Tag Archives: Horse’s Health

Horse Story: Miss Dottie

Some people, adults actually, wonder why I call Dottie “Miss Dottie”. I suppose the reason why is because she reminds me of a lady I met when I was very young, Miz Ellie. Now that is “Miz” not Miss or Mrs, but Miz.

The summer of 1970 was a Golden Summer for me. I know that is trite, a trope, but it is true. We all have one Golden Summer of our childhood that we all remember.

Easter Egg Hunt 2018

That Summer of 70 (unlike the song) was filled with sunshine, hot days, warm nights, swimming lessons, trips to my grandparents lake house and a trip to my other grandparents lake house. It was 3 months of bliss. The best thing that happened was I made a friend.

My parents decided that they were going to extend our house. My father hired a man from Louisiana named Mr Beaubarre to oversee this building project. This was quite unusual for where I lived because Mr Beaubarre was black. When I was introduced to Mr Beaubarre I could not say his name properly because I was both not Creole and six. I called him Mr Blueberry. Oddly he liked that and said I was to always call him that.

Mr Blueberry had a son who he called Junior who came to work with him. I never knew what Junior’s real name was but he was simply called Blueberry, which he also laughed and liked. He was also six. We spent that summer exploring the woods together, playing in the building sand, climbing trees, riding bikes and having a great time. Blueberry and I had a lot of fun and caused more mischief than my mother really deserved.

As with all building projects, it came to an end. Mr Blueberry said that the winter was too cold for them. They returned to Louisiana and I never saw them again. It has been 48 years and I still wonder what happened to my friend Blueberry. I do hope he had a happy youth and is still laughing and loving like he did in 1970.

Now Blueberry had a grandmother, Miz Ellie. She wasn’t a particularly large lady, about the size of my mother (which I now realise as an adult means she was actually very small, probably 5’2”, which is kinda big when you are 6). Miz Ellie came everyday with Mr Blueberry and Blueberry’s lunch. She would arrive at 12 noon in a shining dark blue car (don’t ask makes and models – remember I was 6!). Miz Ellie was immaculately dressed including hat and gloves. We had a table on our patio and Miz Ellie would set out lunch and they would eat – knives and forks and everything (my Mom gave me a bologna sandwich on a paper plate!)

I learned very fast that Miz Ellie was not a lady to meddle with. If I was being silly or cheeky, her face was would become hard and she would raise her thin eyebrows. A shiver would go down my spine and I would adjust my behaviour immediately. The one time I was rude, Miz Ellie looked at me and said, “I am surprised that such a fine young lady would have such an ugly mouth.” I was devastated. She also mentioned it to my mother. I was grounded for two days. I never did it again. Blueberry told me I was lucky that I wasn’t her grandchild because she was wicked with a switch.

Miz Ellie taught me many things that summer and I still (when I remember) abide by them today. She taught me that being a lady doesn’t mean that you have to have a pedigree from the finest houses, but to behave in a way that brings honour to people and God. She was a wonderful person and I know that Blueberry loved her deeply.

So why does Dottie remind me of Miz Ellie? Because they are cut from the same cloth as it were. Dottie is the oldest horse at Sunshine. This year she will be celebrating her 28th birthday. She loves children and tries to teach them things that are more than just riding. She likes to be groomed and loves to be made to look good. She is polite, but does know her own mind. She will tell you off if you are doing something wrong.

From the passport records, Dottie came to Sunshine 20 years ago. She was originally called Dusky, but that was changed at some point. Almost everyone who knew Dottie years back, know her a Dottie.

Dottie is a Welsh A pony from Wales. Like Miz Ellie, her linage is not great or famous. It is a pretty good bet that she came from Pit Pony stock. Wales had over 70,000 pit ponies in service before World War I and they finally stopped using ponies in 1979 when the last two came up. Pit ponies did not have a life, to be honest. They were often bred, born and died in the mines.

Halloween Fancy Dress 2018

They were expected to carry up to 3 tons of ore up to the surface or to the surface elevators each week. They had little to no veterinary care. Most of them did not see their 9th birthday. They were tools and treated as such.

When pit ponies came to the surface they had another problem. Most of them were blinded by the light. They had only known darkness and their eyes could not adjust to the brightness of day. Due to this, many were put down because who wanted a blind pony. The rescue societies started after World War I. They put pressure on the government to stop the use of pit ponies, but they were only mildly successful. What really changed was the development and implementation of machinery. Machinery didn’t need fed. Machinery didn’t need sleep. Machinery didn’t have “do-gooders” causing problems. The rescue societies did save thousands of ponies and did see that proper care regulations were put in place.

It was the 20th Century which created the Riding School. The small ponies which previously used for work became used for leisure. The children’s riding pony became very popular with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Riding became an activity that the middle class could take part in. A very big social change for Britain.

So what has Dottie done since she came to Sunshine? Dottie has taught over a thousand children to ride. Dottie has worked with disabled children. Dottie has competed in both show jumping and dressage. Dottie loves to hack and still takes part in them. Dottie has told us in no uncertain terms that she is not about to retire.

We have tried to retire Dottie because she is an elderly horse. If she was a human she would be 87 years old. Okay, not as old as Queen Elizabeth who still rode at 89 years old, but still a good age to stop! Except she won’t. Dottie also has a disease called Cushings Syndrome. This affects her legs and feet and can cause laminitis (which will kill her), her ability to control her weight, her ability to shed her coat. This last one means that she regularly gets a full clip – we call it her spa day. She is patient and appreciates it.

The laminitis is my biggest concern. A horse is only as good as its feet. Now you know how much care has been expended with Magic’s feet, and we are always on the watch regarding Dottie’s. Dottie had a bout of laminitis in 2018 and it nearly killed her. I had not “officially” had her diagnosed for Cushings because it was just obvious she had it. The previous manager, Becca, had done a fantastic job keeping Dottie sound and I simply followed what she had been doing. Becca had warned me that under no circumstances should Dottie have any sugar. She was very clear that sugar meant a one-way trip to the Rainbow Bridge. I listened and did as I was told. Some how, in some way, some one gave Dottie sugar. The Nightmare Began.

We caught the laminitis very quickly.

With Huw, 2015

I saw she was standing oddly and then could barely walk. We immediately began icing down her feet and legs with cold water. I called the Vet and Dr Laura was out within the hour. We created a deep soft bed for her and began praying. Dr Laura provided the various medications needed and did take a blood sample for the Cushings Test. There was not much more we could do but keep cooling her feet every hour and make her comfortable. This went on for 7 days. Dr. Laura returned and although there had been no improvement, there was no further deterioration. It was decided that we would give it another week, and if there was no improvement, then I would make the dreaded call.

Carnival 2015

I called a meeting of the Staff and Handlers. I told them what had happened and what was going to happen if Dottie did not improve. It was not a pleasant morning as shock and tears filled the yard. The potential loss of Dottie because of a polo mint taught them an important lesson. Never feed a horse anything without permission. I still do not know who fed her the sugar, and I don’t want to know because I believe whoever did it has punished themselves more than I could have ever devised.

June Showing 2019

Dottie turned the corner on day 12. She began to perk up and I cried with relief. Dottie was seen by Dr Laura on Day 14 and she confirmed that Dottie was improving. Dottie spent the next 4 months on box rest. She was loved and cared for and observed constantly.

As The Dragon, St George’s Day Show 2019

We received word from Dr Laura 3 months after the attack of laminitis regarding the Cushings Test. Dottie had scored 908. She should not have had above 60. The question was, “How is she alive?” Dottie is tough. So we started her on new medicine which in 6 months lowered her protein count to 274 and a year later she was at 149. I haven’t had her tested this year because of the lockdown, but when we are free and open, we will give her another test. She is now looking as good as she did in 2017 when she was younger, stronger and healthier.

So Dottie has had a life of ups and downs – rather like Miz Ellie. I don’t think I would have wanted to a black woman in America in the mid-twentieth century. I am pleased that Miz Ellie got to see the Civil Rights Movement and the improvement of situation for black people in America. Miz Ellie was tough but she was kind and loving as well. Dottie is tough, kind and loving. Both of these ladies has been a honour to have in my life and I am sure they would have been good friends.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography, and all the riders of Sunshine who have over the years loved this beautiful lady.  Thank you very much.

Horse Story: Pure Magie

In so many ways, she is the face of Sunshine Riding. She is both a Schoolmaster and a source of unending frustration. She is protective and liberating. She is both kind and challenging. She is Pure Magic.

For any adult or teenage rider, Magic is their first choice. She is a 16 year old, 15/2hh black Shires x Dales lady. Obviously trained for dressage as a young horse, Magic has also taught so many riders how to jump and jump well. The real challenge is when you leave the saddle of Magic and then jump on the likes of Stan, you quickly find out how much she took care of you.

I first saw Magic in a picture many years ago on a google listing. I felt a bit sorry for her because she was standing in a field un-groomed and covered in dirt. She looked like she hadn’t been worked in a while. It was not a complementary photo. She was a young horse and it looked like there was a big personality. Upon meeting her in person, Magic proved to be more than that.

One thing you might notice about Magic now and Magic 7 years ago is her mane. When I arrived at Sunshine, Magic’s mane was “hogged”. This means it was cut or clipped close to the top of her neck. The original purpose of this is so that the horse’s mane doesn’t interfere with their tack, especially if they are wearing a pulling collar. Magic doesn’t pull. The reason that was given to me for hogging the mane was that it would be easier to groom her because she has a thick a mane. I was not impressed.

24 December 2013

So Magic’s incredible mane became one of the items on the list of “Things I Am Changing” when I fully took over. I can understand the rush of the grooming when a riding school is busy and that hogging a thick mane can make life easier. However, Sunshine was not so busy that her mane could not be attended to properly. Over the last 7 years, Magic has had a trim as needed and her mane has been thinned a few times, but it has been allowed to grow to its full glory – and what a glory it is! She is a walking, trotting, hair-flicking shampoo ad.

Another thing that came to light with consistent deep groomings is that Magic is actually a black-on-black dapple. This is not a common feature. It is technically known as The Leopard Complex where dark or darker spots appear on the horse’s coat. It is a genetic trait and you are probably most familiar with it when I say Appaloosa. Magic is a True Black horse, which is uncommon but not rare, and that means she does not bleach out in the sun to a chocolate brown (like Henry and Dottie). Her spots show most in the summer when her coat is at its thinnest, and they form a blanket across her hind quarters. It is beautiful to see and marks out her paces stunningly.

Magic does have gorgeous feathers as well. I don’t really know why when a horse’s lower leg is covered in long fur it is said to have feathers, but they do call it that. Feathers are common in Northern European equines and is more than likely an environmental mutation to keep the animal’s legs warm in deep snow or mud. It is commonly found on draught type horses. Magic has them as does Annie (Irish Cob) and Pasha (Dartmoor), while Charlie (Ardennes) has them on his back legs but not his front. All of these are “hearty breeds” which can stand being outside in the cold of winter without a rug (I rug anyway because I truly hate the mud they find!).

As beautiful as feathers are, horses with them are prone to an insect infestation called Feather Mites. Magic gets them. It is very hard to get rid of the mites, which bite and cause itching and possible infections. Imagine having a mosquito bite and your only way of relief is pounding your feet so that your fur will relieve the itch. There are several ways to deal with mites. One way (which I consider rather drastic) is to cut all the feathers off – no feathers, no feather mites (we are considering this with Annie as her feathers are a complete mess anyway). Another way is to wash the feathers in a specially made, store bought mite killing shampoo. If the mites are very bad, then the Vet can prescribe a medical shampoo, but it costs a bomb. The last way, and the way we deal with mites at Sunshine, is to have an injection which affects the horse’s skin and causes the mites to die. This treatment method was originally created for cattle, and I remember when it was first made available to horses about a decade ago. As it is a cattle treatment, you do have to sign a consent form, but I have never had trouble with the Mite Jab on any of my horses. Yes, Magic is due one this year and from the amount of hoof stomping in both her stable and under saddle (not a nice feeling!), it will be done sooner rather than later.

As you can see I am a lover of grooming Magic. She is a beautiful horse who loves her beauty treatments. The sad thing that happened in Magic’s life is the contraction of canker. Canker is a permanent infectious process that causes a chronic hypertrophy (i.e., enlargement or increase) of the horn-producing tissues of the equine hoof. The disease generally originates in the frog, but if left untreated, it can spread to the adjacent sole, bars, and hoof wall. It is seen commonly in draft breeds, but it can occur in any breed of horse. One or multiple feet can be affected at the same time, but it tends to affect the hind limbs more frequently. Canker appears like Thrush, another common bacterial hoof ailment, but its treatment is very different and must be overseen by a Vet in conjunction with a farrier. Thrush is often the result of wet conditions and poor hoof care (something I am a real unpleasant person about if I spot it), but Canker can appear even if the horse has perfect hoof care. There is a study out currently regarding the presence of the bovine papillomavirus and the development of Canker. Let us hope this leads to a cure.

Magic had spent the summer and autumn of 2013 (I was a livery then at Sunshine) being treated by the usual Thrush remedies and her previous owner refused to bring the Vet in when nothing worked. I was told in May of 2014 to consider putting Magic down because this disease was not curable, would be expensive and require a lot of care. I refused to do it because I will not end someone’s life because they require a bit more management than someone else. Therefore we are very quick to act on any sign of Canker flare-up, Magic has been able to work properly and compete for the last 7 years with barely any interruption. So this disease is manageable. It is true that this past autumn Magic had a serious flare-up in both of her hind limbs. It has taken 5 months to sort, but she is now good and healthy. The only real problem is the mental scars from the pain and discomfort. Because her frogs were nearly destroyed (they have since regrown), when one goes to pick out her feet, Magic lashes out fast with the hoof. I will tell you that Magic’s kicks hurt. A LOT.

So how does one deal with equine psychological issues? The same way you would if it was your child. You show patience, care and most importantly time and love. Will Magic get over it? In time and as long as we keep a constant eye on her feet. She is now healthy, so our next real step is to get her back in shape again.

Box rest, like bed rest, is no friend to an athlete. Magic gained weight. A lot of weight to the point she was obese – which didn’t help her feet. Magic topped out at nearly 680 kilograms (she normally weighs in at 560 kg). When we came to put her saddle on, it sat on top like an ornament. She was Therewell Pony (google it for some laughs). So we started walking her because this was the best and safest exercise we could give her. Yes, we did manage her feeds, but she is a hearty horse and does not really loose weight in the winter. When we had our Annual Inspection, we did explain it all to the Vet who was very understanding of what had happened and what we were doing. He agreed she needed to loose a lot of weight but in a sensible manner. Magic learned to walk miles and soon the saddle did fit. Next was a lot of groundwork to rebuild her Top Line – these are all the muscles of her back so that she can support herself and a rider. I won’t say it is 100% there yet, but she is getting a lot closer. She is still a bit round, but she is also now strong enough for lessons and hacks. Jumping will be very limited due to both her fitness and her feet.

One last thing about Magic is that she is one of our 3 Disabled Rider horses – Crystal and Pasha are the other 2. Magic knows instantly when she has a rider who needs extra support mentally, physically or emotionally. Magic will protect them but yet let them develop as riders in their own right. One of Magic’s greatest days happened in the Summer of 2018 when she gave a rider of 30 years her first canter – something this rider was told she would never be able to do. The Rider cried, the Instructor cried, I cried – all for joy, while Magic looked like a proud Mama. She had taught her rider well. This is a gift very few can every give another.

Pure Magic is just that – amazing, cheeky, funny, frustrating, joyful, talented, a bit of an exhibitionist, a competitor, a woman of love.

Mirror Image with Annie

She is the Alpha Mare and acts as Auntie and Godmother of June (it’s so funny to see June get confused as to who her mother is sometimes!).

Winner Christmas Show 19 as 12 Days of Christmas

She runs her herd with a calm but definite demeanour. She loves her competitions and is a regular winner at whatever she decides she doing. In Magic’s mind, “If it is worth doing, then do it right”. I love riding her and she has brought even me back from the despair of never riding again.

Knowing the love of Magic makes you a very special person. Magic, like Charlie and June, will spend all her days with me at Sunshine. This is her forever home and she is one of my Forever Ponies.

Thank You to “Auntie” Chris Cole who loves Magic almost as much as she does photography. Yes she is our baby.

Horse Story: Charlie

I can’t believe it has been a decade since I adopted Charlie. I remember the day I met him. We were at Greenacres in Harpenden. I had just returned for a trip to the USA when I was told that two horses had arrived and perhaps I would like to look at them. There was a mare named Star and a rather sad looking boy named Cassius. I rode the mare but I just didn’t click with her. She was young and narrow and I felt too big on her (and we are talking about my thin days here). Cassius was in a box stall at the back of a side barn. I went and looked him over. Again, it didn’t look promising.

I agreed to have a ride on Cassius. I was greatly surprised at how good it felt. He, unlike the mare Star, was interested and willing to do what I asked. Best of all, it felt like I was riding an easy-chair! I was asked if would I take him. I said I’d think about it. The next day I went to spend time with him with no one around. I felt drawn to him. He wanted to give someone his love. It was after a half an hour of talking with him I looked him in the eye and said, “Your name isn’t Cassius, is it?” He shook his huge head no. “You’re a Charlie, aren’t you?” And he rubbed his face down my chest and pinned me to the wall (not in a mean way) giving me all the horsey-love he could. I knew his real name therefore I was “obligated” to adopt him, but I wasn’t going to be pushed into a decision even by this big boy.

It was a few days later that Beowulf came down with me, and we asked if Wulf could ride him. I knew that my 11 year old was grossly over-horsed, but I also knew my 11 year old would grow and, if I did get a horse, it would have to be for me also. Wulf got on Charlie and you could also most hear the “click” in the air. Wulf walked, trotted and cantered that horse like he had been doing it for years. His teacher at the time, James, put a cross pole up for him and the pair sailed over it like champions. James put it as an upright. They flew over it again without touching it and then rode on to another jump which had been left up after James’s brother’s training session. It was a metre high. I shouted out, “Wulf! What are you doing?” as the pair bore down on it with Wulf’s heels kicking for the jump.

They launched and flew not only over the pole but the wing. It was 150cm. They landed as if it was nothing and cantered on as smooth as silk, Wulf in complete control.

I looked at James, who was flabbergasted, and nodded. I adopted Charlie that day. Never again would he be Cassius. He was Charles D’Argent – Charlie Gold.

Living with Charlie has not been easy. Things I didn’t know at the time but have since found out: Charlie was a stallion until a month before I adopted him and he has 3 children; Charlie is a rare breed and NEVER should have been gelded; Charlie eats for London; Charlie has the most expensive tack ever and his size is almost impossible to find. Also, Charlie had never really been on the bit until he was mine.

At the time of the adoption, I had worked on and off with horses for 40 years. I knew what I was doing and how to get things done. So it came as a complete surprise that I could not get a bit in his mouth. It was awful. I was viciously criticised by “The Ladies” at Greenacres for purchasing a horse I could not handle. I couldn’t understand why he was behaving this way until I found out they had been using a chiffney on him (a very cruel bit used to control horses). The chiffney went away but the mental damage had been done. I ended up contacting Wulf’s teacher in the USA, Mr Charlie Carrel of Colts Unlimited, and asking for help. Charlie gave me advice with bitting and it worked almost immediately. To this day, I have not had trouble getting a bit in his mouth (unless he’s being cheeky!).

I also had the fun of being chewed out by “The Ladies” because Charlie kept trying to mount their mares. “What kind of horse do you have?!” What could I say? I was rapidly learning that there was a whole lot more to Charlie that I was expecting. One lady was thrilled that Charlie was so forward with her mare, and she was hoping that there would be beautiful babies. I was unsure of what to say again, but I did get the Yard Manager to check one more time to see if Charlie was still a stallion. I also went home and read up on stallions and geldings. Apparently if a stallion has been to the mares and is gelded afterwards, it doesn’t matter. He is still mentally a stallion. Yep, Charlie is a stallion – ask him and he’ll tell you.

I wanted find out more about Draught horses as I never had worked with one before. In October of that year, I went to Horse Of The Year (HOYS) in Birmingham. I saw that the Draught Horse Society had a booth there, so I visited. I talked with them about Charlie and showed them his pictures. A lovely lady, who was also The Director, said that she thought he was a beautiful boy, but he was not a Draught Horse. I said, “But his passport….” and she assured me that whoever created it was not clear what they are doing. She sent me on to The Ardennes Society. I went there and talked with them. They took one look at Charlie’s pictures and claimed him as one of theirs. They then did a search and found him – and his 3 children. This confirmed his “mounting issues”. They were furious that he had been gelded because he is/was a stallion in a rare breed. I swore I would take care of him forever and that they would have no further fear for him. I must admit that when he went to shows, we would be regularly approached regarding using him to stud. It was sad to say that he “no longer had the equipment”.

Because I thought Charlie needed more schooling and education than I could give him at the time, Charlie was put on the school at Greenacres. Several of our riders at Sunshine remember Charlie from his days there. Charlie also was ridden in both mine and Beowulf’s lessons. In spite of being told that Charlie should be pulling a plough, Beowulf and Charlie developed together and were soon moving from Show Jumping to Cross Country. Beowulf was 13 years old when he and Charlie did their course together. I was both terrified and bursting with pride. They have not looked back.

Charlie has moved with us from stable to stable over the years. He has always ended up Head of the Herd, Master of the Yard. I am not sure if it because he is so big – 17/3 Hands and 750 kg – or if it because he is confident in who he is and that he is so thoroughly loved. This love was frighteningly tested in 2015 when the vet detected a heart murmur and said that Charlie was no long fit for competition or school work. He could be ridden but only as personal riding horse. Beowulf was devastated. His first true equine love was in a bad way. Then we had the night when Charlie could not breathe and we thought we were going to loose him. We were able to get his airways open and it quickly became a hunt to find what allergen had caused this reaction and further damage to his heart. I went through ever bit of food he ever ate, every type of hay or haylage, every type of bedding, looking for the answer.

It was a Wednesday and the boys were at their French lesson. I was still searching through all the veterinary texts to find a clue. I nearly flicked past the article. It was entitled, “Garlic isn’t always good for horses”. That seemed insane because horses and garlic are part and parcel. I read the article anyway. It stated that for a small minority of horses, usually very large in stature, a garlic allergy can cause constricted airways, cardio stress and uneven heart beats, extreme mood swings (I will tell you now that there is nothing as terrifying as being on Charlie when he having one of those!), and metabolic issues (your horse is fat, no morbidly obese, even with 6 days a week of exercise). I sat there feeling like a lead weight had been taken off of me. I had found the answer.

I immediately (as in throw his dinner out and make fresh with NO GARLIC) changed his meals. Trying to explain to grooms and caretakers that Charlie is allergic to garlic has been difficult over the years, but now no one argues with me. It took Charlie 3 years to recover from what had happened to him. Today he does have some residual breathing issues but they are treated with over the counter antihistamines. His heart has become regular in an odd way, but the pattern is regular. His weight is now proper and he looks good.

Due to my accident I can no longer ride Charlie. It isn’t that I’m scared or don’t have what it takes, it is just that I can’t dismount. It is too long of a way down for my left leg (Magic is almost too tall for me!), so Charlie has a new second rider (I was always second). Garry helps train him, hacks him out, and is using him for medieval mounted archery. Charlie doesn’t mind having a fully armoured knight on his back! Also since the start of the lockdown at the end of March, Charlie has been back in the jumping ring. He can currently do a course of 7 at 40cm and that is getting higher by the day and fitness level. He is also happily doing his dressage – something he doesn’t mind but doesn’t find as interesting as time spent with poles. Beowulf, Garry and with me coaching means that Charlie is returning the horse he was before his illnesses.

Charlie will be celebrating his 16th birthday on 18 July this year. He is not old, but he is no longer young either; however, Charlie is the Godfather of our herd here at Sunshine. He will protect the newbies to the herd and he will care for those who aren’t doing so well. He will put anyone in their place if they fail to show respect. He will play (for a bit of time) with the youngsters and graze with his brothers. He is still The Boss and will be so for a long time.

There are not words to explain how much Charlie means to my family and how deeply he is loved. He is my son as much as my two human boys. Charlie is truly part of my personal family and will never leave us.

Horse Story: Molly

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can trot round trees
Come jumping, riding friend, let us do it again,
Hit the course, fool around, let’s go party
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party!

I’m a Barbie horse in the Barbie world
Leap over cross stick, it’s fantastic!
You can brush my hair, and groom me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

(From Barbie Girl, 1997, Original composers Soren Rasted,
Claus Norreen, Rene Dif, Lene Nystrom)

Yes, Molly is our Barbie Pony – a beautiful 14 hand American Golden Palomino with a flowing blonde mane and tail. She is what every little girl dreams a pony should be. That being said, our Molly is a handful.

This is Sunshine’s third Molly. The first Molly was here in the late 1980s (along with Dolly and Polly – “The Ollies”). The second one was a Burghley Horse I adopted in 2016. That Mollie was chestnut New Forest with a big jump. This Molly is also a Burghley Horse I adopted in September 2019. She also has a big jump.

It must be something about the name as we have had some issues with this Molly, similar but different to the previous one. This Molly is lovely to handle on the ground and to groom. Molly likes being in a lead rein class but looses her mind in an upper level group lesson. It came to a head in December of 2019 when she took one of our best riders all over the field in an insane panic that included bucking, rearing and bolting. This had gone beyond bad behaviour and was fast becoming a dangerous situation.

I am not one to just pass my problems on to someone else. For a horse to behave that way there must be a reason. She was not like that when she first came to Sunshine so what was causing the change.

On our Hunt For Santa, 2019

Yes, I like a good mystery. I started by looking at her body. Was there a physical issue such as bad feet or previously undetected muscle injury?1 I found none so I moved on to her teeth. A previous mare, Tuscany, had behaved very similarly when I first started working with her and her problem turned out to be a Wolf’s Tooth. So I asked Simon to stick a thumb in her mouth and rub along the gap. He pulled his finger out quick and declared, “There’s something bloody sharp in there!”.

So having my answer, my next step was to call the Vet, Dr Laura, and have the tooth extracted. We all believed this was going to be a simple process that would take less than an hour and could be done on the same day that Annie was sedated for the farrier (yes, Annie has to be sleepy or dopey [any of the dwarves will do except Grumpy!] so that her feet can be attended to). I arranged for our Apprentices to be here to watch, learn and assist. I remember that Tuscany’s extraction took 45 minutes followed by 6 weeks of healing. It was good plan. The only problem was I didn’t discuss it with Molly first.

So Dr Laura arrived and sedated the mares. She began working and it wasn’t going to plan. The tooth wouldn’t budge. Molly woke up. Annie’s feet get done while Molly was re-sedated. Tooth refusing any movement. Molly wakes up again. Molly re-sedated again. After 3 hours, Dr Laura, now exhausted and frustrated, finally was able to get that tooth out. The Apprentices had already gone home and those who remained, including Molly, looked like they had been through the battle of their life. And to top it all off, the tooth, although sharp, wasn’t very big.

I don’t think I’m putting mildly when I say that Molly was a bit peeved with us. Her jaw hurt and now she wasn’t eating very well. If you came near her, the ears went back and she would plant herself at the back of the stable. It was probably a good thing that the Handlers weren’t there the day of the extraction because Molly refused to have anything to do with anyone who had been present. It was the Handlers who loved her into accepting the yard staff again.

Because the whole Wolf’s Tooth incident was so traumatic, I was reticent to put a metal bit back into her mouth. When it was tried, Molly became very agitated and I do believe it was because she was frightened by phantom pain. The level of memory is as varied as the horse, but one thing all horses remember is pain and who or what caused it. To make riding pleasurable again for Molly, I decided to start her on a Doctor Carter Bitless Bridle. This bridle works by having crossed leather thongs under the horses chin which will draw the head to the left or right as they are attached to the reins. We purchased this bridle originally for Rosie, but since Rosie isn’t ridden the bridle was only gathering dust. At first Molly didn’t know what to make of it, but soon she was happy with it. Her saddle became the next issue.

Horses like humans change shape every season. It is all based on diet and exercise, and for horses, their stress levels. Horses loose weight when they are stressed (I wish this was true for humans – I’d be a size 0!). I think we can all agree that the tooth caused a lot of stress for Molly. Her saddle wasn’t fitting and was slipping every-which-way-come-Sunday. A saddle which seemed to fit her through the back and shoulders had been found, but it required a special 5-point harness. It was also a touch long. Molly was now very fussy and knew that if she said something I would sort it.

So what did Molly say? Molly said, “I hate my saddle, so change it!” by bolting off with Amy, who has been riding fizzy, crazy horses since I first met her 5 years ago. Amy thought Flo was amazing good fun and only giggled when Starsky tried to buck her off. Amy controlled Molly and brought her back to me and we had a good look at the saddle (I didn’t fit this one). I could see was sitting on the croup and poking her lower back. This meant it was too long – she needed at 16 inch saddle not a 17 inch saddle. If the saddle was pulled forward to not interfere with her back, it was too close on her shoulder which meant she could not move her front legs freely. It was also rather heavy.

We took Molly back to the yard and began the Hunt For A New Saddle. Now I remembered I had fit her with a brown saddle in the autumn and the current, non-fitting one was black. I told Simon I wanted a 16 inch brown saddle and he gave me a look that was a mix of sarcasm and despair. It was 6 or 7 saddles later that we found it. The next day, Amy rode Molly in our menage with the new saddle. It was clear that Molly was much happier and was transitioning up and down with what could be called horsey glee. Yeah! Problem solved. Or was it?

So this week (yes this coronavirus lockdown week) Lauren was trotting our Barbie Pony and she told us that she did not like her 5-point harness. It was the done in the usual method, but Lauren is an amazing rider (I’m very fortunate to have so many in my life) and she was able to sort her out. Looking at how the harness was fitting, it was rubbing on her shoulder and Molly is particular. So we found a gel-pad to add some grip and took the harness off. We also discovered that Molly was very built up and strong on her left side but not so much on her right. This had been hidden from view by the harness. So we are now working her on her right rein to get some muscular balance.

Today Huw rode Molly in the grass school. She looked the happiest I had seen her since Burghley. Her saddle and bridle fit and don’t hurt or rub. She is working on exercises that challenge her but not wear her out. She now has the confidence to know that we care a lot about her and will give her what she needs to be both comfortable and to develop into the jumper she wants to be. Now that Molly has the tack and the health to jump, she is content to take on the challenge and have fun doing it. It takes time for a new horse to both settle into a new home and routine, and to settle into the tack it will need to do what it wants to do.

I am glad that Molly is here. She is a lovely lady with a positive attitude. There is much to worry about with our lockdown, but it has given us the time to work with our horses, check and change what needs to be, and make sure they are still happy with the work we ask them to do. Molly will be a real asset for us this year and for years to come because we have taken the time to listen to her. She may be a Barbie-girl, but she is an honest one.

This post would not be possible without the many wonderful riders who are taking the time to train Molly and skill of Chris Cole Photography who manages to catch just about everything.  Thanks y’all!

Horse Story: Rosie

I have a pony named Treflan Pert. We don’t call her Treffie or Pertie or any another combination of her passport name. To us she is Rosie. Rosie is a very pretty girl who came to us 2 years ago. Rosie is registered with the Welsh Pony and Cob Society as she is a Welsh Section B pony. She is 12/2 in height, a leathered bay in colour, and has some of the finest legs I have every seen – and when I say finest, I mean skinny. Rosie’s story is one of understanding and love over fear and pain.

I adopted Rosie from a reputable horse dealer. I was told that she was a “plug and play pony”. I was guaranteed she would fit for the school as soon as she was out of quarantine. I don’t think he ever discussed this plan of action with this 12 year old pony! When Rosie arrived she was very underweight and bony. The thing that caught my heart was the gentleness of her eyes. She asked me quietly to please be kind to her and give her a chance. I could tell immediately that this pony was not going to be ready for the school in 14 days – or even 14 weeks.

I will admit that I did contact the dealer and let him know that what he sold me was not what he had promised. I was furious about that. He told me that because she was a “dirt cheap pony” he was not about to give me a refund no matter what the law said. I sat back and thought, ‘what am I going to do now?’

At this point, Rosie was a pretty face with a body covered in sarcoids. She had huge one on the side of her mouth, another between her front legs, one on her chest, and her back legs were more sarcoids that fur. She refused the bridle and bit. She refused the saddle. My only option was to try to make some lemonade from this lemon. I started by having the vet remove the sarcoid on her mouth and the one between her legs. We started feeding her properly and she slowly calmed and accepted our presence and touch. It took 6 weeks for the treated sarcoids to fall off. It was a long month and a half.

For those of you who don’t know what a sarcoid is, it is a tumour like growth. Like all tumours the base condition is hard to determine. Some sarcoids are cancerous and cause the horse a shorted life-span. Some sarcoids are from the papilomavirus which cause warts in both animals and humans. In any case, these warts are very sensitive to the touch and bleed easily. What and how horses develop sarcoids and their various treatments are the source of endless web articles and feeds from both veterinarians and horse owners the world over. Beyond having the sarcoids mentioned removed using the rubber band technique and doing lots of reading about sarcoids, I can honestly say I really did nothing. The information presented was often contradictory and there were numerous claims that all/most the treatments had no real definitive results. So I did Nothing but love this pony.

We noticed after about 7 months of caring for Rosie that her sarcoids began to fall off. Rosie was now calmer than when she arrived. She was very handleable and stopped rearing up in fear. She loved a good groom and was very pleasant round children. So we tried to ride her again. I asked for volunteers and 2 of my most experienced Senior Handlers stepped up. It went to well on the first ride. Rosie was nervous but she eventually calmed so that we could walk several laps of our natural arena on both reins. Yeah! We did it again a few days later and Rosie wasn’t as accepting as she was the first time. I figured this was because she knew what was going on and she was being a ‘moody mare’. The third time we worked her, Rosie put the Handler on the ground with a God-Almighty buck. No one was impressed. So we backed up in our training to working her on the lunge and in-hand.

In between trying to back Rosie, we kept using Rosie for In-Hand work. She was a natural. She was happy to walk, trot and even a few times canter in-hand. So when she threw a different experienced Handler on the ground during another backing session, I understood and accepted what Rosie was saying. She was telling me that she would be happy to do anything I ask as long as it didn’t require someone on her back. I also found one last sarcoid buried deep in her coat on the girth line. Every time we tightened the girth, it would inflame and hurt. I also now believe that the psychological damage from that pain is too ingrained for her to overcome it. So in-hand it is.

Sunshine is a bit different from most riding schools as we believe that we are training people, young and old, to be able to handle and work with all types of horses in all types of disciplines. Some folks love jumping while others adore dressage. Some people love to do hacking and others want to do in-hand. Some riders like to do all of it. In-hand work is often seen as ‘the red-headed step-child’ of the riding world. It is looked down on and those involved are quietly pitied. Those who compete will tell you that it is hard work and not just making the horse walk prettily. So at Sunshine we teach In-Hand Riding (a bit of an oxymoron there!)

Being able to control a horse confidently on the ground, having it move through the paces and the figures means that you as the Handler is both knowledgeable and fit. Leading the horse properly with a long lead from under the chin takes practice. Being confident to walk next to the shoulder (and stay there!) requires building trust and understanding between you and the horse. Asking the horse to transition confidently up and down through the paces while your steps match theirs is the real challenge. I remember trying to get my steps to match Charlie’s. I was doing a rather bounding, bouncing run while he trotted. Let’s not go into the disaster of what happened with his canter! Needless to say, this is all very physical training and you as the Handler must also know all the figures and how to do them properly. You must be physically fit and, if you are a lady, be able to run in a skirt. Rosie, unlike anyone else on the yard, is a natural at In-Hand and makes her Handler look great!

Rosie loves a good groom. She will happily stand for hours while people brush and pamper her. She likes to watch and occasionally comment on how one is doing. She loves little people and gives them the gentlest of eyes as the child comes for the first time to not only meet her but any pony ever. Because she gives off calm vibes, the child (or adult for that matter) relaxes and enjoys the experience as much as she does. Rosie is very much a girly-girl and her colour would be Pink! if she spoke English. Her reddish-brown fur is thick now and very soft to the touch, so our little riders think she is a big soft toy. She may be happiest when she is being groomed for a show and her mane and tail are being plaited.

Rosie loves to compete. She likes to show off how pretty she is. Unfortunately her sarcoids have left her scarred so we won’t take her out to other local shows because they won’t understand and will mark her down for them. Rosie is judged for her partnership with her Handler, her smooth paces, her compliance and her conformation. It is shame that surface scars will stop her from bigger areas of Showing, but our Rosie actually makes her biggest mark in helping people heal, develop and learn.

Rosie works with our Special Clients. Sunshine has and hosts sessions for individuals who have or suffer from emotional and/or educational issues. We don’t do expressed horse therapy as we are not qualified and licensed for that, but we do work with these adults and children who find relaxation and calmness that comes with being around horses. All equines have the innate ability to cause humans to release dopamine, the feel good hormone. Dopamine is what gives humans the sensation of pleasure, happiness and well being. There is much talk in the mainstream media about young people’s dependence on social media acclaim because each ‘like’ does give a release of dopamine. With equines one not only gets to give the love, but receives it back in a very real and physical way. With our Special Clients, they don’t always want to ride. Some have fear factors which need to be overcome slowly and confidence to be built in themselves. Some have physical barriers which makes it so they can’t ride. Some have educational language barriers which prevent them from riding. In all cases, they benefit from working with Rosie.

Rosie’s love and in-hand work have helped numerous people of all ages enjoy working with and developing both a skill and a relationship with equines. The number of times I felt frustrated by the fact I didn’t see Rosie “earning her keep” now embarrasses me. Rosie is at the heart of a new programme that Sunshine has with the local group Horse Angels. This programme, lead by Anita Nancollas, will be working with our local schools to provide equine outreach to the more deprived areas of Luton. This is a real chance for our town’s young people to develop, become more confident, forward looking and personally balanced in their life. What Rosie and 2 of her friends will give the children of Luton is great: the possibility of a better future because these kids can.

So when you go to say the County Show and you see people doing In-Hand Showing, don’t think that they are not full blooded equestrians. I would bet that most of these people, I mean horses, are unsung heroes with amazing partners, I mean the humans, who do an awful lot on the quiet for their community. Rosie is a vital and beloved part of the Sunshine Team, and how she “earns her keep” could teach several of our jumpers a thing our two!

This post would not be possible without the wonderful photos from Chris Cole Photography and from Miss R King.

Horse Story: Pasha

Many of you know Pasha. He’s our 13 hand high, bay, Dartmoor pony. He is full of character and usually full of hay too. He is gentle and just a touch wide at 325kg. Pasha is young and loves to hang around with all our mares. I’m not sure if he is looking for a mummy or a girl friend, but he is a bit of a ladies man – more like Hercules Poirot than James Bond.

I remember when I went to see Pasha for the first time. He was a cute little boy who was as tall as he was wide. I had taken my son Huw with me and the two of them became partners-in-crime instantly. Pasha wasn’t too sure what was going on, but he wasn’t terribly bothered. I liked that about him immediately. I was told that Pasha was 6 years old and was Riding For The Disabled (RDA) trained. He was so calm that I had no reason to doubt it. The only thing I was told that was a downside to this young man was that he didn’t like to box and he didn’t like to travel. I was sure I could sort this out, so I agreed to adopt him.

I came back a week later (had to get his box sorted) and picked our boy up. I brought Dottie with us as I figured that Pasha would be happier going on the box if he didn’t think he would be doing it alone. It was a risk, but one I thought negligible, because I didn’t know the yard he was coming from. I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed by that yard as it wasn’t terribly clean and there were lots of broken places in the hard standing. But I digress…. To my utter surprise, Pasha walked straight up the ramp and into the trailer. His ears were forward and he looked excited as we tied him up and gave him hay. Dottie looked over and gave the pony equivalent of a shrug.

The ride home to Sunshine was calm. When we arrived, Pasha was easy to get off the trailer. Again, he looked excited about his new home. We had a quick trot up on the yard to make sure he was fine. Pasha was far more interested at looking at all the new faces than what we were asking him to do. Our little fat pony was also out of puff by that trot up. Simon put Pasha in his new stable and we gave him some hay which was devoured in short order. Simon and I looked at each other and agreed that we had an “eater”.

After a week in quarantine so we could do a full health check and a worming, it was time to start introducing Pasha to work. Huw was the obvious choice as they had already developed a bond. We had a major problem trying to find tack to fit this monster. He was so wide that his back was flat. He was taking the same size grith as I would put on a horse 5 hands bigger than Pasha. One of teachers, Shannon, had a “miracle saddle” that was treeless, which made it possible for Pasha to be ridden and worked. When he lost some weight, he would be put into a more proper saddle. To this day I am so thankful that Shan had that saddle!

Huw mounted Pasha and we walked him into our field known as The Working. Shannon and I watched as Huw walked and trotted Pasha around. Pasha was a bit unsure yet happy to do what was asked of him. Now we have a ring in The Working which has a deep track (we currently use it as a ditch when we teach cross-country), and Huw and Pasha rode straight towards it. Pasha, who was so heavy that he couldn’t canter, heaved himself across it. At that moment Shannon squeeked, “I love that pony! He has so much! I am going to make him a jumper!”

So Shannon and Huw began to work Pasha. He had arrived weighing 380kg, which for a Dartmoor pony is morbidly fat. I was very impressed with the work they did as when we had out Annual Vet Inspection two months later in January, Pasha was down to 355kg. Not great, but better. Our Inspecting Vet, Mr McFairlane, checked Pasha and asked me what he had been doing in the school. I said, “Not much. Why?”

“Your pony just turned 4, I’d say about 6 weeks ago by his teeth. You know that you can’t have anything under 4 working in the school.”

Oh dear. This is the second time I had been told by a seller that my horse was actually older than it was. Fortunately for us we had just started putting Pasha into the lead rein classes, so we hadn’t broken any laws. But for training it makes a big difference. Mr McFarland also said that Pasha needed to loose 50kg by next inspection. Weight Watchers or Slimming World for Horses, anyone? We did get him down to 305kg, but our vet, Dr Laura, said he was too thin. So 325kg it is.

As Pasha was, and still is, an “eater” it was vital that we control his diet. He went on sugar free foods and no treats. We got him a trickle feeding haynet. It lasted 1 night before Pasha tore a hole the size of his head in it. Pasha was either ridden or lunged everyday. We tried him on a shavings bed because Pasha liked (and still likes) to eat his bedding. This change ended up with Pasha developing Colic. He ate his bed – which the manufacturers claimed wouldn’t happen because this bedding is ‘unpalatable to horses’. They had never met Pasha. We had our vet, Dr Laura, out and she gave him an injection to help him calm down and poop. We must have walked him more that day than any day previous. Eventually Pasha began pooping (remember that horses only have a one way system so what goes in the front must come out the back!) and boy did he produce. It was decided that Pasha would have a small straw bed put in at day’s end and it would not be more than 8 pounds of straw. This way if he ate it, the effects would be minimal. He still has this type of bed.

Pasha has become one of Sunshine’s most popular ponies. Thanks to the efforts of Shannon and then later Lauren and Izzy, Pasha has become an amazing jumper. He is not Schoolmaster, so he is not the best to start to teach jumping with, but if a rider has some jumping knowledge and is still small, Pasha is your boy. Pasha usually jumps to a height of 60cm, but he has his personal best with Izzy at 85cm. (It was a question of who could jump higher – Pasha or Katrina. Pasha won.) It is important to realise that a 13hh, boxy Dartmoor pony isn’t going to do the big sticks like a svelte New Forest. Each horse should jump to the height that is comfortable for them without posing damage to their legs.

Pasha is also an amazing dressage pony. Because he is young and responsive, he has some lovely, albeit small in stride, paces. Pasha has competed in our home shows and done very well. Huw has competed him in Interdressage, an online international competition, several times and the pair have always placed in the top 6. Yes, Pasha can be stubborn and there was the time that he jumped the mounting block out of the arena to avoid the next move, but he does have a lovely nature.

Pasha is also our “Pony Ride Pony”. Because of his good nature, we take him and Crystal (who he really doesn’t like) when we do pony rides at the local school fetes. He is patient and forgiving. He doesn’t kick or bite the riders. He seems to love to the attention, but he will tell you when he has had enough and wants a break. Many very young children who are too small to ride start their equine education by giving Pasha a pet-pet. Did you know he has the cutest little moustache too?

When Pasha isn’t showing off his jumping, dressage or pony riding, he is a stalwart in our school. Now all this praise of Pasha doesn’t mean he doesn’t have faults. Pasha is an EATER. He will happily thrown his head down and try to eat the grass in any of our schools. This is a challenge to both rider and Handler. He is strong and our young riders just don’t have the muscle or heft to stop him from doing this. Also, because he is strong, it is important that riders who have just come off the lead rein or those learning to canter have the confidence to pull the reins when he decides that he wants to be in another part of the school. Because he looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth doesn’t mean he isn’t a very cheeky pony.

Pasha is now, really and truly, six years old. We do love him to bits and he is a big part of what Sunshine is all about. He is kind and helpful to our disabled riders and doesn’t put a hoof out of place for them. He will challenge riders who need a good challenge. He loves to hack and can be seen out on all our special rides or just with Huw. If you are young enough or small enough, Pasha is fun ride no matter what you are asking him to do.

This post would not be possible without the wonderful photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris for all you do for us!

Horse Story: June Storm

 

I’m not sure how many people can actually say that they know exactly when their horse was born. I have and have had lots of horses, and can only say with 100% accuracy that I know of only one of my horse’s birth stories. It’s a bit of doozy.

I adopted (purchased) a horse named Annie from a dealer in Ireland sight unseen. I do not recommend this and it has taught me to never do it again! Annie, who’s story you will be told in due course, arrived one dark and stormy night in December 2018. I was not sure about accepting this horse, but did not think it would be good to have her abandoned on the side of the road. I had paid for a horse that somewhat looked like this one, so I took her even if her passport said her name was Betty.

I looked Betty/Annie over the next day in the daylight and the vet did too. I had my concerns about her distended teats, but Dr Laura was sure that Annie had foaled recently had just been separated from that foal. We did decide that Annie was unfit, had no topline, no rear quarter development and would take some time to make strong. So, Sunshine as a team began to work to develop this horse. Annie did become strong. She had a topline and the most amazing floating trot. But she kept getting fatter.

On Sunday, 9 June 2019, in the middle of my Lower Novice Flatwork Class Annie laid down. This was odd. She then began dribbling milk everywhere. This was beyond odd – this was wrong. I wanted to call Dr Laura immediately. Simon, our yard manager, reminded me how much a vet call-out on a Sunday would be, so it was agreed that we would make her comfortable and have her checked in the morning. After all we had been assured on several occasions that she wasn’t pregnant.

The call came at 6:30 in the morning.

“Kim, we have a problem.” Simon said with a bit of shake to his voice.
“What?” I snarled back (I’m really not good in the morning so he had reason to be worried).
“We have foal.”
Now I am not going to repeat here what I said, but it did start like foal and ended like duck. I jumped into some clothes and tore down to the yard. It was raining and windy, and for June it was cold – 16C. Before I left the house, I yelled to Beowulf that we had an issue. Obviously I sounded upset so I had no back chat, just assurance that he would be down in a “mo”.

I walked up to Annie’s stable. Annie was standing with her head dropped and looking a bit tired. She stepped out of my line of sight. “Oh my god!” I cried. “Oh. My. God. You are beautiful!” I had fallen in love instantly. There stood a shaky, long legged, curly haired piebald foal.

I was relieved that the foal was standing. It is vital that a foal stand up within the first 20 minutes of life. The foal, who hadn’t yet showed me if it was a he or she, tried to get close to Annie. At first Annie wasn’t having any part of it, but on the third attempt, Annie allowed the foal to suckle. Again, I was relieved because my worst fear would have been maternal rejection. I had read many articles and stories about how this can destroy a foal. It was at this point, 6:45am, that I realised I knew nothing at all about raising a foal.

I called Fiona, my Senior Teacher, who had spent a year working with foals and yearlings at a previous stable in the area. She advised me that Annie and the foal would need to be moved to the quarantine stable since that was the largest we had on site and to fill it with a big, deep straw bed. I can, if nothing else, follow instructions. Fiona told me not to move them until she got there and that she was on her way.

It was at this point that Beowulf, Simon and myself found out that this was a little girl with a quick flick of her tail. She was cold and starting to shiver, so she went and laid down. Simon covered her with a rug to help keep her warm. Annie was becoming protective, so he moved both calmly and quickly. There was not going to be any rejection here.

Beowulf, Simon, and now Huw and myself made the new stable ready. I remembered the corral runs my family had built when I was teenager to move animals. So using jump wings, fillers and poles, we were able to make a protected walkway across the yard from the birth stable to the new stable. It was 8:00am and I called the vet.

Dr Laura was a bit surprised by my call and information that there was a new foal. She was also immediately on her way over. Upon Dr Laura’s arrival, it was obvious that we had to move the foal immediately. I was given Annie to lead with help from Huw while Fiona, Laura and Beowulf made a sling from a rug to help support the foal as we went across the yard. Annie, like a good mother, kept spinning around to check on her baby. A normal 5 second walk seemed to take an eternity as Team Foal had to move slowly and Annie wasn’t sure what everyone was doing with her child. Simon had to help convince Annie to walk into the new stable as she was not going into any space that did not include her foal. We finally got mother and child into the new accommodation and immediately the foal began to feed.

Dr Laura was very happy to see our little girl, who we decided to name June Storm, drinking in such a lusty manner. I was feeling guilty because I had worked Annie up to the point of birth, but Dr Laura was of the opinion that because we had made Annie so strong and healthy, she was able to deliver without complications on her own. That being said, I still feel bad about it. I would have liked to supplied them with more neo-natal care. Simon had collected the placenta as soon as he had seen June, so it was able to be checked and deemed all was present. Dr. Laura gave June her first full check-up and pronounced her to be fit. She was sure that June’s desire to nurse was going to give her all the vital nutrients and proteins a new foal would need. We were to keep an eye on her, but there really wasn’t anything to worry about.

I spent time with June and Annie for the rest of the morning. I put out the birth announcement. Our teachers Kat and Izzy went to the feed store and purchased the correct feed for Annie as well as the tinest head collar I had ever seen. Annie spent the morning lying down and relaxing – she now looked very proud of herself. June slept on and off. When she wasn’t sleeping she was drinking or being petted. June learned early on that petting was good and still demands lots to this day. That afternoon I went off to study what I could about raising foals. I am still learning to this day. I also watched our CCTV. I saw that Annie was standing at 6am and laid down at 6:08. I saw Simon on that yard at 6:25am and the look on his face at 6:27am. Although I didn’t see June’s physical birth, I know that it was fast and, quite frankly, textbook.

June had her first foray out into the wide world on the 12th. We made sure that all our boys were secure – especially Charlie who had been a father 3 times in the past. We created a Figure 8 harness from a lunge line and with Wulf and Simon supporting June and me leading Annie, we put them out in the arena. June looked around, unsure of where she was in this big space, and with a nod from Annie, June had her first run around. Annie watched for a bit and then went in search of grass for herself. June bounded with amazing energy. She tried a bit of a trot, but she found that she loved to canter. It was beautiful, balanced, rhythmical, coordinated. Beowulf declared right then that June was his eventing horse.

 

Over the next 6 months we have had so many firsts. It is just like being a human parent. June’s first time in the field when she learned that Auntie Magic was going to protect her no matter what. The first time June saw Magic next to Annie wasn’t sure which one was her mother (we did have a serious giggle about that). The first time June tried to eat grass. The first time June ate feed. The first time June had a groom. The first time June took a jump – and loved it. The first time June wore a rug. The first time we presented June to our larger Sunshine Family. And pictures have followed nearly every moment of her growth.

Annie had decided in late September that she had had enough of her daughter trying to suckle. June was now a strapping 128kg and her head was above the door. Following Annie’s lead (as I had read I was supposed to do), we started the process of separating them. I didn’t want the separation to be a traumatic event. I had decided that they were going to live in adjoining stables anyway, so I wanted this to be as easy as possible on them with as little calling out as possible. I knew that this was not going to happen instantly. We decided to use grooming as our method of separation. We began grooming them further and further apart. Yes, there were some set backs, but this did seem to work as June learned that being apart from her mother, although scary at first, meant that she would be the centre of all attention. June likes that.

By early November June wasn’t nursing at all, or if it did happen it was more of a rarity, so we began feeding her hard feeds in her own bucket. June does like to eat. We began to feed June in a separate stable from Annie (who did like to steal her daughter’s lunch!). Again, the purpose was to make June feel secure about being away from Annie. The big test came in December when we had to move them to their permanent stables. June was now 12/2 hands high and 232kg. She is a big girl. In the beginning it was hard. We had to put bars on her window because she did want to be with her mother and we were not going to have her jumping out of her stable.

I think it was good that we have June and Annie close together. We are now working Annie in-hand to bring her back into shape (again) so she can restart on the school this Easter. We are walking June behind her mother in these exercises so that June can lean what she needs to be able to do and still have that motherly support. June and Annie spend time together in the field, but June is confident enough now that she will also go to other mares, especially her Auntie Magic. June is fond of her friends, Callie and Rosie. They are all the same size, but June is growing rapidly and will soon tower over her besties.

We have now applied for June’s passport. We don’t know who her father is beyond he is a big Irishman. We think June will grow to be about 17 – 18 HH as she is currently 129cm at the withers. She is intelligent and curious. She is brave and occasionally bolshy. She strong in both body and will. She is loving and lovely. We are enjoying watching her grow up. June will never leave Sunshine as she is “Sunshine’s Own”. What she will eventually end up doing is still a mystery, but I would not be surprised if she does become Beowulf’s eventer, Huw’s dressage diva, Simon’s challenge and my first full grown, home raised mare.

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!

K.

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!

Kimberly