Tag Archives: Horse’s Health

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!

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 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!