Day 11 – To Rug, or Not to Rug..

, How things have changed over the years. When I bought my first horse 30 years ago, when it came to buying rugs for him there was very little choice as to style, , weight, fabric or colour. For turn out it was a green, canvas, New Zealand Rug, and for the stable, a Jute Rug with a separate roller. There was also a string vest style sweat rug. If your horse was cold, you put a bed blanket under the rug. If your horse was wet, you put the jute rug on inside out, and thatched him with straw under the rug. I remember there being nothing more heavy and difficult to handle then a truly soaking wet, mud plastered, New Zealand Rug.

Fast forward 30 years

and the choice of rugs is mind blowing . The equine clothing industry is a multi billion pound sector which seems to be going from strength to strength. However I do wonder how much of this is actually Led by fashion, and owner shaming, rather than the actual needs of the horse. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go back to using a heavy, difficult to handle, old-fashioned New Zealand Rug if you paid me. However I sometimes wonder if all these different rugs are strictly necessary, and if the basic animal needs of the horse are being forgotten.

Last year I did a quick count up, and was really shocked to discover that I had around about 40 rugs. Okay, i’ve owned horses for about 30 years, and in recent years I’ve had as many as four at any one time. I also have a tendency to keep hold of the Quitman, even when I have no real need for it, just in case.

. My attitude towards rugging has really changed since we moved here and have been doing it all ourselves

When I kept my horses on full livery I was very much influenced by what the yard owner said I needed to do. By and large, they were the ones who were actually handling my horse on a daily basis, so when they told me I need a particular rug, off I would toddle and buy one. After all, they were the expert here, Who was I to question their judgement? It wasn’t until I bought Magnum, and ended up having to keep him and Sapphire more or less on a do-it-yourself basis, that I started to question things. The actual Yurika moment came courtesy of the woman whose land are used to keep Magnum on, and who, at the time, had Sapphire on loan for one of her daughters. It was June, admittedly it wasn’t a particularly nice June, but it wasn’t what you would call cold.

I can’t remember where we were, but it would’ve taken us about an hour to get back to home. Suddenly my mobile phone rang, and when I answered it I was met with a very shouty voice, which informed me that I had to get to the field NOW! That it was raining, that I had to put a rug on my horse NOW! OR ELSE!!! When we did eventually get back to the field, it had stopped raining, and the Sun was shining. I found a comfortable and content Magnum stuff in grass like it was going out of fashion, in the company of four extremely uncomfortable ponies, all wearing rugs, and sweating profusely. Why has she shouted at me like that, and why was she letting her ponies suffer through being too hot? It wasn’t very long after this that I decided to try and move Magnum two other quarters. It was when I told her that I had found another billet for him, that she suddenly decided she didn’t want Sapphire anymore..

In recent times I have read a lot of articles written by vets and equine physiologists, which question the need for horses to be rugged except in the coldest conditions. Thereseems to be a lot of evidence now, that horse is a very good at regulating their own body temperature, and, in general, are perfectly comfortable

In temperatures between 5 – 25 degrees. This means that just because we’re cold, it doesn’t mean our horses are. Since last winter it has been my policy not to rug umtil it’s 5 or below, or under 10 if it’s hammering down. It’s fair to say that they are hardly wasting away.

Day 5 – Autumn Essentials

So far this year my hay is untouched, I have far too much grass and to scarily fat horses, and whilst I can’t claim to be entirely free of mud, it really isn’t worth writing home about. Yes, The nights are drawing in, and they are noticeably cooler, but, even though they have now been clipped, The girls are still perfectly comfortable without a rug.

Is it really October? It’s really difficult to think about the autumn essentials when the weather is so mixed up that The local farmers are in the process of bailing silage.In the last five days the land next door to us has had grass cut, turned, and bailed, with the bales being removed yesterday evening. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a late cut of silage. It must be a real relief, as after the first cut, which happened oh so very long ago, The grass just didn’t grow again until September.

Usually by this Time of year I am wondering if it is safe to start using the hay that Steve cut back in June or July. Whilst I always try to bring horses in as late as possible, and never until after the 5th of November, normally by now my resolve is beginning to crumble. Usually I am already beginning to run out of grass, monsoon season is in full swing, and the mud is beginning to make itself known.

So, apart from a good pair of wellies and some decent waterproofs, which are primed and ready to be worn in an instant, I think the mot essential thing to have at this time of year is am open mind.

Day 4 – Haygain

Our expensive new toy arrived yesterday. . I’ve been kicking the idea around for a while now, but finally we’ve done it. We’ve bought a Haygain hay steamer. We’re both childishly excited about it, and can’t wait to steam our first bale.

Florence has always had trouble with her breathing. Dry hay is an absolute no no, even dryer Haylage can set her off wheezing. She does a really good Darth Vader impression . Up until this year I would’ve said that Breeze didn’t have a problem. However, back in January she developed a really nasty cough. Steroids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, Ventapulmin, several vet visits, soaked hey, and it didn’t really go away until she was turned out full time.

I hate soaking hay, it’s a real faff. This year, the unusually cold weather we had in March made hay soaking a massive problem as the hay nets froze in the soaking bin. . Good quality, moist Haylage is at a premium in these parts, unless you are buying proprietary brands, and they are rediculously expensive!

So enter the Haygain. Hopefully both horses will breathe easier this Winter.

WinterReady

ow can it be the end of September already?especially when we are still being blessed with such gorgeous weather. This time last year Mark had just finished the school, and the drains around it were running like fast flowing streams. We still had four horses back then, and we were already supplementing hay in the field, as our land was just a barren boggy wasteland. It was so wet that we couldn’t get a tractor on it to cut the hedges.

Compare then to now. Well, at the end of August, the unusually hot, dry Summer had left us with a bit of a dust bowl! The ground was rock hard, and, like last ear , we hardly had a blade of grass to our name. Since then, a smattering of rain, nixed in with lovely warm, sunny days, and cooler, dewy, nights, and, Hey Presto!, a textbook September flush. Now we only have the two horses, both of whom are extremely good doers, I am having to be very careful. That said, I’d far rather be facing Winter with too much grass than none at all.

We have a barn full of hay, a few bales of good quality haylage left over from earlier in the year, and more hay up at Steve’s. leonie’s stable is full of bedding. The hedges were cut on Thursday, and the bigger trees are being trimmed this week. The horses have been clipped. Rugs washed and ready. At the moment, our land is lush, green and dry under foot. I think we are as ready for Winter as we can be.

Let’s just hope it isn’t the four solid months of snow that the local News people keep going on about.

Mouthing the Bit 1 – Too Many Horses

Every now and then I get the bit between my teeth and go off on one about something that is going on in the horse world. Usually this involves me writing a long and rambling blog post, and then scrapping it because it’s got nothing to do with what we’ve been up to with our own horses. However, after writing the “The Invisible Equestrian” posts, and seeing how well received they were, I have had a change of heart. Therefore this post is the first in a series which I have decided to call “Mouthing the Bit”. Like “The Imvisible Equestrian” they will be sporadic in nature. They will be written entirely from my own point of you, and please bear in mind I am not an expert in any field and hold no equestrian qualifications whatsoever, i’m just an enthusiastic Amata who loves horses. I will not be deliberately setting out to offend anybody in any of these blogs, but I do hold some strong opinions, and I hope they will be thought provoking and encourage debate. After all, I can’t be the only person who has an opinion on these subjects, can I?

September has been a strange month. In many ways a lot has been achieved, but I’ve hardly sat on a horse all month. As a result I haven’t achieved anything with the horses. , and it’s scarey how much weight they have gained, especially Florence. At the end of August we barely had a blade of grass to our name, and Florence had very evident ribs and waistline. Now, are 4 acres of scorched earth have miraculously morphed into 4 acres of verdant Savannah. Worryingly it appears that Florence has morphed into a poster girl for the laminitis trust.when I went to ride her on Saturday her new memory foam girth wouldn’t go round her!

Obviously I know and understand that Florence’s weight is a problem at the moment. She is an older horse with PPID, and therefore, without being obese, is already at risk of laminitis. I love my horses and their health and well-being are important to me. Therefore I am already taking measures to try to help Florence shed some timber. However sometimes I find myself wondering about other peoples attitudes towards horses. Well to be perfectly honest with you, peoples attitude towards all animals, but especially horses. Britain allegedly has a reputation of being a nation of animal lovers. Honestly though, i’m not so sure that we are.

On Saturday Hal and I went to an open day at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary. This Devon-based horse welfare charity has several farms throughout the county, One of which is only a few miles up the road from us. However it is only their official visitor centre that is normally open to the public. On Saturday though, The farm near us through open its doors. Well, Hal and I couldn’t resist. I could go on for hours about how impressed I was with the place, what amazing work they do, and how gorgeous all the resident ponies were. It was tough, but we did manage to come away without applying to rehome one of the residents. However, I for one came away feeling really thoughtful about the whole horse situation in the UK at the moment. Whilst it is obvious that there is no quick fix solution, and this is a very complex subject indeed, it did make me wonder about some very in trenched attitudes in the horse world as a whole, and how much this may be contributing to the horse crisis.

On Saturday there was an entire barn full of ponies who the sanctuary were trying to rehome. On each stable door there was a biography of the individual pony, and I noticed that there was a small group of ponies who were all said to be part bread Fell Ponies. I’m a little bit of a fan of the Fell Pony, having had the loan of one when I was younger. Sadly though these amazing sturdy little creatures are now considered a rare and endangered breed. . My interest piqued, I asked a member of staff how they knew these ponies were all part bred Fells. After all, not many of them were particularly Fell looking, One of them was actually chestnut. The lady told me that they didn’t really know for sure, but that they had all come into the sanctuary through the same rescue case, and that there had been some Fell stallions involved, so it was an educated guess. She then went on to tell me that these were only a handful of the 140 live horses and ponies that had been found on one site, in a joint operation with several other rescue charities. She also told me that the individual who owned them have now been banned from owning any animal for life.

140! Live! So that means that there were actually far more horses on this site, and when the authorities became involved there were already dead animals there! I’m sorry but how does it get to the state where one person has in excess of 140 horses? How does it get to the state where horses are dead on site before the authorities become involved? Who is really to blame here?

Did this individual deliberately set out to have so many animals, or did things just get terribly out of hand? Did he breed all these horses himself, or were some of them bought in? Did this all start because this individual had a mayor that didn’t have a job, so he thought it might be nice to breed a foal from her? Or was it a cynical and deliberate attempt to make money by breeding horses cheap and selling them to the unsuspecting? Somebody, somewhere, knew there was a problem along time before it got to this proportion. It is very unusual for horses to be completely invisible to anybody except their owner. Even if you know nothing about horses, and have no direct contact with them, there are certain clues to their existence that cannot easily be overlooked. Noise, smell, flies, done, are all things that get noticed quite quickly by even the most non-horsey individuals.

. Let’s face it, even the smallest of ponies is difficult to overlook. How do over 140 go unnoticed?

It starts with you and me, and our sense of responsibility towards others, both animal and human. What do we do if we think there is a problem? Do we ask questions? Do we discuss our concerns with someone who might be in a position to go and check things out? Do we ask how people get away with it, and how it’s allowed to happen, ask why nothing ever gets done about it, but do nothing ourselves? Do we turn a blind eye, it’s not up to us to tell other people how to live, we’re not the responsible or guilty ones here, are we?

Unfortunately, while DEFRA and Trading Standards, do sometimes become involved in equine welfare cases, there is no statutory animal welfare authority in this country. Regardless of what you think of them, the RSPCA, BHS, World Horse Welfare, are, like countless other organisations, including the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, only charities, Limited in what they can achieve by the funds they receive from members of public, and with no legal jurisdiction to enter properties and sees suffering animals. .

It also starts with the horses we own. , and the choices that we make in respect of them.

Equine welfare charities often refer to “Imbisable Horses”. By this they mean those animals that nobody has any idea exist. Never see a Vet or Farrier, moved from place to place, repeatedly bought and sold, unpassported, often fly grazed or abandoned. So where do these Invisible Horses come from?

It starts with a mare. At the moment, early Autumn, my equestrian media is full of ads for foals for sale. They all stress how well bred the foal is, they all talk about the foals presence and way of going, and how easy to handle it is.

. However, with very few exceptions, they all say something along the lines of, “lack of time forces sale…”. . Now,,

, I do understand that, people make plans that sometimes get sidelined by life. Jobs get lost, relationships breakdown, people get ill, etc, but not all the time. How many people put a mare in foal when she can no longer do the job she was originally bred or bought to do? There seems to be an attitude that, if you have a mare, and for what ever reason she can no longer be ridden, even if this is just a temporary situation, The obvious thing to do is put her in foal. Why? For what purpose is this foal being bred, and to whose benefit?

if a mare is older, unsound, or injured, is it really fair to make her go through an eleven month pregnancy? What will happen to the foal once it is born? Do you have it’s future career all mapped out in your mind? Are you going to make a killing when you sell it to one of the myriad of people who have been beating a path to your door on the hope of being the one who buys it at weaning? Well all things are possible, but I suspect that, in the majority of cases, beyond choosing the stallion, and some vague idea about it being whatever the fashionable type or colour is just now, the actual living breathing, flesh and blood foal, and it”s Life after it has been sold, has hardly entered the thoughts of its breeder.

We see a similar phenomena on with older and unsound Horses, especially geldings. I get quite upset when I see adverts for horses in their late teens or early 20s, Who have obviously worked hard, competing and hunting, but due to their age are slowing down, stiffening up, and need a bit more looking after. Very often the advert say something along the lines of “too good to be a field ornament”. Really! So why aren’t you keeping it then?

The cynic in me is inclined to think that, what people actually mean when they use this phrase is, “this object is no longer useful to me, why should I bother to invest in looking after it anymore”. OK, I know that not everybody has the financial ability or facilities to keep more than one horse. I have been that person struggling to keep one horse on livery. It’s hard! I truly believe that the bast number of us genuinely love our orses, and are determined to do our best for our beloved friends. However, i’d be willing to bet that the majority of these unwanted potential field ornaments come from semi professional, multi horse situations.

So where is the love? It seems to me that at least some of the horse crisis in the UK is caused by the view that a horse is only valuable when it is being ridden. Horse as tool, or commodity, to be profited from, sold on, or treated as a foal factory, when we no longer have a use for it. Who cares what fate befalls them when we sell them? So long as we aren’t inconvenienced in anyway.

No horse asks to be born, broken,ridden, bought, or sold. , in this day and age, when, in Western society at least, very few people are dependent on the horse to eek out a living,

, nobody actually needs a horse, nobody has to have one, horse ownership is not obligatory. Owning a horse is a luxury And a privilege. Surely, if we choose to keep Horses, then don’t we also choose to take responsibility for their welfare?

There are already too many horses I’m the UK. Please let’s stop adding to the problem by breeding foals when they will have no purpose. Let’s stop viewing horses as only being valuable as long as they can do a job, let’s repay the hard work they do for us by taking care of them when they become old.

Fat Not Fit

Oh dear. I’m feeling a bitfrustrated. Florence and I have hit a bit of a wall. No, don’t worry, that massive dose of piebald perfection hasn’t put a hoof wrong. The problem is her size, and mine, our combined level of fitness, or lack of it, and total lack of stamina. We are just as fat and unfit as eat

Ch other, and it’s impacting on the things I want to achieve.

Obviously I know this is not going to be something that gets resolved overnight, and obviously I know what the remedy is, but as we going to a phase where we both run out of steam at approximately the same time, i’m finding it very difficult push us both a little bit further. If I was fitter, stronger, and had more stamina, I would be able to push Florence for a little bit further when I feel her beginning to flag. If Florence was fitter and had more stamina, I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself trying to keep her going. We are really not helping each other. If I wasn’t so heavy, Florence wouldn’t have to struggle so much.

I’m determined that we will get, but in the meantime, if you should come across large piebald gypsy cob, and the short fat blonde blind woman, gasping their last at the top of a hill somewhere in North West Devon, please give us a decent sendoff.

Feeling Guilty

It’s not very often that I have to put my hands up, and confess that my blindness, together with my stupidity, is the direct cause of a problem for my horses. Yesterday though, well, let’s just say the buck stops squarely with me, and I’ve never felt so guilty. Anyone know the best way to apologise to a horse?

Since Leo left us, Florence and Breeze have been rubbing along quite nicely, and a general atmosphere of peace and tranquility has prevailed. Breeze is quite a dominant little soul, whereas Florence likes the quiet life, and rarely, if ever, rocks the boat. I get the impression that Breeze May have had to compete for resources In the past. She’s a real sweetie to handle, but, oh my word, can she be aggressive toward other horses, especially when there’s. Food involved! She has mellowed since she’s been with us, but nevertheless… She doesn’t actually chase other horses off their feed, but she has a large personal zone around her, and if another horse steps into it while she’s eating, well let’s just say, she’s got a powerful kick!

Ideally you wouldn’t feed your horses whilst they’re all in the field together, but this Is the real world

, and needs must. Usually with Florence And Breeze it’s not that much of a problem. Hal and I, and even Ben for that matter, are mindful of Breezes need for space, and together with the fact that we need to make sure that Florence, and nobody else, gets Florence is medication, they get fed comfortably far apart, and are closely supervised

Last night I got it very wrong, and poor Florence ended up bearing the brunt. For some reason I missed judged where both horses were in relation to each other. Thinking that Breeze was further to her left than she actually was, rather than dropping Florence his food on the far side of the water trough as usual, I dropped it a few feet inside the gate. Disaster! Breeze was actually only just on the other side of the gate. Poor Florence had only just dropped her head and started eating, when, with no obvious warning, Breeze let fly, and gave her both barrels squarely and firmly on the backside. It sounded like a gun going off! Remarkably, after I had repositioned Florence’s feed back to its usual place below the water trough, both horses carried on eating like nothing had happened. Thankfully Florence does not seem to have any nasty after affects, although I’m sure she must have one hell of a bruise. I was so horrified, and felt so guilty that my stupidity and carelessness caused this to happen, that it was all I could do not to burst into tears. I won’t make that mistake again.