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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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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Overfeeding can be dangerous for horses and ponies
We were recently asked whether overfeeding haylage to horses can cause colic and I believe the answer is 'yes'. Haylage has more protein than hay as it is cut and saved more quickly. Horses love haylage and are inclined to eat as much as you give them and this can be dangerous for both horses and ponies. More people are turning to haylage as our summers become increasingly wet and good hay is so hard to come by. I don't feed haylage so I can't claim to be an expert but I know plenty of people who do and they are always careful to feed less haylage than they would hay.
A horse in light work will need about three quarters fibre (hay) to one quarter of hard feed (coarse mix or cubes). The more work a horse does, the more hard feed he will need. Please read the instructions on the back of the feed bags as the manufacturers know what they are talking about.
I usually give ponies half the amount of hay that I would give a horse, depending on their size. Don't give them too much at once - spread it out over the day. You can buy small hay nets for ponies which will make them eat the hay more slowly.

Overfeeding of any sort is potentially dangerous. I would prefer to have a slightly thin horse than an overweight one. Overfeeding leads to all sorts of problems like filled legs, laminitis, colic and it can also be bad for a horse's tendons. A competition horse is an athlete and should not be overweight.

When I was having my first son, my show horse was out at grass and, being an Irish Draught type, he got laminitis. This is a common problem with native breeds when they are on rich grass. It is potentially fatal if left untreated and the horse suffers severe pain in his feet. If not caught in time, the pedal bone will rotate in the foot and, in extreme cases, actually come through the sole.

The vet misdiagnosed my horse's problem at first as the horse did not present the 'classic laminitis' symptoms of leaning back to take the weight off his front feet. It affected him in the hind feet and caused him to seem off balance when moving and also to lift his hind legs high in the air. The vet thought he had injured his back and told me that his future as a competition horse didn't look good. She prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug which was used for navicular. I left the horse on grass but fortunately only on a small area.

A friend who was an expert in showing ponies happened to visit and she was watching the horse lifting his hind legs to ease the pain. Then she turned to me and said: "That horse hasn't injured his back - he's got laminitis". She was right. I kept him in a stable on the anti-inflammatory and reduced his feed until he became sound again after a couple of days. To be fair to the vet, the symptoms were more unusual and he is a huge horse of 17.3 hh. If he'd been a small pony it might have been easier to diagnose as they are more likely to get laminitis.

Since then I have had to be very careful with his diet. Any flush of grass (when the grass grows suddenly and rapidly, especially during warm wet weather) can bring the laminitis back. I always keep him in a small paddock when he is turned out and I have to be wary of feeding him too much protein. I have found that he will get laminitis in the autumn and winter - once getting it in December when it was mild and warm - but the usual time to watch out for is during spring and summer. The first attack of laminitis is usually severe and after that the horse or pony will always be prone to it. Think of it like gout in humans - a very painful foot due to too rich a diet. The hooves will sometimes feel hot if you put your hand on them. Abcesses often occur with laminitis. (See here for way to treat abcesses and stone bruises).

Prevention is better than cure with laminitis. The single most important thing to remember, I feel, is to get the horse off the grass immediately if it looks like it might be coming down with laminitis. Next week I will write about ways to help prevent your horse or pony getting laminitis and what I feed my laminitis candidates. 

The good news is that the 17.3 hh show horse recovered from his bout and went on to be a champion show hunter and competed at dressage up to elementary level in his teens.
7:30 pm gmt 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lungeing - a useful way to keep horses under control

Being able to lunge a horse is a skill which always comes in handy. There are so many reasons for lungeing:

Getting a horse quiet enough to ride
Keeping a horse fit if the rider is unable to ride
Keeping children's ponies under control, especially ones too small for an adult to ride
Improving a horse's rhythm and way of going
Preparing horses and ponies for backing and riding
Working horses over trotting poles and showjumps

Yesterday I had to get up on a horse which hadn't been ridden since before Christmas. He looks a lively horse to people who don't know him as he gallops around his paddock, leaping and bucking at the slightest whim yet, with a short lungeing session before a rider gets onto his back, he's soon quiet and well behaved. A very good example of how useful lungeing, or loose lungeing, is. Some horses need to be lunged for a few days in a row before being mounted so know your horse and don't take a risk if you're unsure. Lungeing a horse with a cold back (one which bucks when he feels the rider's weight) is always a good idea before getting up.

I decided to loose lunge him yesterday which meant I lead him into the arena and then took off the lead rope to allow him to go around on his own. This was greeted with enthusiasm by him and his usual displays of evasion which involve cantering around the arena, jumping into the air and bucking, and then running into a corner and refusing to move! I get plenty of exercise too as I run after him waving the lunge rope in a non-violent but persuasive manner. I never get near enough to hit him with the rope and I certainly don't want to. After about 15 minutes of loose lungeing, he gets bored, walks back to me and I can get on his back and know that he will concentrate on his work.

Most other horses and ponies are easier to loose lunge than this horse as they will continue around the arena without trying to stop in the corners. Working a horse on a lunge rope is a good way to teach them words like 'walk' 'trot' 'canter' and 'halt'. They soon learn the transitions and will then be easier to control off the lunge loose. Loose lungeing provides variety in training and can be good fun for both horse and trainer. As well as practising transitions, horses should also be asked to change direction regularly to exercise them on both reins. If a horse is used to side reins, they can be fitted for loose lungeing but should be taken off for trotting poles and jumping. It's safer to lunge a horse over trotting poles on a rope rather than loose as the handler has more control and can circle the horse away from the poles if he approachs them too fast.

1:37 pm gmt 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Companions for horses

HorsesGeneral/Horsewithcatcopyright.jpgHorses don’t like being on their own. While a cat is fine without feline friends, it’s not in a horse’s nature, being a herd animal, to enjoy being alone. Some tolerate this more than others, of course. The ideal companion for a horse is another horse or pony. A donkey is useful too.

Not all horse owners can afford the time or the money to have two horses and a small pony is easy to manage if there is limited grazing but if it’s a companion to a large horse which is allowed a lot of grass, there will be problems with laminitis, the curse of small ponies and native breeds. One solution to this is to keep the pony in a fenced off smaller section of the field where the two can still talk to each other but the pony won’t be able to eat so much.

It’s unusual for a cat and a horse to be friends but we had one cat which used to sleep on a horse’s back in the stable. It was only in the winter, though, when the horse had a rug on otherwise I don’t think the claws would have been appreciated! Interestingly, the cat only sat on the back of one of the horses and didn’t go near the others. There was obviously a mutual friendship or tolerance of some sort going on.

I believe horses and dogs should get used to each other. When a dog first meets a horse, it usually barks and growls at it but they soon accept one other. We often take young horses on long reins out with a dog. The dog enjoys the walk and the horse seems to relax more in the dog’s company. It also gets the horse used to a dog suddenly jumping out of a ditch or hedge. Owners often bring their dogs along to horse shows and competitions so, companionship aside, it’s a good idea to get your horse or pony accustomed to them.

10:48 am gmt 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Child's first pony - to buy or to borrow?
If you were looking for a first pony for your young child, what would you do? Buy one or borrow one? My brother and I got our first ponies when we were about four and six respectively. My mother had a friend in England who bred Shetland ponies and two yearlings arrived on the boat in Waterford. They were so small that they could walk under the table in our kitchen - not that we allowed them to do that very often!

Obviously we couldn't ride yearlings so my mother borrowed quiet ponies while our Shetlands grew up. The great thing about a borrowed pony is that it usually has plenty of mileage, has been used by several families, you know its history and, most important, if it's too lively or unsuitable, it can be sent home again. It's also a good test, without spending a lot of money, to see whether the child really wants to own a pony and is prepared to do some of the work looking after it. The problem is that good, well-behaved first ponies are extremely hard to come by. There's usually a long queue of anxious parents waiting for them.

Another option is to 'borrow' or lease a pony from a local riding school. By paying a small amount of money each week, a child can share a pony and get used to looking after it. Again, a good test to see if he or she is really interested.

If you do decide to buy one, be very careful. I'm always amused to see the word 'bombproof' describing 4 year old ponies in advertisements. Bombproof to me means at least eight years old and preferably a teenager or in its twenties for a beginner. A bombproof pony is worth its weight in gold and is extremely hard to find.

Our Shetlands stayed with us for a long time, one of them all his life. My brother's was a little demon who would buck him off, kick him, run under low branches of trees to scrape him off and, if all that failed, would eventually get down and roll him off! But before I get into trouble with breeders of Shetlands, let me assure you that my Shetland pony was kind and well behaved. I rode him until my legs nearly touched the ground and then he went on to another family and taught many more children to ride.
12:15 pm gmt 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enthusiastic reception for our new greetings cards
The 17.3 hh horse with the stone bruise has now recovered and the farrier came yesterday to replace his shoe. It took three days of tubbing his foot in warm water and poulticing with epsom salts to get him sound again.

We would like to say a big thank you to all those who have been so complimentary about our new greetings cards. We're delighted you think the quality is so good and that you would recommend them to your friends. We know it's not always easy to find cards featuring horses in shops, particularly dressage horses, and some of you were delighted to discover they were only a mouse click away.

Competition for February
Would you like to win 5 of our beautiful A5 Equestrian and Country Greetings Cards? All you have to do is think of a suitable caption here.

Thanks again from all the team at Horseandponyinfo.com.
9:37 am gmt 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stone bruises are very painful for horses

I suppose it's inevitable that one of the horses should have a stone bruise at this time of year when the fields are so wet, although they can also get them from hard ground. Some horses seem more prone to them than others and it's my 17.3 hh Irish Draught X who suffers most. In fact, he's the only horse I've ever had to get a stone bruise in an indoor arena. If there's one stone in there, he'll find it and step on it! He lost a hind shoe and, sure enough, he's now lame, lifting his leg high in the air as he walks and heading towards the grass verge of the lane to the paddock which provides a bit of relief. Imagine yourself standing heavily on a sharp stone in bare feet and you'll sympathise with this poor fellow.

My farrier taught me how to treat stone bruises, which often build up into abcesses in the foot. The horse becomes progessively more lame until the abcess bursts, usually out through the sole of the foot although the smelly puss can also come out by the cornonary band. I need to 'tub' the horse's foot in a bucket of warm, salty water every morning and then poultice with epsom salts and glyserine. If you would like more information about this, go to our 'Horse and Pony Care' page.

12:06 pm gmt 

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Watch out for laminitis in small ponies and Native Breeds. Keeping weight under control is vital.


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