A Healthy Work Ethic

How do you keep your horse happy in his work? I know for definite that my horse would tell me if he was bored or uninterested in our work. But this is so important, a happy horse performs so much better!

My weekly routine consists of one hack (if not two, depending on the time of year), two days rest, and four days of schooling. Now my schooling may be a lunge session, a jumping session, or mid season a cross country session, as well as dressage. This time of year there is less opportunity to hack or jump, so I tend to turn my attention to dressage. Today we ran through both tests for Sundays competition, and he performed nicely. So as a reward, we popped over the couple of jumps that were at the other end of the school. His ears pricked forwards and he got a bit more of a spring in his step. Reminding me that I need to stop being quite so focused on upcoming tests and just have some fun!

Sometimes the riding school horses, especially those for beginners, get a bit switched off with their work. Hacks tend to be limited to walk and trot, and lessons tend to be flat work and a bit of bumbling around in canter. So a couple of weeks ago I put out a couple of poles, and one particular mare who isn`t allowed to jump as she`s had problems previously with tendons (many moons ago) pricked up her ears in anticipation. We started off walking over the poles, talking about being central and straight towards the pole and then straight away. Not looking down at the pole, you know the drill. And this mare practically marched towards the poles. Then we did the pole in trot, and we almost had medium trot towards it! She thoroughly enjoyed the lesson, and I believe her demeanour, whilst never sour, for the next few days changed for the better.

This leads me on to dressage horses; how do these riders keep their horses occupied and mentally happy? One lady at the yard doesn`t hack her horse as he can be a total nightmare, and frightened her a couple of times, but she doesn`t jump and rarely goes over poles. In addition to this, the schooling sessions focus on very similar things; leg yield, half pass, transitions. I think she lunges twice a week, but it still defies my comprehension as to how her horse performs to the best of his ability.

An all rounder

In the last three weeks I have done some showjumping; team chasing; and finally, this weekend, dressage.

It`s always more stressful doing dressage, you spend the week learning tests, practising movements, psyching yourself up for it. I always like a reader, although I do my best to learn the tests, and this week`s two novice tests were ridiculously similar; the same movements in a slightly different order. So a reader was imperative. My usual reader had lost her voice on Wednesday so I`d drafted in my non-horsey chauffeur, much to his dismay. Thankfully my reader`s voice has returned in time, so she came along. On the way to the competition we discussed the makings of a good reader, and all our experiences.

I think the worst one I ever had was when one of the girls insisted that she was able to read my test well. I hadn`t even semi learnt it so was relying on her. The bell rings, and she takes a deep breathe and says “AtAenterinworkingtrot,proceeddownthecentrelinewithouthalting.Cturnright.CBworkingtrot.Bcircleright20metresdiameterandonthesecondhalfofthecirclegiveandretakethereins…” You get the idea. She`d finished reading the test by the time I reached C! I fumbled through the first couple of movements when thankfully a loud, clear voice picked up the test and instructed me through the rest of it.
Afterwards, it was a laughing matter, but at the time I could have kicked myself for letting me be talked into having an incompetent reader!

A good reader has good projection, so you can hear clearly at the far end of the school; projection not volume so you don`t lose the clarity; be able to read the movement at the correct time, giving the rider enough time to prepare themselves, but not too long that they forget what they`re doing! I`ve had several readers who are telling me to turn left at B as I`m arriving at B! Others have missed out movements; I`ve had to teleport from H to A a couple of times …

Once you find yourself a good reader it`s important to keep them sweet; so that they come to every competition, and also extend their skills into being a good groom too! My little helper is indispensable; she`s got the horse ready while I`m still tying up my hair!

My chauffeur was instructed to listen and learn how to read a dressage test; so he can be my back up! I think he needs to learn a bit more about the layout of the arena and what each movement entails. So I`m going to use dressage diagrams to help him comprehend it all.

Blemishes

Coming from a showing background, I always worried about scars and blemishes on my ponies and horses, but I am seeing more and more, particularly with my new eventing hobby, successful horses with less than perfect legs. My first pony had a scar on the inside of his hind cannon bone, from when he`d gone under the gate. I used to use black hair spray to make it less noticeable. But the judges always commented on it. It frustrated me that he was marked down for not being perfect, when really, we know he was. And no bias here!

I found this article which explains leg and foot problems quite well – http://www.horses-arizona.com/pages/articles/unsoundfeetlegs.html – And whilst I don`t particularly want my horse to get low ringbone or navicular, a couple of windgalls or a splint isn`t the end of the world. Thankfully at the moment my horse doesn`t have any.
I`m starting to feel that blemishes, all over the body, whilst you don`t want it to disfigure or hinder their rideability, it`s a bit like getting a life history and getting to know. Like our scars which show we once fell out a tree when we were 3 years old…

From what my friends have experienced I dread a tendon or ligament injury… months of box rest and a life of always watching that leg. My field companion was on box rest for 18 months, then field rest for 6 months for a suspensory ligament, but is now sound enough to hack. I once saw, and will never forget, as I felt it was pure cruelty, a polo pony brought back from a match had broken down. Her fetlock had dropped significantly. She was an older mare (mid twenties) but we tried. Cold hosing, cooling clay, bandages, bute, the full works for a couple of weeks. She didn`t see the vet though. After a few weeks like this her owner decided that she would be retired from polo (no shit Sherlock, she`s only got 3 legs) but… her owner wanted to put in foal!

Now I`m sure you`re all shouting at the screen now; she`s too old for a first foal; she can barely support her own weight, let alone the weight of the foal; her quality of life was drastically reduced. Thankfully, for the mare`s sake, her tendon completely broke, leaving her with her fetlock on the floor, and then the decision was made for her owner. She was put to sleep, and thankfully an end to her suffering.