Something a Bit Different

My normal work finished for Christmas last week, and I’ve got a nice long week to try to tick off some of my to-do list without adding to the bottom of it. However, today was the final Pony Club rally of the year.

Having only just taken over the role of chief instructor for this branch of the Pony Club, I’m still working out what members want in terms of rallies, as well as how I can improve their knowledge and ability within the equestrian world.

I had thought early on that I would like to see more stable management rallies, and to improve the children’s off horse knowledge. The obvious place to start is with the achievement badge scheme, run by the Pony Club. Fabric badges are available for a huge variety of subjects – points of the horse, poisonous plants, first aid, to name a few. They’re aimed at primary school aged children, and as they love receiving souvenirs, we decided to begin doing more badge rallies. I’ve also designed a rewards system for when the children achieve five, ten, fifteen, twenty and so on badges. A little prize or gift will be a great motivator for them, and hopefully by learning through the badge rallies their efficiency tests will seem easier.

With this in mind, we planned a stable management rally for the Christmas holidays. I suggested that because the weather was risky, the evenings dark, and parents so busy in the run up to Christmas, that we combined the lecture with an off horse, indoor activity. Then it doesn’t matter on the weather, parents can use those couple of hours for some last minute shopping or wrapping, and the children can have some fun.

So I sweet talked my farrier into providing me with some pony sized horse shoes. He cleaned them up for me and I had them sprayed silver so they won’t rust. Then I bought some ribbon, beads, glue and a lot of glitter!

I decided to teach the kids about the native breeds of the United Kingdom, so they could go home with that badge. Of course I had to revise my own knowledge, but I didn’t want to bore them to tears by just talking at them. I decided to ask them questions to engage them, to bring along one or my breed books which has photographs of all the native breeds, and to show them when the different breeds originated on a map.

As we discussed each breed, a child came and put the label on the correct area on the map.

To finish the lecture, I decided on a group exercise. I printed out a photo of each breed with six statements – the name of the breed, their height, two statements of distinguishing features (usually colour and something about their body shape), their original job, and what they are used for nowadays. Within each statement I tried to provide clues (e.g.”this Scottish breed of horse stands 13.2-14.2hh, slightly bigger than it’s cousin the Eriskay”). I laminated everything and cut the statements out into small strips.

Then of course I couldn’t match the statements to the picture myself, so I had to make the exercise easier! In the end I split the children into three groups and gave each group five sets of cards, all muddled up. Within each group I put one draught horse, and divided the other breeds up so that the similar ones weren’t in the same group. For example, I separated Fells and Dales, and Exmoor and Dartmoors.

I was really pleased with the children’s attempts at this exercise. There was some level of deduction, some debating about the meanings of the phrases, and some even remembered the facts I’d just told them!

Each group had an older helper to assist them, and read out the sentences if necessary, and I circulated, checking how they were getting on, and giving hints and encouragement to the sometimes lively debates. They soon matched all of the cards to the correct breed and then we did the fun bit!

Let’s just say that glitter went everywhere! But the shoes looked brilliant and the children had great fun.

Feedback was very positive, with happy parents, and the children proudly showed off their badges and horse shoes.

Today was a different rally, but really fun to do. I don’t think we’ll do crafts at every badge rally, but it’s certainly one to remember for next winter. I thought I might do a colouring competition, or design a poster, at a future badge rally where they can put their new found knowledge to good use. Then when the weather is warmer we can do the outdoor stable management, such as the grooming badge, and tie it in with a lesson.

Spanish Horses

It was a couple of weeks ago now, but I haven`t gotten around to writing about it, that we had a visiting horse and her owner. The mare was Andalusian and on her way to Hartpury for the National Show of Spanish Horses.

Whilst she was at the yard she underwent drastic changes to her appearance, which made all the liveries curious.

Which is how we ended up discussing it in depth in the yard at seven a.m. one morning. Pooling our scraps of knowledge, we found out that stallions are presented in a very natural state with long flowing manes and tails, unclipped and majestic, whilst the mares should be presented in a workmanlike state (very sexist according to one lady) – with manes an inch long, clipped docks and tails cut at the hock and trimmed legs. This is also for hygeine reasons, according to a website I saw. The owner of the visiting horse then told us that she had spent the last couple of years growing out the mane and tail, so was finding the trimming process difficult – if it was me I don`t think I`d have bothered to go to the show, I couldn`t come close to hogging Otis! The tack used and the handler`s dress also had to be in line with traditional Spanish clothes.


The show in Hartpury had a number of different classes for all the different Spanish breeds – the usual best of breed, best conformation, best mare, and also the opportunity for owners to have their horses graded. I think this means that a foal born to two parents who are graded 1 is automatically a grade 1 Spanish horse.

However, to throw a curved ball into the mix, I had heard that in order for a horse to be registered with the Spanish Studbook it`s birthplace must be Spain. However I`ve been trying to find out a bit more about this with little success, but I have gleaned that recently the rules have changed to allow horses to be bred outside of Spain, which has encouraged the popularity of the breed. However, if anyone can enlighten me further it would be great!

Spanish horses are most closely associated with dressage (the Spanish Riding School springs to mind), and are naturally good at it as they have uphill conformation and are short coupled, which makes collection and hind leg engagement easy, even though when you first look at them their heavy necks and shoulders suggest that lightness of the forehand is difficult to achieve. Their history is also intricately linked to the military, which in turn influenced classical dressage movements.


Did you also know that most Spanish male horses are left ungelded, and only men ride the stallions and women ride the mares? A client once told me that after he`d holidayed in Spain.

The last we saw of this lady and horse was just before they left for the competition, so I wonder how they fared. I have a soft spot for Spanish horses so may well try and go to one of the breed shows next year to learn a bit more about them and their traditions. Hartpury also put on various parades at the show, which I think would be good fun to watch.


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