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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.

The opinions expressed here are from personal experience and we strongly advise you to contact your vet or your riding instructor if you are seriously worried about your horse.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Catching difficult horses and ponies in the field
A new pony reminded me this morning of how horses and ponies which are difficult to catch can waste our time. This 128 cm gelding arrived in my yard, having been sent back to a seller because he was unsuitable for a six year old girl. He is a nice looking, Connemara type pony with no apparent serious problems except that he is very nervous. He doesn't trust humans any more and this, naturally, makes him difficult to catch.

The first thing I do, in this case, is put him with a companion who is well-behaved and easy to catch. I then bring in the quiet pony to the stable and leave the reluctant one to think about things for a few minutes. I did this today and, guess what, the new pony couldn't wait to be caught by the time I got back down to the field. He was galloping up and down, whinneying frantically and came straight up to me.

It's not always so easy, however, especially if you have a field full of horses and ponies. The following tips might help:

1. I always feed horses and ponies in their stables when they come in from the field, unless they are about to be ridden or worked. This makes them look forward to coming in. Bring them in early so there is plenty of time for them to eat and relax before riding.

2. I bring food in a bucket to the field for very difficult horses but I don't usually have to do this for long if they get used to being fed in the stable. Taking a bucket of food into a field full of horses is not a good idea as you can get pushed about by them. I usually leave the bucket outside the gate and feed them by hand until I can capture the one I want.

3. You will find that the more work you do with a difficult horse or pony, the more he will trust you and become easier to catch. Ground work, such as lungeing, loose lungeing or in hand, helps a lot.

4. If all else fails and it is safe to do so (i.e. the field doesn't open onto a busy public road), lead a quiet horse and let the one that is difficult to catch follow behind loose to the stable yard. Be careful if you do this that you keep everything under control and that the difficult one doesn't gallop off and upset the one you're leading. You need an extra pair of hands to help with this option.
1:59 pm gmt 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Loading an unhandled horse

Trying to load reluctant horses into horse boxes can be frustrating as it requires enormous patience and calmness. Fighting with and forcing horses up the ramp is dangerous for both the handlers and the animal. I was horrified to be be told, many years ago, of a man who lost his temper with a horse and beat it with a whip until the horse reared up, fell backwards off the horse box ramp and broke its neck in the yard.

Time is your friend when loading horses, especially unhandled ones. If at all possible, it's a much better idea to train young horses to lead before attempting to load them. It is also advisable to take a few days to teach them to load, walking them through the box and letting them stand in it for short spells. Sometimes, however, we don't have that choice.

I was watching some owners loading an unhandled three year old filly recently. I offered to help but they were happy to do this on their own. Experienced horse people, they calmly waited while the filly stood on the ramp, reassuring her and patiently lifting one leg at a time further up the ramp, one of them holding a scoop of feed at the top. The horse box was the standard Ifor Williams version. At one stage, after about half an hour, the filly almost walked in but then ran back down the ramp. I came back an hour later and they were still there, the filly standing calmly on the ramp but refusing to walk in.

I lent them my lunge rope to put behind her but, not used to this yet, the filly objected strongly and started throwing herself about, so that was no use. There was no partition but I lent them a small pony to stand in the box. The filly wasn't interested. The owners were about to give up and leave her for another day when I suggested trying my horse box as a last resort.

This was the larger Ifor Williams 510. We put it in the gate way where the filly would have nowhere to go except either into the box or backwards. I also put the quiet, small pony on one side of the partition. Then I opened the top door of the front ramp to give more light and a feeling of space. To our surprise and delight, the filly walked straight in and we quickly closed the ramp.

Was it the bigger box? The feeling of more space being less frightening? The calm little pony standing there? The filly travelled home happily with the pony and he was delivered back to me later.

10:17 am gmt 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Influenza Vaccinations for horses and ponies in Ireland

It can be difficult to remember when to vaccinate our horses, especially if we have quite a few of them. Not all vaccinations fall due at the same time. I bought a number of ponies throughout the year in 2009 and they all needed vaccinating. It may help to have the following written down:

1st Primary Vaccination - any date if the horse or pony has not got up to date records.
2nd Primary Vaccination - 4 weeks after the 1st Primary Vaccination.
3rd Primary Vaccination - 5 to 7 months after the date of the 2nd Primary Vaccination.
Annual Booster - one year after the date of the 3rd Primary Vaccination.

I recently tried out a new way of keeping track of the dates vaccinations fall due by writing them on a POST-IT (note pad with one sticky edge) and putting this into the vaccination page of each horse or pony's passport. This worked well as I didn't have to do all the calculations over again.

All horses and ponies in Ireland now have to be microchipped and have passports by law. When the vet was giving a new pony his vaccination, I asked him to run the microchip scanner over his neck to see if he had one. He did but the vet said it was a very unusual number. It looked more like a small animal's microchip to him, maybe a dog's or a cat's. I have been advised to send the number to Sport Horse Ireland when I apply for his passport. It will be interesting to see what they think of it!

5:28 pm gmt 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Birds in the snow

The robin who came to the stables every day at feed time disappeared towards the end of our three weeks of frost and snow. The next door neighbour's cat had been killing blackbirds and thrushes too weak to fly after the heavy fall of snow on Sunday morning and we feared the worst for our tame little red-breasted friend.

But he was back again this morning, sitting on a bucket and waiting for me to hand him his morning ration of oats. I suspect that he moved around to the front of the house temporarily where the bird table was alive with wings, birds fighting over fat balls and peanuts. A particularly aggressive field fare ventured in and ran from one apple to another on the ground, sending blackbirds flying and tutting tutting indignantly at this stranger in their midst.

A number of more unusual birds appeared close to the house during the snow. Field fares and red wings normally flock in fields but were driven into gardens by starvation. Both of these are winter visitors to Ireland and I don't suppose they were impressed by our sudden, unusually Arctic conditions. A lapwing circled the yard on Sunday and eventually alighted on the manure heap where warmth had melted the snow. I put out water and oats for him too and the heap was soon covered in birds.

2:42 pm gmt 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Caring for horses and ponies in snow

Horses and ponies need more care and attention in snow and frosty conditions if they are out on grass. While many horses are kept in stables during bad weather, ponies and quiet horses can still remain out.

Feed
Be sure to feed plenty of roughage, such as good quality hay or haylage because there will be little or no grass available. I also give them a hard feed to help keep condition on them, such as a coarse mix added to a chaff such as Dengie Hi Fi. I find Dengie Alfa A Oil very good for thoroughbreds or old horses which are inclined to lose weight in winter. Be careful not to overfeed in snow and frost conditions as the horses may get too lively and injure themselves on the hard ground.

Water
Horses need water as dry feed like hay will increase their thirst. Make sure water is available at all times to guard against colic. The ice in water troughs should be broken every morning. If the trough is all ice, top up with warm water to melt it. If, as happened to me yesterday, the troughs are solid with ice, put out buckets of water and replenish as necessary.

Warmth
Horses and ponies will keep condition better if they are rugged up for the winter. I always use a good quality rug, which is more expensive, but lasts for years, can be repaired and does not slip out of place. Check the clips and the fillet string regularly. A rug without a fillet string (the strap across the back under the horse's tail) will be blown off very quickly by the wind or when the animal rolls. It is said that 80% of a horse's energy goes towards keeping warm in the winter so a rug, although expensive, saves you money on extra feed.

Lively horses
I would not put very lively horses out on grass in frozen and snowy conditions as I would be afraid they would gallop about and injure themselves. You know your own horse so use your gut instinct.

Slippery walk ways
Be careful horses don't slip and injure themselves on ice and snow as you lead them to the fields. Throw down a path of sand or grit to prevent this and make them walk slowly. You can also use used straw or shavings from the stable bed but this will create a mess to clear up afterwards. If ground conditions are very slippery, keep the horse in and don't risk injuring him.

1:03 pm gmt 

Friday, January 8, 2010

Highly strung horses

Another day of sub-zero temperatures, this time on top of snow that fell two days ago. Many are finding it impossible to ride their horses unless they have an indoor arena. We have had to make a sand track through the snow to stop horses slipping as we lead them to the paddocks.  

Horses used to grazing don’t like being kept in and it always does highly strung horses good to get out of the stable. It also helps against weaving, crib biting and wind sucking. Some people wonder if these conditions are genetic. It seems that while the condition is not hereditary, an inability to cope well with stress is. This means that a highly strung mare may give birth to a highly strung foal. Weaving, cribbing and wind sucking can be caused by stress so the least amount of stress the horse suffers the better. 

 
I had a three quarter bred on livery here who was a weaver. He needed plenty of exercise to keep him relaxed. We also put herbal calmer in his feed which helped. He had weaver bars on the stable door but would still weave behind them, especially during stressful situations such as waiting for his feed and when other horses left the stable yard. Fortunately his weaving did not affect his legs and he was a good competition horse. 

I also have a horse who is inclined to box walk if left on his own. A companion next door solves this problem. Severe weavers, cribbers and wind suckers can often benefit from a companion in the stable with them, such as a small pony or even a sheep or goat. However, one problem is that the horse gets so dependent on the companion that it has to go everywhere with him and this can make life difficult at times.

5:26 pm gmt 

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year resolutions for horses and ponies
A new year - a new decade. As always we have been bombarded with ideas for new resolutions. The media was busy as soon as Christmas Day was over: go on a diet, stop smoking, take more exercise, etc. etc. Guilt-ridden people will try really hard for a week maybe before all returns to normal.

Just for fun, let's take this New Year Resolution Mania a step further. Let's make the horses choose their resolutions for once. What would they be? After consulting a few friends, this is what we came up with:

Top Ten New Year Resolutions for Horses and Ponies in 2010:

1. I will not bite my owner.
2. I will not lay back my ears and snap when my rider puts on my saddle.
3. I won't run out when asked to jump a fence.
4. I won't bang on the stable door when my handler takes too long to bring my dinner.
5. I will canter up immediately when my rider wants to catch me.
6. I will never buck or rear.
7. I will walk calmly past cars and tractors on the road when hacking out.
8. I will walk straight into the horse box without making a fuss.
9. I will remain relaxed when cantering with other horses and not run off with my rider.
10. I will not try to grab pieces of grass from the ground and leaves from the hedge when I am being ridden.

In other words, imagine if your horse decided that he would have perfect manners in 2010! Is this really possible? Yes, I believe it is and it should last longer than a week.

The bad news, of course, is that it is up to the rider or trainer to make sure the horse or pony keeps his resolutions for 2010. Unpleasant manners such as biting, bucking, rearing and refusing to be caught or to go into the horse box can all be sorted out with correct training. The first step is make sure the horse has respect for you. Never allow a horse or pony to bite you. If he tries, react immediately by stepping towards his head, look him severely in the eye and say 'No' as if you really mean it. You need to sound firm. He should step back, surprised. When you go into the stable, always make him step back to allow you space. Protect your space like he does when he's in a field with other horses.

It's worth taking time to watch how horses and ponies behave in the field together. Do you want to be bottom of the pecking order? I don't think so. Read about horse psychology and become Number One in your horse's eyes. The good news is that we don't need to use violence to achieve this.

Correct training will sort out many problems but I'm still stuck on Number 4. How do we stop our horses banging on the stable door while they're waiting for their dinner?
2:26 pm gmt 


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