I’ve had to invest in a tick twister for my grooming box in recent weeks, as Phoenix and her stable mates have had a couple of unwanted freeloaders.
These freeloaders are brought into the horse’s paddocks by deer, of which we have plenty in the area. The ticks then attach onto the horses.
Before we look at the ins and outs of ticks, let’s see what tool I had to purchase. I bought a tick twister, which is a nifty little hook. You hook the split end under the tick, against the skin, and when the tick is “locked in” the twister you simply just twist the twister (the name gives it away, doesn’t it?) and the tick is removed whole, and the horse unharmed. Don’t forget to stamp on the tick for maximum satisfaction!
It’s very important that the whole of the tick is removed; if you use tweezers or any other tool the legs can easily be broken off and left in the skin, causing a risk of infection. Which is why I’d rather be prepared and have a tick twister to hand!
In this country, we only really see multi-host ticks, which happily live on deer or dogs, yet will catch a ride on horses too. If your fields are regularly used as deer highways then you want to keep an eye out for these bloodsuckers. They live in long grass and hedgerows, so within reason keep the grass short and hedges cut back. Horses often pick up ticks when being hacked, especially through woods. They also dislike sunlight so hopefully the upcoming summer will deter them!
Birds, especially guinea fowl, love eating ticks so they can be a helpful tick deterrent.
There’s only so much you can do to minimise ticks in your horse’s environment, especially as the ticks we see in the UK are predominately hosted by wild animals. If you have a horse particularly attractive to ticks, just like some children are prone to getting headlice, then you can use spot-on treatment or purchase fly sprays which also repel ticks.
Otherwise, just keeping an eye out for ticks when you are grooming them and remove them immediately.
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When you buy a horse you often get a honeymoon period. Those few days where they are a bit shell shocked and quiet, taking in their new surroundings, routine, friends (equine and human).
Well, touch wood, Phoenix seems to have taken it all in her stride. We couldn’t have bought her on a worse weekend in terms of weather, but the frozen conditions did mean that she had longer to settle into her little herd.
I was told that she was initially difficult to catch when her old owner bought her, but with a treat she could always be caught. Well I’m pleased to say that within a couple of days (I suspect the miserable weather helped) she recognised me and came over to be caught. She’s found her place in the pecking order, and whilst fairly low down she doesn’t get intimidated by others coming over to me. She knows I only want to catch her!
We’ve got into a routine of coming in every couple of days, and being groomed. She doesn’t seem to have any ticklish spots and stands beautifully, picking up her feet when asked. On reflection, with both Otis and Phoenix, I bought them from an intermediary owner, who unlike breeders spend the time establishing ground manners. Which is actually lovely because I get a blank canvas to work with under saddle but don’t have to worry about teaching them to tie up, or lift feet up.
I think smell is very important to Phoenix because she likes to sniff my hand, didn’t like it when I wore gloves, and shied away from the detangler. However, once she’s smelt something she’s quite happy about it and I can spray the detangler all over without her batting an eye. I think that’s just her nature, so if she’s ever unsure about something I’ll make sure she can smell it first.
I’ve lunged her three times now, only for a short period. She can be a little inattentive, watching horses being brought in or people throwing rugs on, but this is totally normal for a youngster and as she’s used to a quiet yard I’d expect her to look at everything. After Christmas I’d like to introduce the Pessoa to encourage her to stretch over her back a bit more but at the moment we’ve got the canter to introduce.
I first asked for canter on Friday, and it was fairly unsuccessful. She powered into this Welsh show ring trot, looking a bit worried about it all. Sunday was more successful and we had half a lap of canter on each rein. I’m sure it won’t take long, but it’s nice to have something to work on for the next couple of months.
Another area I want to work on over the next couple of months is desensitising Phoenix to the whip. I was told that she was very scared of them, for an unknown reason. However, I’m keen to teach her that she has nothing to fear from a whip. Even if I never need one to ride or lunge her, I’d hate it if someone approached her whilst carrying one (perhaps at a competition or if I’ve asked a friend to hold her) and she got upset. Today, after our groom, we went to the arena with a pocketful of treats and I picked up a small jumping whip and just held it out to Phoenix. She’s definitely wary, her ears and eyes told me that, but the whip stayed still while I talked to and fussed with her. After a couple of moments she was sniffing the whip, putting her lips around the handle, and let me place the whip against her shoulder. With the reward of a few treats, she was soon relaxed while I rubbed the whip all over her shoulder and neck on each side. I’m pleased she trusts me enough that I’m not going to hurt her. I’ll keep showing her it until she accepts that it is not a threat in any form.
I think we’re building a good relationship, and I’m finding her personality very relaxing to be around. I’m trying not to draw too many comparisons to Otis, but anyone who knows Otis knows what a calming aura he has. He doesn’t demand attention, but enjoys it. And Phoenix seems to be of a similar mould. She thoroughly enjoys the attention, but if I’m talking or doing something else she just waits quietly. They also both have a way of taking things in their stride: looking around at flapping tarpaulins, focusing their ears on it and then walking calmly past. I really hope Phoenix does continue in this vein because it’s so therapeutic for me, and means I enjoy every minute of my equine time.
It’s been creeping up on me for a while; I’ve caught myself thinking “I want to do that with my next horse” or “I’d like a horse good at that”.
But about a month ago I watched Otis in the field and resigned myself to the fact that he won’t come sound. Maybe he’ll be a happy hacker, but really I needed to face facts. The main thing though, is that he’s happy in his field with his buddies and I can afford to keep him there indefinitely. He’s not suffering, just a bit limpy, and otherwise in good health. I then broached the subject that next year I would like to get another horse. It’s all very well riding other people’s horses, but when you’ve experienced the bond with your own, and enjoy the satisfaction of training and competing, it’s not the same. I know I’ve lost some motivation through not having my own horse or reason to improve my ability. Yes, next year we’ll have our own two-legged project, but I like to keep busy and I know that not having my own horse will cause me to go insane. Thankfully, my lovely husband readily agreed to my light at the end of the tunnel.
I allowed myself a couple of hacks to think about what I want and need from a horse. I was quite specific.
Even as I thought of my list, I knew I was setting a rather stringent criteria and would be lucky to find anything which remotely fitted the bill.
Anyway, we weren’t looking yet so I filed my list away at the back of my brain.
Only a couple of days later I came across this advert on Facebook. Let me tell you the vital stats:
On face value, most of my boxes were ticked. Just six months too early. I was really intrigued, but had an argument with myself as to whether I was being sentimental with the Otis link, or whether it was worth investigating further because of the other factors. My Mum told me that I should look, because otherwise I’d always wonder “what if” and upon seeing her she may be immediately unsuitable. I did a bit of research on the internet and social media, and actually found the original advert from April 2016, which I remembered seeing at the time and commenting “oh she looks nice”.
With the one condition that I don’t ride her (the whole six nearly seven months pregnant thing) I went with a friend to see her.
The mare was nicely put together with clean, straight limbs (although the photos below make her look splay legged!), a more traditional stamp of Welsh than my Welsh Warmblood Otis, and stood quietly while I examined her. I was told that she could be quite nervous, and when her owner bought her she was difficult to catch. I wouldn’t say she was really nervous from what I saw, but she was definitely cautious of new people. She wasn’t jumpy, just intrigued by things. I was also told that she wasn’t mareish – my first important question.
We watched her being lunged. She can be a bit fresh initially, but it was nothing compared to what I’m used to. She had a lovely movement, and after ten minutes she looked very relaxed and calm, so I asked my friend if she fancied sitting on.
This was my big question. Because if I’m not allowed to ride until the spring then if she was sensible after eight months of not being ridden then there wouldn’t be a problem in April. The owner thought the mare would be fine, and my friend is more than capable.
Starting off on the lunge, my friend had a walk and trot, went over some trotting poles. The mare hasn’t really done any jumping but poles don’t cause a problem. She looked very balanced in trot, and hasn’t done much canter work. Then we took her out around the village on her own. She was perfect with the cars and cyclists, more interested in what was going on in the driveways, and she looked very relaxed. Really, we couldn’t have asked any more of her.
Over the next week I battled with myself as to whether this mare really ticked all the boxes, if I trusted my friend’s judgement of her under saddle. Was I being sentimental because she was related to Otis, or did I believe his lovely temperament ran in the paternal side of his family? Was the price right, and worth me keeping her over the winter. Could I justify paying more livery fees when I was about to go on maternity leave? What would I do with her over the winter – would getting to know her, doing some lunging to introduce jumping and cantering keep us both occupied? She was a mare, a chestnut one no less. My last mare was a grey called Filly when I was ten! This was unknown territory.
After doing some budgeting and working out finances, I decided to go for it. I needed a basic livery yard which ultimately provided grass livery, ad lib hay in the field, and would be able to check her when I’m otherwise occupied in March. Timing is never right in life, and it did seem like it was meant to be – as far as I can tell, she meets my criteria; the price was within budget and she was local.
Yesterday, we went to pick her up. She had never travelled in a trailer, but loaded slowly but surely, and remained very calm all the journey. We turned her out into the small herd of mares, and within ten minutes she was grazing happily.
Today, she was very content in the field and let me catch her after sniffing me thoroughly.
I gave her a quick groom, getting to know her and checked for any injuries from her field initiation. She was alert to the surroundings, but stood fairly still. Then I put the bridle on and took her to the arena. The surface was a bit crusty with frost but I wanted a “before video” and to introduce her to the arena. She was very good – the video for your perusal is Here – and you can see that she moves very nicely, although my lunging leaves a bit to be desired. We’ll have a look at canter next week when the ground is better and she’s more settled. You’ll see in the video on the right rein, that she stops and turns in to be. Behind, just out of shot, someone had come round the corner with a saddle which she stopped to look at. Overall, she was a bit tense and lacked focus, but given the fact she’s at a new yard and with a new owner, I don’t think she did anything wrong, and if that’s going to be the extent of her behaviour at new places then I’m more than happy.
From what I can tell so far, I think we’ll be slow to build a relationship because I still feel like I’m cheating on Otis, and she is an introvert. But I also think we’ll get on well and have lots of fun together.
Oh yes, I haven’t told you her name. She came with the name Dolly, but I’ve known lots of Dolly’s, and I didn’t really feel that it suited her. After some thought, I came up with Phoenix. For her fiery colour, and for new beginnings.
After all, it is the end of an era and the beginning of another.
Along with the annual clipping season, I’ve been doing a lot of tidying up of manes and tails. It seems that when owners think about removing their horse’s hairy coat they also decide that the mane is too long, or the tail too thick.
The winter tidy up begins with clipping. How much hair you take off depends on your horses workload, how hot they get during exercise, whether they live in or out, and the rugs you have available.
I clipped a horse the other week, well did a bib clip, because her owner was concerned that the mare will drop weight if too much hair is taken off. The bib clip will help reduce how warm the mare gets when working, but won’t mean that she needs a lot of extra rugging. If her owner feels that the mare needs a bigger clip then next year she can have a low chaser clip. It’s best to take the least hair off that’s necessary because it’s hard to put condition back on a horse during winter, and to warm a cold horse back up.
Once the clip style is decided you can also choose the height of the clip: so a chaser clip can be low or high, and a blanket clip can run low near to the stifle, or higher towards the hip bone.
I’ve got three types of clipper blades: fine, which I use for most horses, especially the fine coated ones; normal, which are usually suited best for native or cob coats; the coarse blades are for hogging manes and removing feathers.
Onto the manes. I find that different horses suit different length manes, and sometimes you have to play around with them until you find the length that suits them. There are different techniques to tidying up manes though, so I thought I’d run through the tools I use.
First up, is the classic show jumper straight cut mane. They have a very blunt cut, done with scissors, and the manes look like they’ve been straightened! If I’m honest, I don’t like the blunt cut very much. But then again I don’t know that many horses with straight manes, which would suit this style.
Next up is the traditional pulling comb method. For this you need a metal pulling comb, and you comb through the mane, then back comb the shorter hairs. Wrapping the long hairs around the comb, give a quick, sharp downward tug, pulling them out at the roots. This technique leaves a natural, softer line, and also thins the mane. However, sensitive horses (like Otis!) don’t like their mane being pulled out. It’s best to pull manes after exercise, when the pores are open. Which is why the next couple of tools have been invented.
I can remember using the pulling comb and scissors on some thinner manes when we were younger, but it takes some deftness to get a natural looking finish. Which is why the solo comb is much better!
The solo comb is a tough, plastic comb with a handle. You comb the mane through and back comb it to leave the longest hairs. Then you squeeze the handle and a blade cuts those longest hairs. Which gives you the same effect as the pulling comb but without thinning the mane. The horses are usually happier with this technique and stand quieter. Below is a before and after photo of a horse who’s mane was done with a solo comb.
Another tool I like to use is a rake. It’s like a comb, coming with different widths between the teeth, and the teeth are sharp and hooked. It sounds torturous, but all it means is that as you comb the mane it cuts hairs so thinning it quite dramatically. I like using the rake on very thick manes and tails. Flip the mane onto the wrong side, and brush it through with the rake to take out the thickness. Then when you right the mane the longest hairs are on top so it still lies flat. You can then reduce the length with a solo comb. Below you can see the improvement in this incredibly thick mane, which totally hid his shoulders while he was being worked – testing that you can feel your trot diagonals and canter leads!
Along with shortening the length of the mane, and thinning it out, cutting a bridle path is also really useful for helping the bridle sit comfortably. The forelock also needs trimming into a “V” shape – you’ve all seen Dwayne Dwibley from Red Dwarf. With thick fore locks I lightly rake the sides so that the forelock doesn’t look too bushy and then carefully use the comb to shape it. Thin forelocks are often harder to get right because the wrong angle with the scissors can make it look blunt and choppy.
I like tails to be left quite natural. I thin them by using the rake on the sides of the dock. The centre of the tail needs to be left long to avoid the bog-brush look. With tails that aren’t so thick I use the pulling comb and scissors to tidy up the sides of the dock. The art is in neatening to top of the tail so that it looks natural and grows out subtly. After all, you don’t want to be trimming the tail on a weekly basis! At the bottom, I cut the length of the tail at the mid-cannon bone. Then when the horse is carrying themselves the bottom of the tail is still below the hock. With natives and cob types you want to cut the tail and then use the scissors at ninety degrees so that the bottom of the tail doesn’t look bluntly cut, and more natural.
Finally, it’s the turn of the feathers. Even if a horse is keeping his feathers then the back of the knee and cannon bone can often be neatened up to highlight the contours of the leg. For those horses who don’t have feathers, they usually have tufts around the ergots, so you just use the scissors and pulling comb to tidy up the area giving soft lines, instead of the hacked look – like a child who’s cut their own fringe.
There is nothing better than the satisfaction of a horse who has been freshly clipped and trimmed up.