Chilblains – The Big Secret

When you enter the equine industry you rapidly learn about chilblains the hard way. No one forewarns you, and they’re the untold sacrifice equestrians make for their profession.

During my first winter as an apprentice I succumbed to chilblains on my outer thigh. Looking like great purple bruises, it took me a while to find out what they were, and then I found that every other member of staff suffered the same plight! These purple circles became raised bumps and started itching when I got home and warmed up.

Once I knew that I had these chilblains I wore my full length chaps constantly, but it took all winter for them to dissipate.

The following winter I was more prepared and wore two pairs of trousers from the first gust of north wind. I still got chilblains but no where near as severely.

Last year I didn’t get a single chilblain. I was very proud of myself; a combination of thermal leggings, thick jodhpurs, and long chaps had done the trick. So I took this method forwards to this winter, at one point riding in thermal leggings, jodhs and jeans, to reduce the wind chill factor on my legs, which is the triggering factor.

I thought I’d survived again this winter. Until last week. I came home and found three huge chilblains on the outside of my right thigh (it’s always the right one. Anyone would think I stood with my right side to the wind!). These were pretty vicious ‘blains and now I’m having to overdress again so that they heal.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to buy some new over trousers. I have two pairs of jeans which are now too big for me so I use them as over trousers on dry days, and I have my old school tracksuit trousers which are a bit thicker, and of course my full length chaps. These are waterproof, well were waterproof, but I hate how my bum gets cold in them and how if it’s raining my lap gets soaked while I ride! So I’ve splashed out and bought some over trousers with a suede seat for riding, and honestly they are like putting on a sleeping bag – so thick and snug! I’m now feeling less apprehensive about the coming storm!

Anyway, a word of warning to any aspiring grooms – don’t let your thighs get cold and wet because chilblains really aren’t very attractive!

The Greatest Job

This morning when I was halfway through mucking out the yard a livery commented to me,

“You`ll have to empty that now… You`ve got to admit it`s full.”

She was referring to the fact that I always have an overflowing wheelbarrow, and usually try to cram as much into it as possible.

It`s true, I admit, I like to be efficient with my trips to the muckheap. Even the farrier noticed last week.

Ever since I remember I`ve hated emptying wheelbarrows. When we started helping at the yard as ten or eleven year olds we were responsible for emptying the wheelbarrows. In groups we used to muck out the stalls – the older ones had the forks and stacked the wonky wheeled wheelbarrows high with wet straw and dung. We daren`t stop them too early in case they thought we were weak. Then we perilously wheeled the wobbly load through the long rooms of stalls, avoiding the cracks and pot holes, before getting enough speed to bump the barrow up the step, before taking a sharp right hand turn and passing through the stable (God forbid you made a mess in this linking stable) and then carefully through the narrow door and down the step out onto the yard. Once there it was a straightforward route to the muckheap, but you had to be careful of the divots and ridges in the concrete of the yard. At the muckheap you either had to push the barrow up the plank of wood, or gave a final wobble of the barrow and left the muck in a heap at the base of the muckheap, only to return later to fork it up.

As we moved up the ranks we were allowed to fork up the muckheap – initially on the top layer, crouched under the roof we were responsible for ensuring the preciseness and levelness of the top level. Slowly we were promoted down the layers and then eventually permitted to do the mucking out.

So I`m sure you can understand now, why I`m not a fan of emptying my wheelbarrows. And how I can stack them so high. And wheel them so carefully that not a blade of straw is shed.

By the way, this morning I mucked out another stable before emptying the “full” wheelbarrow.

A Trip Down Memory Lane …

I sent the ladies at the livery yard on a trip down memory lane this morning.

It all started last night when I was researching for a stable management lecture. I needed to remind myself of the BHS grooming process, so was flicking through my Stage II book and I noticed strapping.

I remember learning how to strap in preparation for this exam, and often practised on Otis, but it is an old-fashioned technique and one that very few horse owners use today. In college we either used a cupped hand or a leather pad, so I`ve never made one before.

One livery used to work in a showing yard, so I asked her if she could make wisps. Yes, she replied, but a long time ago.  She could remember that it was a lot of twisting, so I sat on a bale and busied myself twisting up the long strands of haylage. 

Eventually I made a half decent wisp. You take a handful of long strands of hay/haylage/straw and pull it out so the stalks like parallel. Then folding it in half you start twisting the strands as you would twist your hair around a finger – sorry guys, I`m talking from a long-haired girls perspective. As the haylage strands twist around themselves the two strands start to twist around each other, and then the large plait curl around itself until the end meets the beginning. Then you poke the end into the loop at the beginning of your twist (the middle of the original length of haylage), which secures the wisp.

Here is my attempt at making a wisp, and I practised later on Otis. 

To strap, you bang the wisp down onto the horse`s hindquarters, shoulder, or crest, in a steady rhythm. There should be a pause between hits to allow the muscle to relax. Strapping builds muscle tone and bulk by stimulating blood flow to the large muscles. Within a couple of bangs to Otis`s quarters his muscles pre-empt my hitting and contract themselves, which is why it is important to keep the rhythm. Otherwise I would be hitting as his muscles are relaxing.

Another livery laughed at me, and observed that a bystander could report me for abusing my horse, if they saw me repeatedly hitting him. My arms were aching after a while though!

Going back to our trip down memory lane. The liveries started chatting about the old school equipment they used to use. Which of these can people remember?

  • The heavy, stiff, old fashioned New Zealand rugs with the checked wool on the inside, that were fastened by a surcingle.
  • Jute rugs – wool lined Hessian rugs which were used to dry horses when worn inside out, and to keep them warm when worn in the usual way.
  • Baling twine haynets – this was a popular way of passing the time at pony club, and the haynets were never big enough and the knots were always in the wrong place!
  • Blankets which were placed from the poll to the tail, and the front corners folded diagonally to the withers and then from the poll to the back, and secured with a surcingle. Or a roller. Some people even used anti-cast rollers, which stopped the horse from getting cast in their stable.
  • The metal curry comb, which no one knows how to use correctly. I never had one as a child as I`m sure Mum was convinced I`d injure myself, but I use the plastic curry comb in the same manner. I never succombed to the self-harming-like cuts on the wrist from where I`d missed the body brush when cleaning it.
  • String girths? Those funny-looking girths which were basically made out of thirty thin pieces of rope, banded together at regular intervals… I never really got the idea of them.
  • String vest cooling rugs … which could only be used with another rug on top, and weren`t that effective. Instead, many people did …
  • Thatching. The process by which you push straw up under a rug on a wet horse and leave them to dry, doing an Oscar-winning performance of Quasimodo.