Taking your horse out and about, be it to competitions or sponsored rides, can be daunting. Especially if you’re going on your own. I’m helping a friend get out and about with her mare, so I’ve devised this program to get them out and about confidently.
Now obviously you don’t have to go through every step if you don’t need to. For example if you’ve towed a trailer before you won’t need to spend very long getting your eye in, and if you’re a competent rider then you may not want a lesson at the venue, you may be more interested in using the fine to ride a course of unknown fences or run through a dressage test. However, for those of you who have never, or only infrequently travelled with your horse I hope this guide will help you tackle travelling so that you make the most of riding opportunities this summer.
Eventing season is finally kicking off, although with the ground conditions it’s been difficult to get any work done out of the arena.
This means that horses have lost out on valuable fittening work, hence why some eventers have pulled out of Badminton this year. There’s now far more centres with arena cross country facilities so whilst you may not be able to physically go cross country schooling you can at least practice the technicality aspect over a variety of cross country fences.
Dressage and showjumping you can practice all winter in the arena, but there’s a difference between riding on a surface, and riding on grass, so it’s important to get some practice in before an event.
Let’s look at the differences between riding on the flat and over jumps on grass compared to on an artificial surface.
Firstly, unless you are riding on a bowling green, no grass arena is going to be perfectly flat, and practice is needed so that you and your horse can ride as accurately and correctly on a slope as you do in the arena. The lack of fences can also make it harder to ride a straight line or accurate circles too. Which means practice. Count your strides on a twenty metre circle in the arena and then use this number to check you’re riding the correct sized circle out in the open.
Grass is more slippery than artificial surfaces, especially if it’s long, wet or you have the pleasure of an 8am dressage test on dewy grass. In which case it’s worth investing in studs, and then practice using them and working out the best size and shape of stud that suits your horse in different conditions.
A showjumping course will be more spread out than one on a surface. This is because on grass you need to take a wider turn to stay balanced. Again, you need to practice jumping on a slope, especially combinations, which may catch you out in the ring.
The biggest learning curve transitioning from riding in a ménage to riding on grass is developing the ability adjust your riding for the conditions, and for your horse to learn to keep his balance and rideability in different conditions – whether it’s hard going, deep going or slippery. As a rider you need to assess the terrain: are any transitions in the test on a downhill? Try and mimic the transition in your warm up so you get the feel for how you need to prepare and support your horse through them. Depending on how long the grass is and how wet it is, you may need to ride larger turns on the showjumping course than the optimum line, so you’ll need to take into account the time allowed as well as your horse’s canter and ability to keep their footing in these conditions. Sometimes the ground itself can be less than ideal, especially if you’re jumping towards the end of a wet day, so you’ll need to be able to circumnavigate divots and furrows without being put off your game. Learning how to ride on grass is only really learnt by practice. So take every opportunity you can to ride in the open fields, even when the conditions are not our ideal.
The other big factor you have to contend with when riding in the open is the added excitability of your horse. Many horses suffer from open-space-itis which means they jog in the walk, have a quicker showjumping canter and are generally a bit hotter. The best thing to do is to practice on grass to reduce the novelty – although the first time schooling on grass is always more exciting. Spend the first session establishing manners. A calm, relaxed walk. A steady canter. Walking towards home rather than galloping. Jumping a fence then coming back to the rider. Then another relaxed walk. By ensuring that your horse doesn’t think an open space means a flat out gallop you will have a more rideable horse and get more enjoyment as a result. And be consistent: expect them to listen to you all the time and then they will.
This morning was an early start. Still the middle of the night really. I went to the yard and fed Otis, who looked warily at me from the end of the field before coming over for breakfast. I decided not to poo-pick …
Then it was over to another yard to get the Diva ready for his big day – the Riding Club Eventers Challenge at Blenheim Palace! Due to Otis’s extended vacation I was left horseless and the team incomplete, so I called in a couple of favours and was allowed to take him. He’s done some eventing in the past, but it would be his first competition for two years. That’s fine, I thought I knew him well enough and he wasn’t totally green, that we could give it a go. Besides, what’s life without a bit of excitement?!
When we went on our sponsored ride he was too excited to eat breakfast, but thankfully he did quite happily today. There was less activity on the yard too. Well, it’s not really surprising at 6am! We even had to wake him up in the field! So travel boots on and funny dance complete, we headed to the trailer.
It took about 20-25 minutes of quiet encouragement to load for the sponsored ride, but the yard was busy and the Diva bounded up the ramp and it made a bit of a noise so he retraced his steps rapidly! We had lunge lines to quietly tunnel him in and he made the decision to load on his own accord. This morning, it took about ten minutes. It was a very calm procedure, and he definitely made up his own mind to load.
We arrived and he stood happily on the trailer while I walked the twisty course over very undulating ground. It wasn’t too big, but the questions were in the terrain and turns.
When I mounted he set off at a hurried walk, but by the time we reached the warm up he felt settled. So settled I could remove my visible piercings on board (to everyone’s surprise I still had all the pieces in my pocket at the end!). Warm up he felt great, I had to really concentrate because he has such a big stride compared to Otis and his bascule is different.
All too quickly it was our turn!
He went in happily, then baulked at the arena party under a tree, but I managed to get him past them and cantering before the bell rang. Number one was an oxer going downhill. We took off great, but I think we did a bit of sightseeing as we went over as he was a bit lazy with his legs. Not a great start. But up the incline and around the turn to number two, an upright with fillers. No problem. A sharp left turn back on ourselves for the oxer at three. No problems again. Onto number four, which he unfortunately got a little long on the approach and just brought down. But he picked himself up for the dog leg to the oxer at five and then the sharp right turn and short approach to the larger oxer at six. Number seven was the double near the arena party, but thankfully they were gone from his mind and he gave both fences plenty of room! The double was slightly downhill, but there was a left turn between two fences before the upright at eight. Another downhill to the first cross country fence – a log. We were a bit close but I had to hold him together down the slope and it wasn’t a problem. Then a right curve to a roll top for ten. Here there were two routes to take across the arena. Unfortunately I was looking at the wrong one and we had a close encounter with a tree branch – perhaps I thought I was riding a pony?! I ducked and we were safely through with plenty of time to reorganise before another roll top. From eleven it was a dog leg to number twelve, and I was a bit unsure that I’d got my line right. I know I can adjust Otis’s nimble strides between fences, but I wasn’t so confident this time. We were good though, and had to cross the arena again to number thirteen. Not quite so close to the tree this time, I approached this roll top on an okay angle. But it was another dog leg to another roll top and I was definitely pushing my luck. I think this showed the lack of depth to our partnership. I couldn’t correct my line well enough and didn’t read him quickly enough to prevent him drifting left. Upon representing we flew it, but it was the two skinnies next. They were the biggest fences, and what had caused us the most problems at home – the odd run out or cat leap. It was also off an acute turn and downhill. So I locked on and prayed. He jumped them perfectly!
Upon landing over number sixteen it was quite a tight right turn to the joker fence, up a slope. I was so surprised not to have squeezed between the skinny fence and tree I wasn’t quite quick enough to sit him on his hocks for a showjump and we just knocked it.
I was thrilled with how he had performed. Yes, I’d had to work hard balancing his long strides for the turns yet making sure he had the power to clear the fences, and keeping focused on the job and maintain our rhythm for it. I abandoned my two point seat for the cross country part though as I was working on keeping him together for the turns, his canter is big enough that he made the time easily though.
We untacked the diva and gave him his favourite thing – a bath! He really doesn’t like being washed off. Maybe I should bring some hot water next time?! He seemed happy to graze after, which shows how relaxed he was feeling, and once we had gotten him ready to load, and put the lunge lines out, we headed for the ramp. And he walked straight on! Without a moments hesitation! We were so pleased! He then stood happily for a couple of hours while we went shopping, eating his hay.
No rosettes for the team today, but both I and his owner were very happy and proud with the Diva’s behaviour and performance. Next time, it’s her turn to ride!
About month ago I was forwarded an email by a fellow horsey friend from a company called Animalife. They were looking for equestrian bloggers to trial their new product and give them feedback, as well as promote their product on their blogs.
I thought this looked interesting, and I`m always looking for new topics to write about, so I applied. If I`m honest I didn`t really know what I was letting myself in for as there was very little information about the new product, Vetrofen Healthy, online. However, Otis is a fit, active and healthy horse, so I figured that he was probably an ideal candidate for trying a general purpose supplement.
I didn`t think anymore of it, until I received an email from animalife and within an hour the postman actually delivered my tub of Vetrofen Healthy.
“three plant sources known for the effective plant antioxidant support, Acacia catechu, Boswellia and Curcumin”.
I recently blogged about the fact that turmeric is becoming increasingly popular as a feed supplement for a variety of reasons, the main one being arthritis. Curcumin is the essential ingredient of turmeric. It was also promising to read that Vetrofen Healthy contained pepper to aid absorption – everyone knows that black pepper should be fed with turmeric to increase the uptake of curcumin by the body.
Acacia catechu has been used in Asia for many reasons, including anti-fungus, liver swelling, blood clotting, asthma, diarrhoea and constipation, and many skin afflictions. Similarly, botswellia is also from Asia and known for being an excellent anti-inflammatory; treating asthma, arthritis and osteoporosis.
Using this knowledge, I assume that Vetrofen Health, which is marketed as providing ongoing support of comfort and mobility in the equine athlete, works by improving the body`s response to inflammation due to work, and to help support the airways and speed up recovery of minor injuries due to work – such as fatigued muscles after going cross-country.
Another element I liked about Vetrofen Healthy is that it is completely free from banned substances, so you can compete whilst feeding it. But I`m sure I only need to worry about that when Otis and I go to Badminton …
My next step was to start feeding Vetrofen Healthy to Otis. When I opened the tub at the yard the next morning I was hit by the peppery aroma diffusing from the container. Now, Otis isn`t a fussy eater, but it would concern me that a horse with a sensitive palate may turn their nose up at the supplement. Having said that, the smell was more pleasant than some other supplements I`ve seen. It`s a very fine powder too, which probably means it`s more easily digested, but I did find that the powder got everywhere unless I was really careful!
Anyway, I started feeding Otis the recommended amount of 1.5 scoops per day. He`s a healthy horse anyway, so I didn`t expect a miraculous improvement in his general well-being, but I was interested to see if there would be an improvement in his recovery from tough workouts. Often I find him a bit flat for a couple of days after an event, or even the next day he can be flat after some interval training.
I had taken Otis to a BE90 the week before starting him on Vetrofen Healthy and he had had a good cross country round, but struggled with the deep going in the showjumping so hadn`t done brilliantly. I then decided to make my next event a BE100, which was last weekend – three weeks after starting the supplement. Although on a day to day basis I haven`t noticed a huge improvement in his performance, although he is working well at the moment, I did find that he performed very well at the BE100 last weekend. He seemed to pick up again after a good showjumping round really well, and put in a good effort in the cross country phase, only getting a handful of time faults and jumping clear and easily (he put in some extra effort and jumped the large flower pot on top of the table, which is not something I thought he was capable of). I was impressed the next time I rode him a couple of days later, however, that he was not flat, and worked really consistently and focused. So in that respect, I would say that Otis recovered from his physical exertions a lot better than he has previously.
If I`m honest, I would say that we are not the best combination to test this product as Otis is a very happy horse so always tries his heart out, which means that it is difficult to read him, and he has not got any underlying problems which could have been alleviated by Vetrofen Healthy – such as arthritis, so it is difficult to spot improvements in his performance. However, as the ingredients of Vetrofen Healthy are all natural, and to me the science is logical, I want to purchase another container of Vetrofen Healthy and continue my trial over the next few weeks as I think I would see more results after a few more competitions. He is a hardworking horse, and I do think that Vetrofen Healthy provides a safe supplement, which will do no harm if he doesn`t need it, yet should be beneficial if his joints and muscles need a helping hand.
This topic comes up every time we travel anywhere with the horses and I`m watching them on the trailer-cam.
Think about how you travel in the car. You look out of the window, you see the bends in the road, anticipate the turns, see how the driver positions the car, and without realising, you respond to the visual cues as to which way you need to move your body to help balance yourself. It`s the same when you`re standing up on the train or bus; only slightly harder as you only have two legs to balance on!
Now think about the horses in the trailer. There may be a small window at the front, but they can only see the car in front. They can`t look out any side windows, nor see the upcoming road, so is it any surprise some find it tricky to stay balanced. Usually the roads flow like rivers, with smooth bends and flexes, so the horses with their four legs to stabilise themselves, adjust their weight accordingly. Travelling steadily and taking corners carefully gives the horses a little bit more time to balance themselves.
I always have a problem watching the horses in the trailer-cam at junctions. Usually they are fine, but occasionally we catch them by surprise and they are leaning to the right as we turn left. And then they lose their balance.
When they lose their balance and stagger I tend to panic a bit. Now at junctions I mutter “left, Otis” or “right, Otis”.
My muttering got us talking about how we could possibly warn the horses in the trailer. They don`t understand English so a microphone and tannoy system would be useless.
Then I had a brainwave. Much like Pavlov`s dogs were trained to associate food with the ringing of a bell, could we not fit buzzers to the indicators so that when we indicate right in the car, the right trailer indicator flashes and a beep goes off in the trailer so that the horses hear this beep and anticipate a right hand turn. When the left indicator flashes a beep of a different pitch is heard in the trailer so that the horses learn to anticipate a left hand turn.
I`m sure with a bit of classical conditioning we could pull this off! It wouldn`t take too long to acclimatise the horses to the sound of the indicators, as it does not need to be particularly loud or offensive to the ears. Furthermore, I think the horses would learn to associate different sounds with different turns very quickly.
Perhaps I should speak to my engineer of a brother and get him to design something and then go on Dragon`s Den with him so that we can make and sell our noisy indicators.
Everyone says the horse world keeps you grounded: there are always ups and downs.
At the moment I’m having my roller coaster ride with eventing.
A couple of weeks ago Otis and I were seventh in a strong section, finishing on our dressage score, which was fab news. So I was confident going out last weekend.
The venue is a very busy one, but dressage and showjumping are on a surface, which can often work in our favour. I didn’t think my dressage test went particularly well, although he was consistent, despite being right next to the cross country course.
However, a score of 33 was good enough for fifth going into the showjumping so I was happy enough.
Next came the showjumping, and immediately I found that the going was very deep on the new surface. It showed. Otis clipped the first fence with his forelegs, which is highly unusual as he usually raps the back rail with a hind leg. Then he clattered another two jumps, accumulating 12 faults. I was really disappointed as we’ve been working really hard on the showjumping and he’s so consistent at home.
Anyway, I had a quick turnaround before heading over to the cross country warm up. By the second warm up fence Otis had got himself so over excited that I had to forget about warming up and just focus on keeping him calm. My time came and we sidestepped and jig jogged around the starting box until I was allowed to go and BANG! We were off like a bat out of hell.
I didn’t have a huge amount of control for the first three fences as Otis locked on to any jump he could see, forgetting that his navigator knew turns he didn’t know about. Rather wildly, we rapped the log pile at number three and then he seemed to realise he needed to listen. It was a really enjoyable round, with him confidently taking me into and away fr fences, and clearing them easily. I did swear rather loudly at him when he took a stride out of the corner and jumped the wider part – I think I heard the jump judge laugh.
I was really pleased that Otis managed the final uphill easily and had petrol in the tank at the end. He must be getting fitter as usually I’ve got to eek as much out of him as possible for the final stretch, and he takes a long while to recover his normal respiration and heart rates.
We were one of only a handful inside the time, which was a definite plus for the day.
So as you can see a ODE is full of ups and downs. Showjumping was particularly expensive for us on the weekend as, had we gone clear, we would have been second! Even with one or two down we would still be in the top ten, but with twelve faults we had to settle for fifteenth place.
It is onwards and upwards though, Otis jumped well this morning before the sun was up, and I’ll try and get to a couple more jumping lessons and competitions in before the next ODE so that it’s not such a glaringly weak spot.
My weekend reminded me slightly of a friends graceful slide down from his mountain. He was competing for his riding club and was in the lead after dressage, with a brilliant score of 24 or something, and then rode clear showjumping. In the lead, they had a confident, fast, but accurate cross country round until the final fence … Where they fell! Sliding right down the ranks, he wasn’t very pleased. Kicking himself, in fact. It wasn’t a complex fence, but they’d seen the wrong stride and crashed. So let that be a lesson, the competition isn’t over until it’s over!
I was out competing over the weekend, and with the heatwave we are currently experiencing hydrating horses and people becomes a problem.
For the human entourage I obtained a pack of six 1L bottles of water. Sure, that`s an excessive amount but what we didn`t drink wouldn`t go to waste. Then we had the rest of our food stashed in cool bags, even the crisps! We made sure we bought an ice cream halfway through the day too. Obviously.
On the horse front I filled the 30L container to the brim and put that in the trailer. My horse always sweats when travelling so I try and make sure I have enough to wash him down plenty of times.
For breakfast, Otis had Calm and Condition in his feed, which is a soaked feed, so provides plenty of H2O.
Once we arrived at the venue he was sponged off, but stayed in the trailer while I got my number. Our dressage test was at midday so the hottest part of the day, which meant that within minutes he was dripping with sweat.
So after the dressage he was offered another drink and washed off. I didn`t bother using the sweat scraper because he`s not a big drinker so I wanted him to get the benefit of having as much cool water as possible on his skin. He stayed inside the cool trailer, with the vents and front ramp open for an hour and a half while we walked the cross country course and watched a bit of the class below me.
When we got back to the trailer Otis still didn`t want a drink, which is always worrying because when horses get dehydrated they lose the want to drink any water. So we sponged him off again and let him have a munch on the long grass, which was surprisingly damp still. Then I went off and did my showjumping, coming back both very hot and sweaty. It wasn`t long until the cross country and he still wasn`t interested in drinking, so he was well rinsed off while I changed outfits and leaving him with damp shoulders I tacked him back up.
Amazingly, Otis still wasn`t interested in water after the tiring cross country phase, and he was panting quite a lot so we used about three buckets of water washing him off cooling his legs down, and walking him around. After he`d stopped panting I let him have a bit more of the lush grass. I did the pinch test on his skin and he didn`t seem dehydrated, but it`s always worrying when I`m guzzling down water like it`s going out of fashion and he isn`t interested. The granola bars were another thing all together, and Otis would have quite happily eaten the whole box! While I was munching mine he practically nibbled the rest out of my hand! Perhaps I should put them in his water next time…
Once we got home, and Otis wasn`t too sweaty, I mixed him another feed with Calm and Condition and drowned it in water. He was going to drink something! I think he drank out of his stable drinker fairly early on, and I washed his sides again to get the salty sweat off. I then left him in with a good amount of haylage and plenty of water.
To my relief this morning Otis seemed non the worse for wear, and we`d kept him hydrated and he`d drunk quite a lot in the night because his bed had two large wet patches.
It`s hard keeping the horses interested in drinking when it`s so warm though. I think you can buy a water flavouring for fussy drinkers, but also washing them with loads of water means that it is absorbed through the skin, thus hydrating them. Soaked hay, or haylage will help too because of the moisture content, and also just good old fresh rich grass. Like the sort you usually have in lorry parks!
Some people add table salt to the feed to ensure that the horse`s sodium levels don`t drop, but this can make the feed unpalatable, especially if it`s not mixed in very well. Other people feed electrolytes, and you can now get them in an energy-drink style bottle, that you almost tube to the horse. These seem a good idea in an emergency, or at competitions but I guess they have short shelf lives. The other alternative is the electrolyte feed supplement, which is a powder and has a longer shelf life, but similar problems to feeding table salt.
Others swear by a salt lick in the stable, but I think that can be hit and miss as to whether your horses is using it, or whether he`s overloading himself with sodium by constantly licking it. I think too that in the natural salt licks the actual sodium content varies greatly. On the other hand, if a salt lick is available then a horse will seek it out when they feel low in salt. Much the same as in the wild when horses browse for different herbs and grasses.
Wouldn`t it be so much easier if they could just tell us what they need in their diet?