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Hoofbeats - The Blog 

Welcome to our blog page, HOOFBEATS, where we talk about the countryside with a main emphasis on training and caring for horses and ponies. If you would like to contribute ideas and information about your own experiences, we would be delighted to hear them. Please email to editor@horseandponyinfo.com or post to our Facebook Page, Horse and Pony Info. If you're into Twitter, you can contact us @horse_ponyinfo.

IMPORTANT - The opinions expressed here are from personal experience and we strongly advise you to contact your veterinary surgeon or your riding instructor if you are seriously worried about your horse. Prompt action is important.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Monty Roberts Join-Up

I read Monty Roberts's book The Horses in My Life this Christmas in which the author picks the ones who influenced his career the most. His great love and respect for horses comes across on every page of this book.

I read his first book, The Man who Listens to Horses, over ten years ago and was very interested to learn about his Join-Up method. Most people probably know by now that Join-Up is Monty's way of communicating with horses and anyone with a feeling for them can also use it. I had brought horses to the backing and riding stage using conventional methods such as lungeing and long-reining on the roads but, having just bought a four year old unbroken Irish Sports Horse, I decided to give Join-Up a try.

Casper was the ideal candidate for this experiement as he came from a farmer next door and had never been handled. He had never been lead in a head collar and, when I bought him, the farmer let him follow a mare down the road to my field. Casper had never been in a stable either and he literally climbed the walls when I first got him into one.

I used the Join-Up method and soon Casper was following me around the arena like a lamb. He stood in the centre while I put on the bridle, piece by piece I remember as he wasn't too keen on it. He showed no resistance to the saddle though. Within a couple of weeks I was up on his back. I decided that I wouldn't try to get up on him after 30 minutes as Monty Roberts's rider does in his demonstrations as there was no need to rush the horse and I didn't want to take any chances on my own.

While Casper's temperament is that of a strong-minded, leader horse, he has always shown great affection for me and will gallop across the field whinneying when he sees me coming to catch him in an enthusiastic way that amuses many people. He can be very aggressive with other horses and sometimes tries to get the upper hand with me and other people but a quick session of Join-Up in the arena soon sorts him out in a kind but firm manner and he then follows us around. He is also the only horse I have ever had that will jump show jumps for fun by himself loose in the middle of the arena without them having to be placed along a fence or wall. He sometimes jumps a fence and then spins around and jumps it back the other way. He will then come back to me and wait to be congratulated.

I discovered after I bought him that the stallion he is by is extremely aggressive and cannot be handled by many people. He has to run down a chute from his stable into an arena where he covers the mares. His handlers resorted to this after he attacked a farrier and kicked him out of the stable. Casper's dam must have been sweet-tempered because children are able to lead him in from the field but I am convinced that Monty Roberts's Join-Up method was ideal for him.

I bought a difficult but pretty 12 hh pony this year who had fallen into the wrong hands. She walked off a cattle lorry in a dealer friend's yard, covered in cow dung with her tail down to the ground. It took my friend a week of scrubbing and washing to get her back to her original grey colour. She then phoned me to see if I would be interested in taking this little eight year old mare who was on her way to an unpleasant end when my friend spotted her. We knew nothing about her past and when I brought her home she stood in the back corner of the stable and shivered with fright when I went near her. She had obviously been badly abused.

I used Monty Roberts's Join-Up method on her and she now canters up whinneying when she sees me coming. She loves coming into the stable and being groomed. However, she has a very dangerous habit of rearing and throwing herself to the ground when she is frightened of something but I now have her lungeing quietly with a mannekin (a fake rider made of clothes filled with sand bags) on her back. I hope to get a real rider on her before too long but am taking my time as the slightest fright sets her back. Poppy was obviously so terrified of her owners that she became very dangerous and it's a good idea to take plenty of time with a pony like her.

If you are interested in learning how to train horses without whips and force, visit Monty Roberts's website for more information at www.montyroberts.com .

11:09 am gmt 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Horse racing on ice in Switzerland

The big freeze continues in Ireland with temperatures not getting above zero during the day. The Lithuanians who work here think this is nothing – it’s minus 25 back in their country – but the Irish are struggling! Today the ice was unbreakable in the horse’s water troughs, the taps in the yard were frozen solid and so water had to be transported from our house to the troughs in the fields in a barrel. Even in the stables, water in the buckets is frozen.

It is glamorous St Moritz in Switzerland which hosts the horse racing carnival on a huge, frozen lake where thoroughbreds race across snow covered ice known as ‘White Turf’. The carnival takes place on three Sundays in a row in February each year and the feature race is the Grand Prix of St Mortiz with prize money of about £50,000.

If you think this sounds dangerous, you should try ‘Skijoring’ races where jockeys are towed on skis behind race horses across the ice, reaching top speeds of 50 kilometres per hour. If a jockey is unlucky enough to lose his balance, he is dragged along until the horse decides to stop, apparently. A dangerous but exciting sport if you have the nerve for it!

10:26 pm gmt 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Frost and horses
Another morning of sharp frost and freezing temperatures. Extremes of temperature do not suit horses, in my opinion. Frozen ground means no grazing and I have to bring feed and hay to horses and ponies in the fields. They are all wrapped up in warm, winter rugs so they don't actually mind the cold but I have to break the ice in the water troughs for them.

It's impossible for me to work the horses, of course, as the sand arena has frozen hard and any roadwork is out of the question as ice makes hacking dangerous. I once had a fall on the road when the legs of a thoroughbred I was riding went from under him on an icy patch and it was an alarming experience which has made me very careful about horses and ice ever since.

Talking of ice, I recently saw a photograph of horses racing on snow on a frozen lake in Switzerland. In the photo, it looks their shoes have special grips but I wonder how they don't injure their legs with these. If I find out more about horses racing on ice, I will post the information here.
9:44 am gmt 

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Horses racing on a frozen lake in Switzerland
copyright: Gilles Oster - Fotolia.com


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