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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!


The Fashion of Riding

It is now officially Show Season. Everyone and their District Riding Club are now hosting a big event which will visited by everyone who is the proud owner of an Equine Friend. Shows are great fun and the excitement of the competition along with the all the shopping and food….  And who says equestrians don’t have parties?!

I host small home shows.  Some day that may be more than that but right now I’m happy.  The most common question I get from the New Competitor Parent is, “What does she have to wear?”  They look very concerned because they know deep down this is going to cost a bomb.  I try to explain that for us, having a clean simple uniform is fine for the lower levels, but when you are jumping at 60+cm or doing the harder Preliminary Dressage Tests, then you must have the proper outfit. What composes the proper outfit? Here’s your basic list:

Home Shows:  Jodhpurs or dark leggings but no jeans, white shirt,
plain tie, plain coloured jumper, boots, and hat

Local Shows:  White, tan, buff or yellow jodhpurs, white shirt, plain tie, black, navy or tweed fitted jacket, long boots or boots with chaps, black or white gloves, and hat

Major Competitions, Affiliated Shows or Venues: White, tan, buff or yellow jodhpurs, white shirt, cravat or plain tie both with pin, black, navy or red jacket with velvet collar, long boots or boots with gaiters, white gloves, and a hairnet if your hair is long enough to touch your collar. If you are in the military, then you wear your dress uniform with coordinating jodhpurs and long boots. Your hat should be velvet or a top grade Champion type.  If you have questions, please contact the relevant adjudicating authority.

Hunter Type Competitions:  Tan, buff or yellow jodhpurs, white or plain coloured shirt, coordinating tie, a tweed jacket with or without a velvet trim, field boots, buff leather gloves, a coloured velvet or Champion type hat, and a hairnet.

Cross Country: Coloured jodhpurs are fine, a polo type shirt, a skull cap hat with no fixed peak, a number bib, gloves, a stopwatch wristwatch, short boots and gaiters (sometimes chaps are allowed). Coordinating Hat Silk is optional but a hairnet is not and your hair must be secured above your collar.

My eldest son has more in his equine wardrobe than in his normal wardrobe!  Yes, having it all is expensive.  So try to get what you can as you can afford it. Think carefully about what is the most important part to get first: hats and boots are a bit obvious, but then perhaps the jodhpurs and let the jacket(s) be last. Tan jodhpurs can be worn in showjumping and hunter events, but you must wear white or cream in dressage.

Don’t even get me started about what is required for in-hand showing, but take a quick look at the picture and you’ll get the idea!



Recently however I’ve been faced with a new challenge. My riding school is located in an area with a large Muslim population. The girls who ride here are just as passionate about their horses as they are about their religion. The thing that must be remembered and respected is that Islam has very strict modesty rules. How can girls who wear a jilbab be expected to suddenly wear jodhpurs?

It did not seem fair to me that these girls could not compete and show their skills. Some of these girls are amazing. I started researching on the net to see what was done in the UAE, Dubai, Saudi Arabia. Actually, it was only men who rode and competed according to the pictures. It didn’t make sense as the former president of the FEI was HRH Princess Haya Al Hussein of Jordan. I checked with the British Horse Society, British Showjumping, and British Dressage. There was nothing. Nada. So I called the local mosque.

I am sure the Islamic Cultural Society and Central Mosque of Luton thought I was being a prankster when I called them about this. We went round and round and all I got out of it was that the girls were to wear something loose that didn’t show their body shape.  The kind man on the end of the phone told me their clothes should be modest and not tight. So after I hung up I began to think. If the Imam can’t create something, well maybe I can because I don’t think the girls should have to chose between their religion and their love of horses.

I ran my idea past one of my Muslim parents whose daughter is planning on doing our June show and she thought what I proposed would work fine.  So if your Islamic, this is YOUR SHOW GEAR:

Instead of jodhpurs: appropriate coloured trousers of the salwar kameez, or split and stitch the jilbab up the centre to create an all-in-one type jumpsuit (her words not mine) which you can put the shirt and jacket over. White Shirt and tie is fine.

As you will probably be wearing a body protector-jump vest, get an oversized jacket that can button up over the top.  This combination will mask any body shape.

Wear a hijab that is the same colour as the jacket. It should be thin enough to tuck into the collar of the shirt and be comfortable under the hat. Tucking in is necessary for health and safety because we don’t want fabric blinding the rider over a 70cm jump!

The Islamic Cultural Society agreed with me about the gloves, boots and hat. This should make a smart looking outfit that will be both modest and meet the basic requirements of the various governing authorities as listed above. If anybody out there knows of a better set of suggestions or knows of the approved guidelines (which were seriously hidden), then please let me know.

Now that this all cleared up and we have something for everyone to wear, I look forward to seeing all our riders and riders around the world having a great summer of friendship and competition.

And please remember, you and your horse aren’t competing against another pair in your class, you are competing against yourself and the ideal of perfection.

Keep riding,


The Question of Weight

The question of a rider’s weight is a tricky minefield. I am the last person to ask about weight as I am currently struggling with post injury weight gain, but I do have both knowledge and opinions. Providing you have the right horse and are in good physical health, there is no reason why anyone can’t ride.

I remember a article I came across a few years back asking who was actually healthier: an 8 stone (112lb) model or a 14 stone (196 lbs) rugby player. Both were women. After a series of tests it was decided that the rugby player was more fit because she was actively involved in sport, but they were both healthy — albeit the model was on the lower edge of what was good for her. The rugby player was full of muscle and had a good BMI, heart rate, and cholesterol. The model had virtually no fat, exceedingly low BMI, good heart rate & cholesterol, but she did smoke. So why was the model preferred over the rugby player? Aesthetics. Fashion. Culture.

Currently the fashion is at many colleges to not allow anyone over 12 stone (168 lbs) to ride. They say the horses can’t take it. It is not healthy for the horses. It is bad for their backs. This is where common sense and emotions clash. Even in my most fit and healthy days as a competitive adult I would have struggled to meet the 12 stone guideline. My body isn’t made that way.  My doctor has said I need to be 13 stone (miles from my current 15). But what is important is not just the rider’s weight, but an accurate measurement of what a horse can easily carry.

I had a long talk with my Vet, Laura, about this very conversation as we now have a new, fine boned pony. I thought she was a touch underweight but Laura is convinced that Rosie is just great as she is. So we talked riders and weights. Now in Rosie’s case the rider’s weight isn’t going to be an issue as she will only carry small children. But what about Magic? Or Dora? Or Henry? What should they carry?

I have seen women (yes women and never a man!) ride a small to small-ish pony —  Callie & Pasha types– and they are clearly too big for their mount. They are 13 stone and not a very trim ones at that. It is obvious to all the spectators that the horse is struggling and possibly in pain. Yet these women are allowed to complete and even win their class. Yes the horse doesn’t run out on them or buck or spin, and I suspect it is because they simply physically can’t do it with that weight on them. What makes me furious is that the Stewards allow them to continue. I only know of 1 case where a Steward stepped in and stopped the ride. The stink from it was amazing and filled many Comments sections. I thought we equestrians were in it for being with the horse and not just being in it for ourselves.

There is real damage an overweight for the horse rider can do. The pressure on the back and spine can cause permanent disfigurement and/or something called Kissing Spine, where the vertebrae touch. It can cause psychological issues or trauma. The time needed to “fix” this is long and arduous. In cases of Kissing Spine there is no come back and the horse must be retired from riding to be a companion.  They will live the rest of their life on pain killers. All because someone really didn’t think before they rode.

So how do we make a reasonable decision regarding the weight of the rider versus the comfortable weight a horse can carry?  I looked up guidelines of various national and international organisations to find this answer.  Not that I am 100% perfect on this, but here is the formula I came up with:

= [(xkg x 0.2) x 2.2] ÷ 14

The total weight to be carried (∑) is equal to the weight of the horse in kilograms (xkg) times 20%. This will give you a Kilo weight guideline. If you need the guideline is pounds, then multiply that answer by 2.2.  If, like me, you need it in Stones, then divide the pounds answer by 14.

For my horses over 20, I use this formula

= {[(xkg x 0.2) x 2.2] –1xYR}÷ 14

The total weight to be carried (∑) is equal to the weight of the horse in kilograms (xkg) times 20%. This will give you a Kilo weight guideline. If you need the guideline is pounds, then multiply that answer by 2.2 (So far it’s not changed).  Now you subtract 1 pound for every year (xYR) over the age of twenty. If you need it in Stones, now divide by 14.

Yes, it’s a bit complicated but if you put it in a spreadsheet like Open Office Calc or Excel, you only have to do it once as they will do the hard part for you! Don’t forget to save.

So I weigh my horses every month and with these formulas I can protect them from overweight riders and adjust their feeds as necessary.  As a horse owner, it is vital that we keep on top of our horse’s health.  Maths is not my favourite thing to do, but then again, neither is paying Vet Bills for injuries I could have avoided by being sensible.

Riding is great exercise for the rider and will give them both an emotional exhilaration and a physical challenge. Competition is a great way to see how you are progressing and how good your training is. Your horse should love to show off how beautiful they are and it should be a positive experience for everyone — horse, rider & spectator.  As a rider, it is your responsibility to make sure you are not injuring your friend by being just that bit too big for them. If you are too big, then maybe you should add a New Friend to your stables that is right for you.

Remember, it’s not about us. It’s all about The Horse.

Keep Riding!



Happy (slightly damp) Easter!

What can one say about the weather?
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,

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,