Non-weightbearing Lameness

I had a call last week on my way to a lesson from my client, asking if I could meet her at the field as her pony was very lame.

When I got there, I saw the pony standing with her front foot resting on her toe, not bearing any weight. She’d obviously been stood in that spot for a while, so I checked her leg for injuries or swelling. She has a field to herself so I could rule out a kick injury. She could’ve slipped in the field, but that’s unlikely with a front leg lameness. A twist or sprain was possible, but there was just a bit of heat from the knee down and minimal general swelling. No specific lump.

Textbooks always say to call the vet immediately if your horse has a non-weightbearing lameness, and I tend to agree, but with this mare there was no obvious injury to the leg, which made me suspect the problem was in her foot. Combined with the wet weather, my suggestion was that she had a foot abscess.

We slowly led her in, hopping along, whilst ringing her farrier to see if he could come out a check for pus. He was very busy, but told us to poultice until he came. Which was what we were going to do anyway!

We washed her legs thoroughly, prepped her bed, and applied a hot poultice. Then I left my client with instructions to poultice twice a day, check for pus, and nag her farrier until he arrived!

Pus duly came out, of which I was secretly relieved to have diagnosed correctly, and the farrier had a dig about to relieve the pressure, and release the pocket of pus.

I thought I’d already done a blog about foot abscesses, and I have. But I’ve already reblogged it so you’ll have to follow this link to read my full explanation. Perhaps I need to do a blog on poulticing next …

The Big Debate

There was a really energetic debate on the BHS coaches forum a couple of weeks ago about qualified coaches versus unqualified coaches.

There are a lot of BHS qualified coaches in this industry. But there’s also a lot of people teaching without BHS qualifications.

The BHS provides insurance to their coaches, but unqualified coaches can get their own independent insurance based on industry experience. I’m not sure how the two compare in terms of level of cover and cost, but I like the simplicity of having the BHS organise it for me!

So what are the pros and cons of each? Or rather, why is the debate raging hot?

A person who has trained their way up the BHS ladder has invested a lot of time and money into their career. I calculated that in exam fees alone, £2000 has been spent on my getting qualified, either by my college, employer or myself to a level 4 coach or BHS II in old terms. That doesn’t include any resits or training. Or even travel and accommodation in order to take the exam. The letters behind our names is proof of our dedication to our profession.

The BHS exams consist of several modules: ridden, lunging, stable management, coaching principles, theory of riding, and practical assessments. Which means that you know you are getting a well rounded teacher, who can advise on all areas.

Let’s turn our attention to the unqualified coaches. These are often high level professional competition riders, which means their ridden experience and knowledge of training horses far outweighs that of the majority of BHS coaches. However, you can be a good rider but unless you can impart your knowledge in a clear and concise manner you are not a good coach. For these people, the UKCC qualifications is where they can learn how to share their knowledge to students, and this can complement their ridden experience nicely.

There are also non-BHS coaches without the riding CV, which is the concerning area to the majority of the BHS coaches on this forum. A lot of the BHS qualified instructors felt that average horse-people teaching put our industry at risk of a bad reputation. Yes, they can get insurance, but have they been taught how to manage a ride of children, adults or horses so that everyone remains safe? This is an insurance risk which penalises the rest of us as premiums rise due to claims against such dangerous situations.

Another concern was that coaches not on the BHS register do not have the overheads of qualified ones: CPD days, DBS checks, first aid training, APC membership, and child protection training. This means that they can afford to undercut the qualified professionals. Which doesn’t sit well with people who have invested time and money into their training.

The general consensus, after a long debate, was that BHS coaches accept and like the training opportunities offered by the likes of Lucinda Fredericks and William Fox-Pitt, knowing that their riding experience far outweighs that of their own. Some coaches even train with them themselves to help improve their competitive performance. However, these people have a lot of industry experience to support themselves.

What didn’t go down so well was the unqualified coach with decidedly average knowledge and experience. In one of the most dangerous sports, they increase the risk further. They charge less, don’t provide quality knowledge or lesson content, and potentially put riders in dangerous situations.

The general consensus was that the BHS should help us promote the benefits of using qualified coaches, and to encourage riders and parents to do their research and ensure the coaches they use are qualified and insured. Otherwise, what’s the point in training for BHS exams?

Below is a succinct comment from one of the BHS coaches which sums up the debate well, and how we should move forwards with it.

Times are changing – it is a competitive world out there and people will compare costings.
There are some excellent non qualified yet insured coaches out there, but there are also some very poor ones, and some totally uninsured. There are some cracking ‘names’ coaching in our area who do a great job, but also some who, because they find it easy, have absolutely no idea how to coach and which tools to use to draw out the best from those who don’t. Their observations and corrections are distorted by their own ability.
There are Pony Club members who teach, with no training or experience whatsoever, who lobby and coach younger members privately and uninsured.
For me, the safety and welfare element is key. Stakeholders should be using their resources and expertise to lobby INSURANCE companies to tighten up. It would be interesting to know the statistics of claims comparatively, as all insurance is based on risk factor. There should be a minimum safety and risk awareness certification built into existing qualifications (it is) but possibly available as a stand alone in order to gain insurance, alongside safeguarding and first aid qualifications. Mandatory. Period.
I am actively involved in PC, and we circulate to our memberships the dangers of using uninsured, unqualified coaches, but it falls on deaf ears – surprisingly often with intelligent, affluent people, not those who want to save money!
If insurance is cheaper and more easily available elsewhere, as it is and without jumping through the hoops, then why wouldn’t people go down that route? All we can do is promote and practice with excellence, we do not have control of other people’s actions. We must also be open minded in some areas.
BHS are doing a great job, but need to escalate this in conjunction with other bodies…

All in all, my advice is to research your instructor to ensure they are insured, have sufficient industry experience, and the ability to impart their knowledge – proved by either the UKCC or BHS qualifications.

Meanwhile, qualified instructors will continue to pressurise the BHS to do more to protect us and give more young people a reason sit exams and train. It’s a tough situation, but as a dangerous sport we need to tighten up on teaching standards so that we make it as safe as possible for all participants.

Fitting a Martingale

I’m watching the cross country action from Burghley today. I tried yesterday but our internet kept dropping out, so I’m a bit behind the times.

It’s a tough course though, isn’t it? Don’t worry Phoenix, we won’t be aiming there next year! I’ll be quite happy to have a few positive runs at 80.

I digress. There were some crashing falls at Burghley, but also an unlucky accident. One of the horses picked his feet up very neatly over one of the fences. So neatly that one of his studs got caught in his martingale so he stumbled on landing, being on three legs and the pair fell.

You can rest assured the martingale had been fitted correctly, but it did remind me how frequently I see badly fitting martingales. This pair were really lucky, but if a foot gets stuck in the martingale strap by the girth and the horse can’t wriggle free and the leather doesn’t break then you’re looking at a rotational fall with potentially catastrophic consequences. Scary.

So how should a martingale be fitted? I think confusion arises because there are so many variations of martingales and breastplates. But they all have a central strap between the horse’s front legs so let’s start there.

You should be able to fit a flat hand between the horse’s chest and the strap. I think these are being left looser because we now have girths which have buckles or clips for martingales. Obviously if you buckle the martingale to the girth less leather is used up going around the body of the girth so the strap needs to be shortened. This sometimes means that more holes need to be punched into the leather. I think sometimes people lack the confidence to add extra holes into new tack. Everyone who rides or tacks up the horse needs to know if the martingale attaches to the buckle or the girth goes through it so that it is fitted correctly. Breastplates usually have a fixed joint which sits at the base of the neck, but martingales have a continuous strap from girth to reins or noseband. So when fitting the top half of the martingale you need to be aware of the lower half, and vice versa.

A running and standing martingale have the same neck strap, which is fitted correctly when you can put a hand between the top of the neck and the strap. That’s about four inches.

This is where things get more complicated. The rings of the running martingale straps should reach up the the withers; too short and they’ll apply downward pressure when it’s not needed. A standing martingale is fitted so that when it is lifted to align with the gullet you can still fit a hands width between the strap and the horse’s throatlash.

Onto breastplates. I find breastplates much trickier to fit as they shouldn’t restrict the horse’s shoulder movement, but as they stop the saddle slipping back you don’t want them loosely fitted. The running martingale and central straps should still be fitted with the above measurements in mind.

The hunting breastplate is the simplest of breastplates, and should be fitted so that your fist can be fitted between the strap and horse at the centre of the chest so movement isn’t impeded or too much pressure put on the tree of the saddle. You could also lift the top of the neck strap, which should give four inches clearance from the wither at the correct fitting.

Fitting a five point, V-check breastplate, and all other variations are more complicated, but it’s best to consider that you should be able to fit a fist in at the point of chest, and anything that goes over the withers should have four inches clearance. I would then advise that you are observed and videoed when you first ride in the breastplate so that you can analyse if the breastplate is interfering with your horse’s movement, or is being effective at keeping your saddle in place.

It makes me think that really, because there are so many variations of breastplates and martingales (some have elasticated inserts), and there are always new designs, that companies should provide fitting instructions to help your average horse owner get it right and avoid any accidents, either from the tack being dangerously loose or from it being too tight and inhibiting the horse.

A Hacking Incident

I was hacking this week when we had a little accident which I thought was worth sharing in case anyone has a similar incident so that you know how to respond.

The two of us were hacking along a byway track, which is used regularly by cars and horses, when suddenly my friend’s pony staggered and started hopping along. The little mare tried to put her left fore to the floor, but couldn’t weightbear. As soon as she’d stopped trying to walk (I’d already stopped) my friend jumped off.

I could see her trembling with what I could only assume was pain. I genuinely thought she’d broken her leg or popped a tendon. My friend cradled the left fore and looked at the foot.

She told me there was a stick caught, so I hopped off too and had a look. It wasn’t a stick, it was a large nail. Embedded in the poor mare’s frog.

We decided to try and remove the nail as we needed to get her home, which was only five minutes away, and being a smooth nail we were likely to remove the whole thing.

I held the horses while my friend wiggled the nail out. Thankfully her pony knew we were helping and stood like an angel. The nail had blood on, and had penetrated the frog by about half a centimetre. You can see the darkened area at the tip of the nail on the photo below, which is dried blood.

Immediately the pony seemed more comfortable and was sound so we started walking home and discussed treating the wound.

As it was a puncture wound we want to keep it as clean as possible and avoid any infection, which can be very tricky to treat so I suggested flushing out the wound, applying some form of antiseptic – iodine spray for example – and dry poulticing the foot to keep it clean. We talked about turn out versus box rest and decided that whilst it was warm and dry it was much of a muchness as to which was more beneficial. Given that the mare doesn’t like staying in my friend preferred the idea of turning her out in a poultice.

Given that the foreign object was an old nail, I checked that the pony’s vaccinations were up to date, and I did suggest it would be worth ringing the vet for advice and to see what they recommend with regard to tetanus boosters. I know that with serious injuries they often give a booster as part of the course.

When we got back to the yard there was a farrier there, so my friend took her pony over for him to have a look at. After all, the foot is their area of expertise!

The farrier said that she was lucky; the nail had gone in at an angle so whilst it was still a puncture wound it hadn’t gone up into the foot. The lack of blood was a good thing as only the frog was damaged. And the nail had pierced the frog closer to the toe than the heel, which is preferable.

I think we had a lucky escape in that the mare is fully up to date with vaccinations, and with the location of the injury so hopefully after a few days rest and keeping the wound clean she’ll be back to her normal bouncy self!

I did send a few messages to local yards to warn them to be vigilant along that track in case there was more debris on the track to cause another injury as it had the potential to be so much worse.

What A Day!

This may be the first, and possibly only, non-equine blog post on The Rubber Curry Comb, but I think today makes an entertaining story considering I haven`t seen a horse all day.

I was due a visit home to my parents in Wales. I had two jobs while I was there. The first was to empty my bedroom as the crack in the ceiling had grown, and what seemed to be mushrooms were growing out of the ceiling. Dad planned to pull the ceiling down, investigate the problem and hopefully repair it. Unfortunately, this tricky and dirty job cannot be done surrounded by my trinkets and childhood. I spent last night wrapping up figurines, boxing up certificates won by my five year old self, throwing out cards from lesser important birthdays, bagging up clothes still in the wardrobe for the charity shops. I`m afraid there`s no hope for me as both parents are serial hoarders. I promised myself that I would be ruthless when unpacking the boxes when the ceiling is repaired.

After a good catch up with my best friend both last night and this morning, I headed off for my dentist appointment. Yes I know, I don`t live there yet I`m still registered there for the dentist. There are two reasons for this. One, it ensures I go home to visit at least once every six months (I believe this is my Mum`s scheme) and two, I`m yet to find a reasonable dentist and organise myself to get registered in Berkshire.

Off I head in my dirty but fairly reliable VW Polo. It has a tendency to terrify me as it makes a sudden rattle or squeak, but they soon disappear and my car gets me from A to B successfully. I did indeed get to the dentist, had my teeth counted and was sent away again rapidly.

Sailing down the bypass I approach the roundabout just outside town. “Oh I should get some petrol,” I think, taking my foot off the accelerator. I usually expect my car to magically get back home on a quarter of a tank of petrol, and have to stop and be robbed at a motorway service station…

Suddenly, there is a loud grinding, rattling, shuddering sound.

Uh oh.

I take the turning into town and head towards the petrol station, hoping that the car will do its usual trick of silencing itself when I turn it off. As I turn into the petrol station forecourt the water light flashes on. Now I know this was topped up on Boxing Day morning as we hurried to the emergency doctors.

So I stop the car and turn off the engine and phone my brother. Why didn`t I phone my Dad? The mechanic extraordinaire? Firstly, I highly doubted he had his mobile on, and secondly I knew he was at work and my brother was surgically attached to his Playstation. My brother talks me through checking for holes in pipes, and seeing if the engine is hot, and then decides he will liaise with Dad. I wait impatiently, texting my best friend, and after a few minutes I get a call from Bro, saying that he is coming to bail me out. Almost instantly, I have Dad on the phone offering advice about the size of the tube that may be broken and if I should walk to go and get one while I wait for Bro.

Convinced it is a bit more serious, I sit and wait.

After what seemed like forever, the little Fiesta swung into the forecourt and out jumped Bro, complete with a rucksack of tools. He opens the bonnet and has a quick assessment, and then rings Dad for more advice. Then we decide to move my car up onto the kerb so that Bro can actually fit underneath to have a good look.

I start the engine, and am immediately told to stop. Bro listens and looks, before getting Dad to listen to the car on the phone and starts talking about alternators and water pumps.. A stranger filling his car up offers some advice.
“Don`t drive that” he says, knowledgeably, “Ring the AA.”

Thanks, mate!

With the car up on the kerb, we realise that a large pool of coolant fluid has collected when my car had been parked. Bro tops it up as that`s a useful job, but we soon realise it is just trickling straight through to the pavement.

More talking on the phone, and Bro announces that we need the tow bar. Which is at home. So I ring my best friend, who`s parents is about to come into town, and ask them to call by and pick up the tow bar from Mum. Meanwhile, Bro is talking Mum through the garage, hunting for the towbar. At this point I realise that I won`t be able to get home by 4pm to teach some children and ring to cancel.

A long half an hour later, during which time Bro and I have the longest conversation between us since forever, and munch away on some wine gums. My second set of parents arrived and Dad 2 had a good look at the engine, concluding it is the water pump. Bro erects the tow bar. Dad arrives in his van from work, swirling into the forecourt. Then we realise that I don`t have a hook at the front of my car. There is some talk of me being towed backwards. Which Mum 2 is not impressed with, having a minor heart attack. I feel the same.

Bro calmly sorts out the Dads, and looks in the manual to find out where the bracket is hiding and pretty soon my car is all hitched up. I really must stop thinking of Bro as the five year old toy-chainsaw wielding monkey, and remember he is in his third year of uni, studying engineering, and impressing companies left, right and centre, and has actually grown up.

“Do you want to drive my car home and I`ll go with Dad?” asks Bro. Very chivalrous … what has happened?! Then he mentions the M-word.

I`m not going to pay my brother to sit in the garage for me, so I agree to drive my car.

Dad 2 shouts some instructions. “Have the ignition on. Do some steering, indicate when nececssary, and don`t brake. Touch the brakes so the lights flash, but the van does all the work.”

Nervous, I nod and get into my car. Dad has already slammed his door shut and pulls off.
I wasn`t ready! Trying to remember my instructions, I turn the ignition and pull on my seat belt. We`re pulling out of the forecourt and my car beeps. The handbrake is still on.

Once the handbrake is off I try to acclimatise to the close proximity of Dad`s white van. Have you ever been driving along and suddenly realised you`re a bit too close to the car in front? Well that`s the feeling I had for the whole journey!
The first time Dad applied the brakes I touched mine, but my all-or-nothing brake pedal caused both vehicles to judder and lurch. I expect Dad swore at my from his van!

Thankfully, I`m used to his habit of “ironing out the bends” as we sail along the country roads, squeezing past a tractor and trailer over a humpback bridge. A few roundabouts later, we pulled in to the industrial estate. I hoped the automatic swinging gate wouldn`t close between the van and my car!

Once we were unhitched, the bonnet was lifted and Dad`s car-fanatic friend diagnosed a broken water pump. He rings for some parts, and despite being 3pm, he manages to get them delivered to the garage within half an hour. While we wait, Dad and I start taking the wheel off and unscrewing the necessary nuts, which are of course, seized. When the old water pump is revealed, we realise how close I came to writing my car off. All the ball bearings had fallen out and the belt was very slack. Had it jumped off the piston would have smashed into the engine, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Scary stuff!

After some sweating and grumbling, Car Fanatic starts to fit the water pump. And then we discover that it is the wrong part.

I`m devastated, tomorrow is a really busy day for me and I need to be back home tonight. I don`t really want to spend another night sleeping in a room full of mushrooms, and I want to have my car back!

It`s coming up to 5pm, and we can`t get the correct water pump until mid morning tomorrow. Dad understands my dilemma as he is self-employed too.

With a bit of coercion, and sweet talking Mum, I manage to get insured on her car for four days so I can go home and work for the next couple of days whilst my car is being repaired. I`ve driven the Rav before, having used it for my trailer test, and manoeuvring it with the trailer around the yard. If I have to drive the two hour journey home in the dark then I want to do it in a car I`m familiar with! The insurance company is very helpful, and reasonably priced, so by 5pm I`m insured on Mum`s car.

Luckily for me, Mum had some dinner on the table when Dad and I got home in the van, so I ate and packed the car before having the privilege of watching Dad pull down my bedroom ceiling to reveal centuries worth of dust and dirt, which has got heavy with water and put a lot of pressure onto the plasterboard. I think this will be another story …

At 7.20 I finally managed to leave my parents, in luxury. I found the journey very smooth and quick. Being higher up, the lights of oncoming cars didn’t dazzle me, and the tinted rear view mirror meant I wasn’t dazzled from behind. This is usually my nightmare when driving at night. I enjoyed having CD controls on the steering wheel, but couldn’t believe that with all the technology on the dashboard, the wing mirrors have to be manually adjusted!

I finally pulled into the drive at 9.30pm, tired, but glad to be home. My extended family was really supportive and helpful today so I owe them a big thank you! At least tomorrow normal activities can resume. Although I wonder what Mum would say if I asked to make the car swap permanent?