Dogs and Me

One of the things I hate most when hacking is meeting dogs. Which is really annoying because they are one of the most commonly encountered things whilst riding out.

I`m sure many of you are wondering what has happened in the past, and there have been a couple of incidents, that Matt kindly reminded me of. Just for the record, he didn’t do anything, his presence reminded me!

We used to hack through a village, which was a lovely single track, straight hill. We`d encounter various spooky things, and it was always a good spook-busting hack. At the top the lane turned into a green lane, ironically with National Speed Limit signs at the grassy cusp of the lane which bordered the local golf course. We`d walk down and through the twisty wooded track before turning on our heels and bombing along, ducking branches, skipping over the stream that ran in winter. At the end we had to slow down, turn a sharp right and gallop back up the hill to the National Speed Limit signs, dodging stray golf balls as they flew over.

The last house in the village had a stone wall around the garden, which was at the side of the house. Every time a horse (and probably a walker) passed, the resident dog, a large black Labrador, would bound out over the wall and bark loudly at us while the middle aged owner mildly called it to heel. And every single time without fail, Matt would jump a mile.

I remember I used to anticipate the dog as much as he did. Then one day, the dog went too far. He bounded over the garden wall, barking loudly, and ran straight over to Matt. Who kicked him pretty sharpish. The owner looked quite upset, so I just shrugged at him. He hadn`t bothered to train the dog properly! After that, the dog didn’t go further than the wall when horses passed, so it obviously learnt it`s lesson!

Another Matt story, which involves a dog, was one Christmas. I had cycled to the yard so it must have been the holidays and a weekday because Mum was visiting Granddad and Dad was working. My friends and I decided to go on a pre Christmas hack, one of the longer routes, but still a favourite because it included the Green Lane and the hair-raising track to the village on the way home. There hadn`t been any snow yet, so the world was muddy and dreary.

We blasted along the green lane, spraying mud at the one behind us, and then calmly walked past the little house (which we were always convinced some sort of hermit lived in) before turning right. We walked up the lane, then down the lane, past some sheep peeking through the fence, around the corner and …

As we passed a stone wall and gated drive a sheepdog suddenly started barking, nose sticking under the gate. We all jumped. Matt especially, and as he landed he slipped on the mud at the side of the lane and down we both went, my leg squashed between road and pony. He got up, unhurt, but my leg was pretty painful and numb. So we had to try to get some phone signal to ring for help, and I got a lift back to the yard, while another friend rode Matt back. After the bag of peas treatment and rest, my leg was fine.

However, my stirrup iron was bent! The bottom of it was almost at forty five degrees from where it had been squashed, protecting my foot. I only realised how much protection the stirrup had given my foot when I was working without stirrups in the indoor arena a couple of months later and a dog emerged from the shadows. We were on a corner, so obviously Matt slipped as he shied, and this time I had a very squashed foot! Sidelined from games for a few days, much to my netball coach`s disgust if I remember correctly.

So yeah. Dogs and I don`t really go well together. I feel better when I see owners holding them, getting them to sit, or putting them on leads, but I still have to make an effort to squash any anxiety so that the horse I am riding stays unperturbed.

Only a couple of weeks ago I met someone walking five dogs in the woods, and she clipped all but one onto a lead, holding the other one. Once I`d gotten around the corner and down the hill a bit I heard hysterical screaming. The dog was only chasing me and my horse! Thankfully, the process of me turning the horse to face the sprinting dog was enough for it to stop, cower, and turn tail.

This is by no means me having a go at dog walkers, it is just a trip down memory lane, and an explanation as to why I will always pull up and wait for dogs to be controlled before I get too close.

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Girth Galls

For those of you who aren’t sure what the alliterative girth galls are, they are rubs around the girth area, usually caused by the tack.

This time of year is the prime time for horses to develop them; I’m forever noticing them when I clip horses. Horses which are clipped have no hair to protect them should a bit of skin get trapped in the girth and rub, and those who aren’t clipped get them because grains of dirt get embedded close to the skin and rub away. Also, these horses tend to have dried sweat there which can rub too.

As I said, girth galls can be caused by the delicate skin being pinched by the girth, or dirt rubbing between the girth and skin. This dirt can either be from the girth itself or stil on the horse as it hasn’t been brushed off.

To reduce the risk of girth galls developing for the former reason, many people stretch their horse’s forelegs forward once the girth is tightened and before mounting. This is also useful if your horse is quite wrinkly in the elbow area, or has a particularly fine coat. Smoothing out the skin under the girth reduces the chance of pinching. I have some clients who do this religiously before riding, so I assume that their horse is prone to developing galls. When Otis is freshly clipped I pull his legs forward for a few weeks as that’s the only time he’s ever shown signs or rubbing.

To prevent girth galls developing from dirt or sweat irritating the skin the only answer is cleanliness! Brush the girth area thoroughly, I like my plastic curry comb for getting the mud off, and remember to wash off any sweat around the girth area after. Cleaning the girth is also another useful task; since its been so muddy and wet I’ve been removing my girth after riding, then before I next ride I brush off the sand and grit. I prefer doing it when it’s dry as more is likely to come off.

Some people advocate girth sleeves, which can be beneficial for delicate skinned horses as they are softer than girths. However there are so many new materials for girths, compared to the traditional leather, string or cotton, that girths are more comfortable for the horse. Girth sleeves can be just as difficult to keep clean because grit and sweat gets buried in the sheepskin or fleece. 

For horses prone to girth galls, an old remedy is to rub the area (obviously when there’s no broken skin) with surgical spirit, to harden the skin so it is less likely to get damaged.

Hopefully everyone keeps a close eye on their horse’s girth area when they groom anyway so will notice the beginnings of a gall and treat it before the skin becomes raw or open. 

On a lighter note, I was scratching Otis’s girth and belly earlier and found his itchy spot – enjoy the video – Otis enjoying a scratch!

Mud! Mud! Glorious Mud!

I hadn`t realised until last week, but I have to admit. I am a mud snob.

Until now I hadn`t really thought about it – I don`t agree with rugging horses unnecessarily so don`t count myself amongst the OCD owners who wrap their horses in pyjamas from fetlock to poll. However, Otis does suffer with sweet itch so wears a fly rug unless it`s raining, in which case I usually put the lightweight turnout on so that he isn`t wet should I be riding that afternoon. Llani has just followed suit, albeit in Otis`s hand-me-downs.

One non-fly days I often take rugs off, and after last week, I discovered that I am very lucky in that neither of them get down immediately to roll. Neither do they find the muddiest patch of paddock to roll. And even if they do roll, they don`t actually rub the mud in – it`s very superficial and usually comes off when they shake after. Although the boys get groomed daily it never usually takes more than ten minutes for them to be immaculate.

So imagine my horror when I went to ride the BFG a couple of weeks ago. He`s 17.2hh grey gelding – heart of gold, but absolutely no idea of his size … or how dirty he gets!

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It took me quarter of an hour just to get the saddle area clean! Someone called to me, as I led him to the mounting block (which by the way is the biggest I`ve ever used and I still have to climb up to mount the BFG). Where was I? Oh yes, someone called to me: “Didn`t you have your stepladder to do his bum?”

I shook my head – the saddle doesn`t go there!

Grooming the caked mud off the BFG brought childhood memories flooding back; of scratching a plastic curry comb to break up caked on mud on our ponies` thick winter coats. Of the dust that gets under your finger nails, and in your mouth, turning your clothes brown. I could go on!

Anyway, I had my ride, and seriously considered requesting the BFG wore a rug when I was due to ride…

The week flew by with no more mud incidents … and then this happened!

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And that was when I realised.

I am a mud snob!

Mud Monster

I ride this horse once a week and he’s a bit sensitive when you groom him, particularly in the barrel. It took me a few sessions to get to know him and his idiosyncrasies, but the best method is a cactus cloth and the softest body brush on the planet. Ignore him peering round to look at you because he isn’t going to nip you, he just looks like it.

A fortnight ago I commented to another livery, “I don’t know how he stays so clean when you can’t use a dandy brush”.

This livery then informed me that my ride rarely rolled, unlike her mud monster. So I bathed in luxury that whilst everyone else was scrubbing away I could lightly flick off this horse and crack on with riding.

That is, until this week.

I was horrified! Great clumps of mud clung to his neck, mane and forelock. Out came my cactus cloth and I rubbed his body in large circles, loosening the mud. That cactus cloth had never worked so hard in it’s life! I had to resort to picking out smaller clumps around his ears.

Eventually he was presentable and I could enjoy the ride, but it did make me glad that Otis is not adverse to the plastic curry comb on his quarters after he’s had a spa in the muddy field!

I was impressed with the effectiveness of the cactus cloth though so may look into getting one to help de-mud his ears and around his eyes.

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