s “throw my head down and evade the bit”. In the midst of all this, the horse’s head must be free to move in a natural manner. There is a real art to getting just the right amount of touch on the reins to allow all of this. We have lots to work on!

The last thing I’d like to discuss is the Halt and Rein Back. This seemed to be a bit of bugbear for many of the competitors. The previous move was a Collected Trot coming from M. The key was to stop square without going through walk. Once the horse stops, he must be both relaxed, aware and prepared. He can not switch off, start swinging his head or chew his bit. In a few cases, please don’t drool either. Once the horse has stood square, then there is the balanced walk back of 5 steps. It is vital that this be done in diagonal pairs with deliberate steps. The horse must not display any tension or resistance to the move or the aids. Uh…yeah. Did I mention it also has to be straight with no swinging of the quarters? Now I know this can be mastered by (many) hours of practice and is a good thing for the horse to know in case it gets itself caught in a tight space, but it is tricky. What I noted was that many competitors rushed the Halt to Rein Back. The horse was not actually square and settled before making the backward movement and this resulted in a myriad of small errors which seriously affected the marks. Also, because the back steps were not positive, many actually dragging a foot, the next move of striding off into a Medium Walk looked more Riding School Pedantic than World Class Equestrian – and the marks made that point.

Today was great and, yes, the missing circle which has become known as #MarkToddMoment, did appear. Apparently under FEI rules for Eventing, the repeat and correction of a missed move is allowed in Dressage because these are not specifically dressage trained horses. As these horses are All-Arounders, some grace must be given. I am glad that there is some recognition of this, but I do have to say that I am incredibly impressed by the level of training and presentation these horses have. There are several that I am convinced could compete in pure Dressage and place in the very top. I am looking forward to tomorrow as Burghley as had a bit of a facelift this year. The course walk should be fascinating and the competition amazing!

What Happen Today At Burghley — Day 1

Today was the first day of the Burghley Horse Trials – a 3 day event that tests the world’s best horses and riders to highest level of their ability. It is a spectacular 5 days.

Yesterday was the Trot Up, which checks each horse’s health and fitness. Something which is vital when the animal is going to be asked to show a level of gymnastics and athleticism few will ever experience. Unfortunately 2 horses did not pass the Trot Up and were withdrawn. A real heartbreak for both horse and rider. There were a couple of close calls which means those horses will be carefully monitored throughout the event.

Today, 30 August, was the first of the Dressage Days. To bring you visually into the scene, the gentle breeze blew, ruffling the flags which lined the low white fenced dressage arena. Warm sun shined down on the gleaming horses who performed on the thick green grass while the steel drums played Caribbean music softly in the background.

The Test was new – only created last year, 2017. I was surprised because it did not have the usual elements of a Serpentine, or Counter Canter. Instead it has a large section of Medium & Extended Walk. There is a big trend right now to develop and improve the walk, making it a positive and dynamic part of dressage and not just the relaxing poor cousin. I was very pleased to see it and even more pleased to see how serious the judges took it as reflected in the often lower marks that the trot and canter sections.

The Test is loaded with “Bends and Balances”. There is a lovely ask of a Shoulder In down the quarter line moving to a Half Pass. To do this properly, the horse and rider must move absolutely straight down that quarter line with the outside should perfectly in line with the inside hind foot. A quick straighten and rebalance in 1 stride to move into the Half Pass. Wow! Hard! Impressive. Missed a fair few times with 3.5 – 5.5 marks being given.

The hardest move, based on the fact that several riders missed it totally, was a Half Pass from V to I, then down the centre line to a 20m Circle Left – Lateral, Straight, Bend. I think this was more of an ask for the rider than the horse as the buzzer went 5 times to tell the rider of their error. I was rather surprised that the riders could take a buzzer and repeat a move then go on to the missed move and finish the test. In Pure Dressage, to have missed a move would be a 0 on that moves score. There did not seem to be this penalty as Mark Todd on Campino, second rider of the day, was the first to miss the circle and ended the day in the top 10.

The Flying Change also was score breaker. The judges were looking for a fluid change that was both elevated and straight with both front and hind changing at the same time. I think our Tuscany would have shined at this! The judges were definitely looking for the big step into the Change and the preparation was 3 steps of Collected Canter. Lots of horses showed they could do it on one rein but not equally well on the other. Of course we do need to remember that these horses are not Grand Prix Dressage horses or trained to that level, so this is a big ask of them. I was very pleased to see how well they responded to the questions.

The last thing I noticed today was the number of new rider faces as Burghley. It is always lovely to see the previous champions and Olympians, but it is a treat to see the riders coming up and through. It shows that this sport is very much alive and growing. And these new riders are every bit as good as the old friends we know and love. The level of riding I saw was very impressive and I can see an exciting week ahead!

The Whys of Rugging

Last week was Handlers Camp, a 4 day residential camp for the young people who volunteer their time each weekend because they love horses and want to learn more. It was a bit hot, but our topic was rugs. I do know it is August, but soon (almost too soon) it will be November and rugs will be of utmost importance. So, we measured the horses and we measured the rugs and we fit the rugs to the horses (who were confused as to why we were doing this in 28C heat) and we cleaned the rug room. For those of you who just didn’t make Camp this year, here’s a bit of what we talked about and learned.

The Joys of Rugging
Or Roughly When and How You Do It

Rugging a horse is probably the single most contentious thing any owner has to face. The fighting and arguments about rugging have gone back decades if not centuries. There is simply no hard and fast answers. To make matters worse, the equine industry has been quick to meet consumer demand and have created a multitude of different types of rugs. We are long past the days of, “If it looks cold, toss a rug on it.”.

So what rules can we follow? The first place to start is the breed. If your horse is a desert type (Arab, Barb, Mustang) and you live in Scotland, you will need to purchase A LOT of rugs. If you have a hardy breed and live in England, you will have far fewer rugs. It is important to remember that breeds from hot countries have evolved to be able to withstand high temperatures and rid themselves quickly of internal body heat due to a very low fat levels. They have a fine coat and large sinus cavities – both of which are perfectly suited to a hot dry climate. Because Thoroughbreds are half Arab-half Warmblood, they suffer in colder climates.

It is rather obvious but you also need to look at where you live. You may not be all that into The Weather Channel, but you need to at least have the BBC Weather App on your phone. Knowing the seasonal expected high & low temperatures as well as the expected precipitation patterns (it doesn’t ALWAYS rain in England – sometimes it snows!) will help you make the appropriate decisions as to what type of rugs are the best for your horse.

The next thing you need to look at is your horse’s home. What type of stabling and turn out does he/she have? Are you in a wooden stable or a brick barn? There is more heat retained in a brick barn. How does the sun affect your stable? Are you full in the sun or are you in partial shade? Again, this makes a difference when it comes to the retained heat in the building. And then there is the question of how long is he/she in the building. If you are stabling your horse every night, then a very heavy rug might not be your best choice if you live in a temperate climate. If your horse has 24 hour turnout and you live in Cathness, then a heavy turnout with a neck and possibly bandages on the legs is required. Most of us don’t live in extremes (although I have lived in the American South and on the northern coast of Scotland) and that is what makes rugging your horse so hard. Over the last 40 years I have learned that a horse simply does not have 1 rug for the day and 1 rug for the night, even if they are Ardennes.

And the last thing to think about before you go shopping is what does my horse do? Is he/she clipped? Your horse’s workload and your expectations make a huge difference. If you are going to be competing over the winter, then you are probably going to have a clipped horse. It doesn’t matter if you own a thoroughbred or a cob, a clipped horse in January will require a rug. The real question is how many. If you are planning to turn your horse away, don’t clip and let them get a bit shaggy. If you are loathe to rug a horse that spends most of its life in a field, then you must watch them carefully for signs of cold. Yes, my Charlie went most of last winter without a rug, but when it did get really cold (0C), he still got one. And this leads me to Naturalists…..

There are a group of people who believe a horse is part of nature and will self regulate their body temperature and hair growth in a natural way according to the laws and elements of nature. My response to this is, well yes, providing humans do not interfere. However, the minute you own a horse and are keeping it in an enclosed grazing area and riding, you are interfering. A wild horse will roam for miles to graze to keep warm. That really can’t happen in a 10 acre field. A wild horse will be in a herd where they can share warmth, and if there is a fight, well that’s part of nature. A domesticated horse may have a herd but we, the owners, then to loose our minds when there are fights and injuries because we usually want to ride our horse. We try to support their grazing needs by giving them hay piles in the field during a bad spate of winter, which simply does not happen in the wild. These piles can often be the cause of fights. I’m afraid I take the position that you either have a truly wild horse and leave it totally alone or accept you have a domesticated animal which will need appropriate care and dare I say it, some rugs.

Now let’s go shopping….
So what rug do I need? After properly measuring your horse, ask what are you wanting the rug to do. Example: my horse suffers greatly from flies and has reactions from fly bites. So your horse needs a fly rug. Now ask yourself: Is my horse a calm, docile thing or is he/she an active, playful, destructive type? If your horse is calm and docile then a simple fly sheet will be fine, but if they play, bite and roll lots, then a fly rug with a reinforced belly and seams (which does cost more) is your answer. Don’t try to skimp to save money. Please remember, “The cheap ones cost you more.”

Another thing to consider when purchasing a rug is how big is your horse and how big is the rug. Now I have a Grand Ardennes. He’s huge (and lovely). He has a barrel chest (takes a 56” girth and he’s not fat!) and is 17/3.5HH. I bought him a 7’3” heavy weight Weatherbeater turnout. Although it was the right length from chest to bum, it didn’t drape past his armpits. It looked rather silly on him. At £89.00 it was an expensive mistake. I know know that I have to make sure the drop from the centre line of his back is at least 38”. A friend of mine has a New Forest and she purchased a 5’7” for her and it hung past her knees. Again, an expensive mistake. So know what size your horse is on every angle including their neck so that you can measure the rug and get the best fit possible. Oddly, one size does not fit all.

When shopping please remember that “Water Resistant” is different from “Water Proof”. Water resistant will keep him/her dry in the dew or mist. Water Proof will keep them dry in a storm. Water resistant will help in a rain/snow shower, but will get wet through eventually. Water proof will keep the interior fluff dry. In both cases, a wet rug does need to be hung to dry properly or both types will suffer from deterioration of the chemical which repels moisture.

If you are going to buy second hand rugs (a very common thing), make sure you have them laundered before you use them. Even if they have been washed by the previous owner, doing it again will give you the peace of mind that the rug is clean, vermin free and proofed to your requirements.
One last thing that I was taught as a young girl (read Dark Ages)…. You will get more warmth by layering rugs than using one big heavy one. If you layer rugs, then you will get air between the layers which warms with the body heat and will keep the horse warmer. This is the key I learned:

Type of Rug                                    Warmth Level
Fly Rug                                                0
Field sheet (Rain Coat)                       ½
Lightweight sheet or fleece               1
Mediumweight Rug Field or Stable   2
Heavyweight Stable                           2.5
Heavyweight Field                              3
Any Neck on any rug adds                 ½

So by adding up the rug amounts you can see that 1 fleece with 1 necked stable rug is warmer overnight in a stable than a medium weight stable – in fact it is as warm as a heavyweight stable rug!

It is important to remember that no matter what you decide and do, someone will always tell you you’re wrong. Everyone is an expert, but please be the expert for YOUR horse only.

Hope this gives you some food for thought and helps a bit.

Keep Riding!