Tag Archives: Horse Training

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!

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!