A Journey

Buying a horse isn’t like buying a car. You may like the test drive, but unlike a car (unless it’s a second hand car sold by Harry Wormwood) you are only beginning the journey. A new horse will be affected by changes to his environment, diet, tack, routine, and needs to build a relationship with their new owner. The first few months are always a journey, and I get such satisfaction seeing a pair coming together and developing a relationship, especially if I’ve been involved in the purchasing process.

In October a friend and client bought a little cob. Emphasis on the little. He’s only about 13.2hh, but is wider than he is tall, so easily carries a small adult. He hadn’t done much in his previous home, but is a safe and sensible leg at each corner type.

We started by gentle schooling and hacking, to build his fitness. Poles and little jumps as necessary. He also had the usual checks and changes – saddle check, chiropractor, clip etc. In hindsight, we probably rushed this process, as he was quiet and accepting but in reality they were all new experiences for him. He had a new saddle within weeks, we changed the bit to discourage him from going behind the vertical, he was fully clipped.

Then he started broncing. Not the odd buck, but head between the knees, coiled like a spring, and not what he appeared to be when he arrived. We stripped everything back to how he came (with the exception of his clip), and came to the conclusion over Christmas that his cheeky behaviour was a combination of being stabled for the first time in his life, being a little too attached to his neighbour, and being clipped – his behaviour was better on calm, milder days. He also had his teeth rasped in January, which were definitely overdue so that was possibly a contributing factor.

Unfortunately, you can’t stick hair back on, so we’ve had to ride out the freshness, and let the clip regrow. He definitely doesn’t like being completely naked so in the autumn, he can just have a blanket clip, which I think will be better suited to his work load and living out.

The last three months have been a steady progression of building his confidence out hacking, having him shod because he got a little footsore, and encouraging him to lengthen his compact little frame.

I’ve been really pleased with his and his owners progress. They’re developing a strong relationship, he’s working nicely for both her and me. He feels stronger in the school. Right canter was non-existent and left very unbalanced, but now we get right canter more often than left and both are three time and rhythmical. Below are two photos to show the difference in the pony’s posture and condition. His neck has muscled up nicely and his short back has become strong, with toned hindquarters. He’s a curvaceous type so will never look like an event horse, but he’s definitely more muscle than fat now.

It’s not been the fastest or smoothest transformation, but the pair have a solid foundation for the next few months as we look at sponsored rides, more jumping, and maybe some online dressage tests…

Slightly Off Topic

Usually I stick to purely equine topics, but with Christmas coming up I think it’s an important subject to discuss.

This last year everyone has become more aware of the problems of plastic. And microfibres. And recycling. And waste. And, well everything that we do.

Whilst it’s important that we recycle what we can, there are numerous logistical problems with categorising items as well as the sheer quantity, which leads to many councils not actually recycling that much of the recycling they receive. What I think we should be focusing more on is reusing things. There’s a kids TV programme called Junk Rescue, which encourages kids to make things out of bits and pieces lying around the house, such as wooden clothes peg dolls. Much of it involves their imagination – e.g. making rockets to play space. But the programme also visits craftsmen who upcycle things. Like a rag rugger, or a stained glass maker. It’s actually really good at highlighting the second use of everyday items.

My Dad is the king of reusing things. Anything that breaks is taken apart and useful pieces salvaged. I’m not quite that good, but I pass things his way if I think they’ll be useful to him, and I remove obviously useful things. He’s my first port of call if I need any bits and pieces is him – he’s usually got just the right size piece of wood or sized screw.

This year I’ve been trying to reduce our carbon footprint around the house – the impact we have on the planet. Little things don’t make a huge difference to our lives – in terms of time taken to carry out the task. But if we all try and do a little bit more then we can start to make a difference.

Here are a few changes we’ve made.

  • We’ve stopped buying milk at the supermarket in plastic bottles, instead reverting to the old fashioned way of having glass bottles delivered to the door twice a week, and returning the empty glass bottles each week. The foil lids are recycled each fortnight by the bin men.
  • Batteries (we use them more rapidly with a baby!) are kept in a tumbler on the kitchen side then when it’s full it’s taken to be recycled.
  • We tear off the stamps on any envelopes which come through the post and collect them for charity.
  • My Granny collects ring pulls for a charity which sends them to Africa where they’re made into jewellery by locals. Thus helping them earn a living. We collect them too, and give them to her to pass on.
  • Any clothes we’ve wanted to get rid of have gone to the clothes charity bins, so will hopefully help others.
  • This spring I sorted out the compost heap in the garden. I took our old plastic cone shaped composter and sold it, before getting a larger wooden one. Now we try to put non-meat food waste on the compost heap. Although some of it goes to Phoenix of course!
  • We have our own water bottles now. Partly to increase our water intake, but also to decrease our use of plastic bottles. We don’t tend to get hot drinks on the go, but we have travel mugs anyway if we ever wanted.
  • We have fewer plastic bags now, getting the majority of our shopping with the bags for life or tote bags. I refuse to buy bags, so frequently leave the shop with an armful of precariously balanced food!
  • I find I am more conscious of the packaging when I buy items. For example, I’m more likely to buy a make of food if it’s in a recyclable packet, or loose if possible. For example, loose veg or we buy baby formula in metal tins rather than the cardboard and plastic ones as the metal tins are useful storage tins to my brother, Dad and Uncle in their man caves. However, there’s only so far we can go like this, and really producers need to take more steps in minimising packaging.
  • I’d really like Amazon to introduce a policy whereby they collect old boxes and bubble wrap the next time they deliver to you. Surely it would be easier and better for the environment to recycle cardboard boxes as cardboard boxes rather than flattening them and sending them to the recycling plant to be mushed back into a pulp?
  • On that theme, it would be good to be able to do more direct recycling, either to those who can upcycle or so that we’re sorting items before the council collects it.
  • Reducing our waste is one thing, but also reducing the quantity we require is another. For example, buying a quality product that will last for years as opposed to a cheap one which will break within months.

    This is where Christmas comes into things.

    When I was younger I remember cutting up Christmas cards we’d been sent the year before to make gift tags, but this seems to have gone out of fashion. When I tried recently I had very few cards which were actually suitable – I think they’d been written on on both facing pages. Looking at the cards we’ve received so far this is a possibility for next year. Fewer and fewer people send Christmas cards now, and I think it’s right to not send cards to the people you’re going to see just before Christmas, or even on Christmas Day itself, but it’s a useful tradition to touch base with long distance friends and family, who you perhaps don’t see as frequently as you like.

    Wrapping paper. I get so frustrated with the quantity of waste surrounding presents. My parents taught us not to rip into our presents, scattering paper everywhere. Rather we had to open our presents leaving as much paper in tact as possible. Then on Boxing Day, Dad and I would sort through, fold up the pieces, cut off worn areas and put them into the Second Hand Wrapping Paper Box (that almost needs a fanfare announcement). Everything would come out, and Christmas paper would go at the bottom. Dad does take this to the extreme (the box is huge) and the paper they received on their wedding paper is still there. They celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary this year …

    Last year I kept quite a lot of uses wrapping paper and have recycled it with our gifts. It’s a win win situation really; it helps the environment and we don’t have to purchase as much new paper. It’s also a bit of a puzzle working out if a piece of wrapping paper will fit a certain present. I used to feel quite embarrassed about Dad’s frugality, but now I see the environmental benefits I’m getting more confident at keeping paper and using it again. The same with gift bags. We have a huge number (many with “baby girl” written on) which will stay in the cupboard until needed. But just think, if everyone kept 50% of their wrapping paper to use next year then that’s 50% less waste going to the tip on Boxing Day, and 50% less that you need to buy next year. Yep, you can feel smug!

    I challenge you readers, to save as much wrapping paper as you can this year, to help save Earth for our children.

    Being A Green Equestrian

    Thanks to David Attenborough and his Blue Planet TV programme about, well the planet, we are all suddenly far more conscious of how much plastic we use, what we throw away and the effects it has on the environment.

    A friend suggested that I wrote a blog all about being environmentally friendly with horses as she was finding it very difficult to be “green”.

    If I’m honest, it’s not something I’d really thought about, but now I have considered it for a few days I’ve realised that actually horse owners do generate a lot of plastic waste.

    Let’s start with feed. The majority of feed comes in plastic sacks. Firstly, what do you do with your empty bags? You can reuse them for bin bags at the yard, for collecting manure for the garden perhaps. We used to use an old feed bag to collect the string from bales, and to gather up the loose hay and straw from the granary floor to use as bedding and hay in the field towards the end of the winter when the store was being depleted. How many yards recycle? I mean, do they have separate bins for plastic and paper? I know one yard which has separate bins, but this does take up a lot of space on the yard and I’m not sure how easy it is to recycle such large quantities with the council and tip taxes.

    Some feed companies use paper bags, but you are limited to the type of feed you can use paper bags for. It would be interesting to know too, as the inner lining of the paper bags is coated in something, whether the paper bags are 100% recyclable or not.

    One feed company in the UK, Chestnut Feeds, offer a bulk bin service, which is a system suited to bigger yards or those with multiple horses. Full bins are delivered to you, and empty ones collected to be cleaned and refilled by the company. Whilst this set up wouldn’t suit one horse owners, or those with good doers, it does cut down on plastic bag usage. Perhaps other feed companies should explore this idea, especially with everyone so plastic conscious at the moment.

    Feed supplements usually come in hard plastic tubs. A couple of years ago I had to collect used ones for the Chauffeur, who used them to organise his shed – it must be the most organised man cave in the UK! Some companies provide “refill bags” which cuts down on the hard plastic being thrown away.

    The next biggest producer of plastic waste is bedding. Or more precisely, non-straw bedding. These tend to come in vacuum packed plastic wrapping which we throw away immediately. How can we cut down on the use of plastic in this area? The obvious answer is to use straw, but it’s not always the most logistical to use and horses with dust allergies should avoid it. I guess manufacturers have already established the most economical size of bale, in terms of weight guidelines, dimensions, cost and storage. Is there any scope for large yards to buy wood pellets or shavings in reusable bags or bins? If I’m honest, I’m a bit stumped in this area. I’m sure an innovator could come up with an answer that would at least encourage recycling or reduce the plastic waste.

    Haylage is another guilty party. Sometimes the quantity of plastic wrapping around a bale is extortionate, but there’s no obvious way of reusing the plastic around the yard.

    Apart from these uses of plastic, there is the general plastic packaging on items in the tack shops, but hopefully with an increased awareness of the effect of plastic and new regulations under discussion we should see a reduction in that area. Already we can buy things like grooming brushes, stud kits etc without any packaging so hopefully we’ll see naked haynets for sale soon rather than being wrapped in plastic.

    I think equestrians otherwise are quite good at recycling equipment, using it until it is defunct, and generally hoarding it “just in case”. Think of those holey haynets that you’ve repaired with balling twine. Or the rugs which are more patch than rug. Or the worn reins which would do in an emergency if your horse snapped his current ones (although why we need five pairs of “what if” reins, who knows!). And what about that Trigger’s Broom on the yard, which has had more new heads than we’ve had hot dinners on time, and has some vetwrap covering the crack in the handle. Or the numerous odd overreach boots, on standby for when one breaks or is discarded in the field.

    There’s always people selling second hand tack and rugs on eBay and Facebook, which proves that even once we’re finished with something then someone else will happily continue to utilise them.

    Even our clothes have long, hard lives. I have various nice hoodies which once they’ve become worn – or I’ve bleached the sleeves whilst being a domestic goddess – they get demoted to yard clothes. Then the yard clothes are used until the hole at the cuff has extended to completely remove the cuff, and my socks are more hole than material. How many of you wear your wellies until water and mud flow freely in through the holes, soaking your feet up to your ankles?

    In answer to my friend’s question, in terms of plastic usage us equestrians are pretty wasteful and it would be good to see yards incorporating recycling bins to their waste disposal policy, and for manufacturers to consider methods to reduce the amount of plastic generated. However, in terms of getting our money’s worth and using our other equipment and accessories, or recycling them to other users, we are pretty good at keeping our waste to a minimum.

    If anyone has any suggestions for cutting down plastic waste, please share. And perhaps we can work with feed and bedding companies to find a solution to the plastic problem.