Winter is Coming

I have been looking towards winter with some trepidation for the last couple of months, dreading a potential repeat of last year’s emotionally unstable Phoenix.

So as with everything, I made a plan.

I decided to maximise on the fact that she’s come on so well in her training over the summer, and reap the rewards by booking a few competitions. Having something to focus on would also help distract me too.

So in the last five weekends, Phoenix and I have been adventuring four times, and have two more adventures before November. She’s entered four showjumping classes, doing three double clears and being placed in all four. She’s been placed first and second in dressage tests, which whilst they weren’t her best work felt much more established than her last test and the consistency had improved. She’s also been on the Badminton sponsored ride to get in some cross country practice. Our next two outings are hunter trials, which will hopefully put us in good stead for some one day events next year.

So we’ve had a lovely few outings, thoroughly enjoying ourselves and building on her CV.

I planned to make some changes to Phoenix’s management this year, but I wanted to ensure I did it step by step so that I learnt which aspect she didn’t appreciate and what stressed her. She’s continued to spend time in her stable over the summer so that it is a familiar environment, which would hopefully reduce any stress there.

I decided to get her saddle checked before she started living in, and to buy her a dressage saddle that I’d promised myself, so that I knew there wasn’t an issue with either saddle or back. Phoenix’s regular massages mean I know that her overall muscle tone is healthier and better than last year, with any problems being ironed out quickly.

I have come to realise over the summer that Phoenix doesn’t cope well in the wind and rain. She gets chilly very quickly, even when we’ll rugged up, and when ridden is more tense and “scooty” in the wind and rain. I retrieved my exercise sheet which when Otis grew out of it several years ago I loaned to Mum and Matt, who rarely used it. Over the last week I’ve used it a few times and definitely found Phoenix to be more settled and rideable with it in adverse weather.

With this sensitivity to wind and rain, I decided to give her a blanket clip, not a full clip, so that her loins had extra protection. Additionally, she found clipping a very stressful experience last year, so I planned to clip her before she started living in. Then I could gauge her reaction to clipping without the factor of being stabled. We actually had a much more positive experience last week; Phoenix ate her bucket of feed, and let my friend gibber in her ear while I clipped away. It’s not my best work of art, as I quit while I was ahead and stopped clipping when she ran out of food! But it was a positive experience, and there hasn’t been a change to her behaviour under saddle.

So I’ve ticked off clipping, saddles, and back, and still had a lovely, happy horse to ride. Next on my list was feed. Phoenix didn’t eat well last year, not tucking into her hay, or drinking sufficient. She’s happily eaten hay in the field the last month so I decided not to change her forage unless she went off it when she started staying in. And then I would immediately introduce haylage. However, I bought some Allen and Page Fast Fibre a couple of weeks ago and have introduced it alongside her chaff based bucket feed. This has a low calorific value, but will fill her tummy up and hydrate her, which will hopefully mean she is less skittish as a result of gastric discomfort. I’ve recently increased her magnesium the level she had in the spring, and maintained her daily dose of gut balancer.

My plan was to get all of these steps established before Phoenix came in at night, but the fates were against me as last weekend she and her field mates started living in due to the atrocious weather conditions. I haven’t been able to exercise her as much as I wanted to this first week due to family problems, but I was thrilled when I have that Phoenix has been lovely to ride, and that she seems happy in her new routine.

It may be that Phoenix is more settled this year; in her ridden work, at the yard, with me, and having experienced a winter living in, so is less likely to become a stress head this winter. But by taking these steps I feel I’ve done my best not to overload her system with simultaneous changes, and could identify triggers that upset her.

I’m not so anxious about winter now as I feel in control, yet ready to make positive changes at the first sign of stress from Phoenix.

Rug Wear

WordPress won’t let me reblog a post more than once … so I’m going to direct you to one of my earliest posts, which I think is important to bear in mind.

Whilst rug designs have come on in leaps and bound, so there is far less of a problem of badly fitting rugs causing rubs, horses are wearing rugs much, much more.

They used to wear rugs in the winter, then go without from spring through to autumn. Nowadays, horses wear rugs of varying weights autumn through to spring, then wear fly rugs or rain sheets throughout the summer.

Which of course is absolutely fine, and often a necessity for convenience, or to protect horses who are particularly irritated by flies. But wearing rugs constantly, however well fitting, can cause patches of hair or mane to disappear and the skin to become sore.

I recently noticed that one of the horses that I ride had the slightest pink patch on his withers, so we immediately removed his lightweight rug, and have left him naked for a week, despite rain forecast and despite flies coming out of the woodwork. I was really pleased today to see that his wither looks completely normal again, and hopefully a few more days with no pressure on that area and he’ll be fine.

And now, you can go and peruse my original post about fistulous withers !

Rugs Through The Ages

Probably the biggest change in the equine world in the last forty years – since the publication of my history book I blogged about last week – are rugs.

Today you can have a rug for any occasion – in the stable, in the field, to cool them down, to dry them off, to keep flies off, to travel – in three inch increments from miniature Shetland to ginormous Clydesdale and in every weight and denier you can imagine.

I won’t bore you with what’s currently on the market, you have Google for that, but let’s reminisce on the rugs of old.

In the old days there was one rug for each job, and if more warmth was required then an ordinary blanket was layered underneath. Of course few horses were clipped so many relied on their winter coats to keep warm.

Firstly, they had the renowned jute rugs. These were basically hessian rectangles which were put on stabled horses at night. You could also get them lined with wool for extra warmth. Jute rugs had a buckle at the chest, a fillet string under the tail, and were secured by a separate surcingle. There were only three size options; pony, cob and horse and the rugs were contoured for the withers and hindquarters.

In the daytime, you had the option of a wool rug – think of the traditional Newmarket rug – and was similar in cut to the jute rug with a separate surcingle, or cotton rug, called a summer sheet. This was more commonly seen at more affluent yards on freshly groomed horses.

Next up are waterproof rugs, aka New Zealand rugs. Akin to a canvas tent after a washout camping weekend, they were flared at the bottom to allow a greater range of movement. These were fastened by a leather buckle at the chest, two leather leg straps instead of a fillet string, and a surcingle which passed through a slit in the rug by the girth to prevent the rug gathering and restricting the forelegs.

Although these rugs were padded at the wither to stop chafing there must have been a high incidence of rug rubs and fistulous withers because the materials were coarse and the sizes limited to three basic ones.

Nowadays, rugs come in three inch increments, and have benefitted from technological advances in materials and manufacturing and design techniques. There are various styles to suit all shapes and sizes of equine and rugs come in all thicknesses to accommodate all aspects of the UK weather and all hardiness of horses.

Yard Storage

Is spring finally here? Until tomorrow it seems anyway. The last couple of days have been sunny and warm. The mud in the field has dried so that it’s like being in quicksand and you have to pull your foot up slowly, toes curled up, so that your welly is sucked out of the mud and you aren’t left with a soggy sock.

Anyway, yesterday one of the liveries was having a spring clean. All her rugs were out as she was putting lightweight rugs onto her horses and taking the thicker ones to be repaired and cleaned.

This prompted me that I’ve had a blog subject on my to-do list but never gotten around to doing it. And that is, storage of all your horsey gaff.

Most people don’t have a large garage or garden shed (a vacant one at least) in which to store their numerous rugs, spare boots, travelling equipment, body protectors etc, so they need some space at least at the yard. What options are available?

Most yards allow you to have a small storage box outside your stable, which is useful for everyday bits and bobs – grooming kits, riding hat, boots and whip for example. One stable Otis had had a corner cupboard which was incredibly useful and didn’t impinge on stable space either.

Then it’s a matter of storing rugs, feed, bedding, and the other less frequently used but still essential equine equipment. One yard I go to has a row of garden sheds. Each livery owner has their own shed. Obviously this takes up a lot of room, so would only be an option for bigger yards. However, in terms of security, it’s nice to know that your gear is under lock and key so won’t go walkabouts. I have to say it’s luxurious to have this much storage space.

Another yard I visit is an old farm which has been converted into a DIY livery yard. One building is used for storage. I think it must’ve housed pigs but it’s got a central walkway and low walled stone pens on each side, which is perfect for putting storage boxes in. Two or three liveries share each pen, which means each person’s stuff is kept fairly separate yet it’s all easily accessible. The only downside is that unless you can lock your storage box, things could be borrowed. But I like to think livery owners have all the paraphernalia they need so don’t need to borrow from others.

I’ve also seen large metal lorry containers put to good use. One yard has it as their tack room, and another has divided a container into lockers. Each wooden cupboard has two shelves and a door. I think this is a really good space saving solution, but it’s only really for essential every day items. With hindsight, with which everything can be improved, I think I would have larger lockers. Liveries can individually provide locks for their cupboard, but the container itself is pretty secure.

On a similar vein, I’ve seen part of a barn divided up like stalls, with wooden partitions, and each livery has their own area. This is more spacious than the container lockers but the security isn’t as good.

It’s hard to find the right balance of space and security for liveries, without becoming the equine equivalent of the Big Yellow Self Storage Company, especially when some people have far more rugs or tack than others. And for some people it is their only storage for horsey things because either they don’t have space in the garage, or their partner doesn’t want equestrian things taking over house space. I’m lucky in that my husband doesn’t really go into the garage … so he has no idea how much equine stuff is there. Not that he’d mind, of course.

I want to know, what storage solutions other yards have and how you, my readers rate each experience you’ve had.

The Rugging Conundrum

Is anyone else having a dilemma with rugs? Putting a rug on and then spending the rest of the day or night concerned that it was the wrong choice …

Apparently you`re not alone! I read an article in a magazine earlier this week about choosing rugs and changing them.

It is frustrating, I know that I`m starting the day in a coat and gloves but within an hour I`m coatless, and if I ride it`s almost t-shirt weather. Yet if I dare to start teaching without my coat I know I`ll be an ice cube after an hour. This time of year throws all sorts of weather and temperatures at us, and it is easy to obsess over it.

But do we make our lives more complicated than necessary?

Yes, we need to make sure that we put a suitable rug on so that the horses don`t boil or freeze, but horses can regulate themselves to a degree and modern rugs are breathable which means it is easier to keep a constant temperature under the rug, so we don`t need to change rugs as soon as the wind stops. 

Each day is different in terms of the weather, and knowing your horse helps so that you know what weather he is comfortable with and if he feels the cold or not, but it is very easy to be swayed by the rugs that our neighbour are putting on. But remember, they may have an elderly Thoroughbred, whereas you have a young, overweight cob – so stick to your guns!

The other problem we all have is changing the rugs night and day. Do we put a heavier rug on at night or not?
This is my theory: in the stable horses are out of the elements – rain and wind – but the external temperature is usually lower. I tend to feel that these factors balance each other out. However, horses cannot move around to warm up so it could be harder to generate heat. But then on the other end of stick if you have a row of stables together, or deep straw beds, or an internal barn, then these can create a warmer environment which could counterbalance the fact horses can`t move around to warm up. I think rugging decisions for the night need to take into account the position of the stable (on the end, or in the middle of the barn) as much as the weather forecast. Otis once had a stable that was below a flat. It was so warm at night as they had the heating on! When we were cold at work we used to huddle inside to get warm.

Continuing my theory. During the day in the field, the temperature is warmer but the horses are exposed to the elements. The horses are able to move around to keep warm and can utilise natural shelters, which to me helps rebalance things.

To me, all these factors balance themselves out which means that I don`t think we should worry about changing the weight of the rug night and day unless the weather is changing significantly – i.e. the first frost is due. Horses who live out, that have been turned away or whatever, will wear the same rug day and night, which means that they have to adjust their body temperature accordingly. A quick feel uner the rug should tell us if they are comfortable.

Back to this article that I read. The author made a valid point that if you bring your horse in in very cold weather then changing their day rug to a stable rug may not be conducive as you are removing a warm rug and replacing it with a cold one, so the horse needs to warm that rug up so uses up valuable energy – it`s like us taking off our coat and putting one on that`s been hanging up in the cold porch.
Anyway, I think us horse owners can make matters too complicated with regards to rugging; we can check to see if our horse is warm or cool, and then adapt according to the weather forecast (putting the neck on, for example), but keeping the same baseline level of rug should keep our peace of mind and we should remember that our horses can move around in the field to shelter or keep warm, and that a full row of stables is actually surprisingly warm. Additionally, modern rugs are breathable so horses should be able to thermoregulate more easily.