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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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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Swallows - a symbol of summer - but where do they come from?

swallowonwire.jpgThe swallows returned to our stable yard on 8th April, earlier than last year when it was 12th April. These dates are etched in my memory for a reason – the arrival of swallows signals the end of winter for me and I can’t wait to see them perched on the electricity wires. Already they are flitting in and out of the stables and the hay barn, repairing old nests and building new ones.  

One of the first three arrivals last year flew in the open window of our upstairs bathroom and into the jaws of our lazy cat. A little bird which had managed to fly all the way from South Africa, covered about 200 miles per day, survived the hazards of exhaustion, starvation and storms, was beheaded and left on the bathroom floor. The cat didn’t even bother to eat it. No dinner for her that night as she was in serious disgrace. 

Lack of rain in April is a problem for swallows – they need mud to build their nests. Swallows, by the way, are the ones with swallowbuildingnest.jpglong, forked tails which build on beams and rafters in outhouses and barns. House martins have no chestnut/red colour on their throats and have more white. They don’t have forked tails and they’re the ones who often upset house owners by building under the eaves and leaving messy deposits on the ground below. I think it’s ingenious how they stick their nests to the walls but they don’t like our house because, with no big eaves, our roof doesn’t offer enough shelter for them. 

Swallows in Ireland and Britain have two or three broods over the course of our summer and willswallowfeedingyoung.jpg start to line up on the electricity wires again in September, preparing for their marathon journey back to South Africa for the winter. From Ireland, they fly to England, on to France, down through Spain to Morocco and then across the Sahara Desert to South Africa. They always remind me of fighter jets - agile and streamlined, darting across the stable yard to dive bomb the dogs and cat or gliding high in the air on a warm evening to catch insects on the wing. (For more info about swallows and house martins, see www.birdwatchireland.ie or www.rspb.org.uk).

(Photos: 'Swallow on wire' © Vadim Andrushchenko; 'Swallow building nest' © john photon; 'Swallow feeding young' © Joot - Fotolia.com)

4:34 pm gmt 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life isn't sweet for a pony with sweet itch
I await the start of the sweet itch season next month with dread! Believe it or not, I'd never had a horse or pony with sweet itch until I bought Sprite. I bought him in November and if I'd known at the time that he got sweet itch, I wouldn't have considered him. There usually isn't any sign of sweet itch on a pony in the winter as it is a skin problem caused by an allergy to midge bites and the season in Ireland seems to be from May to the end of September, depending on the weather.

But the following summer I knew all about it. The poor little pony came up in huge lumps from the allergy and, when he came into the stable, constantly scratched his mane and tail against the walls. With a sinking heart I realised what it was my little show pony had and resolved to do some reading up on this unpleasant condition.

Sweet itch is actually caused by an allergy to the saliva of midges which appear in clouds at dawn and dusk, and in damp conditions. They make a pony's life a misery and the itching can result in huge, unsightly sores along the pony's crest, back and the top of his tail. After reading up on the subject and asking friends for advice, I found the following helped - so much so that I was able to show the pony last summer with a full mane and tail:

1. I bought Sprite a good quality sweet itch rug which he wore all day and night and he didn't get in a sweat under it even on hot days.

2. There are plenty of lotions and potions on the market for sweet itch, some quite costly. I followed my farrier's advice and bought Benzyl Benzoate in the local pharmacy in liquid form. The pharmacist told me it is used for scabies (a highly infectious itching) in humans. Benzyl Benzoate is an ingredient in many sweet itch preparations and I found it cheaper to buy it on its own. I applied this to the mane, back and top of the pony's tail once a week wearing rubber gloves and found it very effective.

3. I made sure that the pony was in his stable every evening before the midges emerged.

Sweet itch is a nuisance to deal with and creates extra work but with a bit of regular care and the correct rug, a horse or pony shouldn't have to suffer the misery of constant itching. By the way, if you are considering buying a pony with sweet itch, make sure you get a reduction in price. You are entitled to this for all the effort you will have to put into him. If you have bought a pony with sweet itch unknowingly, I believe you're entitled to go back to the seller and ask for a refund of some sort. Sweet itch, like cribbing, weaving and wind sucking, should be declared at the time of the sale.
3:33 pm gmt 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Five examples of 'horse salesperson speak' - or what we aren't being told!

We've all probably heard of 'estate agent speak'. It's a special language, or use of words, by estate agents when they describe houses for sale. 'In need of some renovation', for example, usually means the house is a complete ruin. I thought it would be a good idea to assemble some 'sales speak' which people might hear from sellers of horses.

1.  'He's a lovely horse (or pony) but he's a little green.' A little green has obviously nothing to do with the animal's colour - it means he's uneducated. Green horses or ponies need time put into them to teach them to become quiet and reliable. Green horses don't suit inexperienced or nervous riders.

2. 'All you have to do is lunge her before you ride her and she'll be as quiet as a lamb.' Trust me, any horse that needs to be lunged every day before being ridden is anything but quiet. I know a young woman who recently bought a horse from a supposedly reputable owner and was told this. The horse turned out, surprise, surprise, to be a crazy animal, and bucked off the girl's father and broke his back. Needless to say, they returned the horse and were lucky to be able to do so.

3. 'All this pony needs is a sympathetic rider with soft hands'. Again, we're probably dealing with a mad thing but this one will probably tear around the arena with his head in the air or try to pull the reins out of the rider's hands. The dentist (more info here) might be able to help but, unless the rider considers himself calm, sympathetic and able to deal with over-sensitive horses, I wouldn't go there.

4. 'I'm afraid I've lost her passport, but she's only nine years old.' It's amazing how many sellers have lost passports. What this usually means is that the passport has been thrown away because the horse is at least fifteen years old. When I'm told the horse's age and there's no sign of a passport, I immediately look at the teeth. Once a horse is nine or ten a notch or groove appears just below the gum on the upper corner incisors. This is called Galvayne's Groove after Sydney Galvayne, a horseman who first noticed it, and this is well worth learning to recognise.

I bought a pony from a dealer last Autumn. She knew I knew about Galvayne's Groove so admitted that the man she'd bought the pony from had tried to tell her he was nine. We both thought he was more like fourteen or fifteen but he's kind, sensible and good for beginner riders so it didn't really matter.

5. 'This horse is four years old and he's bombproof'. If I got a euro for every time I see bombproof four year olds advertised for sale, I'd be a rich woman. I don't believe there's such a thing as a 'bombproof' young horse. They simply don't have the years of mileage and experience behind them. Obviously some horses and ponies are more sensible than others but only older ones should be labelled bombproof.

5:12 pm gmt 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Equine dentist pays a visit

The equine dentist came today to check the teeth of two new ponies and of two older horses who had their teeth floated (or rasped) six months ago. One of the new ponies had been giving a bit of trouble by leaning down on the reins, pulling them out of the rider's hands, and making it difficult to control him even in the arena. I noticed when putting the bit in his mouth that his teeth at the side seemed very sharp. 

When she came six months ago, the dentist had floated the teeth of all the horses and ponies. One, in particular, has problem teeth which will need to be floated every six months to try to get them in order. Teeth that are left untreated can actually rotate or grow sideways and cause all sorts of problems.

Horses and ponies wear a special head collar with a metal attachment which keeps their mouths open. It looks uncomfortable but doesn't hurt them. Most of them tolerate the dental work well but some, who haven't been treated before, can make a fuss. What I found was that the ones I thought would be good and quiet kicked up when they got fed up and the more difficult, bossier horses behaved remarkably well! Not what I expected at all. However, there was a huge improvement in the behaviour of all of the horses and ponies who had had teeth attended to in the past because, as the dentist said, they knew what to expect and were clever enough to remember that it made a difference to them the last time around.

If you're having problems getting a horse down on the bit, or if he's throwing his head about or leaning on the bit, it's well worth calling the equine dentist. I like to get the older horses and ponies' teeth seen to before the winter starts because they can lose a lot of weight if they can't chew properly or if sharp teeth are hurting the inside of their mouths when they eat. A horse should have his teeth checked once a year or every six months if he has problems. In Ireland the equine dentist will charge about €60 per horse or pony. If you would like more info on problems caused by sharp or bad teeth, click here.

5:22 pm gmt 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Roughing off horses and/or taking off winter rugs

It's that difficult time of year again now that April has arrived. I'm already on my second attempt to take off winter rugs and rough off some of the horses and ponies. Once the hunter trials have finished, most people will rough off their hunters to give them a rest before starting to get fit for next season. Even stabled competition horses need to have their winter rugs (or at least one layer) removed or they will sweat during the day. Sweating is bad, as I've already mentioned in this blog, as it can cause skin infections and irritating itching for the horse.

Roughing off
The sudden warmer temperatures in late March followed by a return to arctic weather conditions over Easter did not help and winter rugs had to go back onto the ponies. Traditionally, roughing off a horse means leaving him out in a field day and night to give him a complete rest from work. All grooming should cease so that the horse can get some protection from the natural grease in his coat. Roughing off thoroughbreds is not recommended in Ireland and the UK until the second week of May. Roughing off needs to be done gradually, usually over a time span of two weeks. Take off one rug and leave horse out in field for longer periods durning the day but bring him in at night. After a week, take off the second rug. After two weeks of this, choose a mild day to leave the horse out at night for the first time and keep a close eye on him for a few days. Don't forget to reduce the horse's feed gradually over the two week period as you don't want so much excess energy that he injures himself galloping about in the field.

Lighter rugs for competition and show horses
Modern rugs have made life a lot easier for owners of competition horses. I have heavyweight (winter) and lightweight (summer) waterproof rugs for mine. On warmer days in April, I put on the lighter waterproof rug so that the horse is protected from rain and cooler winds. I put the winter rug back on at night for at least a week. I also have 'insulator' rugs which go under the waterproof rugs so it is easy to add or take away a layer at this time of year. Some owners will keep rugs on their competition horses all through the summer months and, if it is a very wet summer with below average temperatures, I do this myself. A summer rug will keep a shine on a show horse's coat. Also, as with humans, some horses feel the cold more than others. It depends what suits you and your horse. However, most horses and ponies kept for leisure riding will not need a rug in the summer. There's no point creating more work and effort for yourself unless it's really necessary!

5:35 pm gmt 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New competition for April and March results
We have two winners of our March competition for the 'Red Fox' greetings card - one for the best greeting and the other for the best caption. Congratulations to both of you.

We're now looking for a suitable greeting to go inside the greetings card of 'Black Labrador in a Deck Chair'. Entries close on 30th April and the result will be published on this website in the first week of May. What do you think this card best suits? Relaxing on a birthday, chilling out on holiday or even taking it easy on retirement? Let us know and you might win five A5 Deluxe Greetings Cards of your choice.

To see the results of the March competition or enter our April one, please click here.
4:37 pm gmt 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mystery foal returns to where he was born

(Photo: © miolanasvetlana - fotolia.com)
Newbornfoal.jpgI suppose I should start at the beginning of the story of the mystery foal. His mother is a 13.2 grey Connemara type pony mare who was bought for a 13 year old girl a year ago. She rode and competed on her over the summer while the mare grew progressively fatter.

Pony puts on weight
Naturally we all worried about her getting laminitis so she was moved into a bare field with only a little grass. I decided she was a particularly 'good doer' as she continued to put on weight. She was placed in a working hunter pony class at a show in early August and by then most people who knew about breeding suspected she was in foal. The vet was sent for, she was scanned and had an internal examination and we were informed that the foal would arrive in about two months time! The woman who had sold the pony had no idea she was in foal and neither did the previous owners.
It was interesting guessing what sort of foal would arrive out of the mare. Our main hope was that it wouldn't be too big as it was probably her first foal. The vet also said that the foal's legs felt like they belonged to a pony and not, thank goodness, a horse. Another worry was how late in the season the foal would be born - coming into winter instead of summer.

Foal separated from mother
Just as the good weather of our Irish autumn finished, the foal was born early in the morning of October 15th. The vet had told us that the pony would be better off left out in a small paddock but unfortunately the first thing the foal did was clamber under the fence and was found wandering about the lane by a neighbour coming home from night shift.

Being separated from his mother for several hours was not ideal and the mare, all confused by this little creature which kept following her about, was kicking and squealing at him, refusing totally to allow him to suck from her udder which had become swollen and sore. We called the vet who had to come to inject the foal for tetanus and both mother and son were brought into a stable where we tried our best to get the foal to suck. In the end, the mare had to be sedated and the foal was stomach tubed which meant the vet milked the mare and put a tube down the foal's throat. The milk was poured into a funnel and down the tube directly into the foal's stomach. This gave him enough food and energy to keep him alive for another few hours while we tried to teach him to suck.

Maple syrup to the rescue
It's amazing how silly some foals can be. Not even the vet could get him to suck and then she had to leave to attend another case. We had to persevere and if we hadn't got anything into him by a certain time, he and his mother would have to be taken in the horsebox to the veterinary clinic to stay the night otherwise he would most certainly die.

A variety of friends phoned and/or arrived to give us advice as we struggled because we'd never had to deal with a newborn foal before. One piece of information was to put honey on the mare's teats. I had no honey but had a bottle of maple syrup which we tried. The foal was happy to suck the maple syrup from my fingers but it took another half an hour for him to discover what to do with the teats. Once he started sucking, he was fine.

He and his mother left to stay nearer to their owners and he has done very well - grown and put on weight. He arrived back with me last Monday after being weaned on Friday. Now he has to learn to be one of the boys. He's in a field with two gelding ponies who have no motherly sympathy for him at all and were quick to kick at him when he tried looking for milk under them! He follows the bossier 12.2. pony around and gets pushed out of the way and bitten if he tries to take their hay. It's tough when you're only a newly weaned foal and bottom of the pecking order. However, that aside, he seems a happy, placid foal.

At the moment he is a chestnut colour with a black mane and greyish legs, a small star and one white sock. I suspect he will turn grey like mum when he gets his summer coat but we'll have to wait and see. We'll also have to wait and see what he'll turn into when he's ready for riding.
5:37 pm gmt 

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