One of my client’s ponies has always struggled with her weight. She has too much of it!
They were doing everything right; soaking her hay, minimal hard feed, exercise, restricted grazing, but after an injury and enforced rest over the summer this plump pony was even plumper!
We started her rehab, and although she started to lose a bit of weight but then she plateaued and as winter approached it was a stalemate. Something had to change before spring, when she might actually explode on the sugary grass!
The mare needed more exercise; canter work specifically but in order to do that post injury she needed a different arena surface to work on, and it being winter they needed more dark evening friendly facilities. So they found another yard, with an arena that wasn’t as deep as her current one, and with very good floodlighting, which meant she could be ridden every evening, and the work could be faster and more intensive. More polework and jumping could then be reintroduced. With faster workouts, and more frequent ones, she will increase in muscle tone, posture, and burn off fat.
Her routine was also changed as they went onto a DIY yard, so she was turned out earlier in the morning and caught in later. This totals an extra three hours out in the field. This might not be so great in spring or summer, but on a winter paddock it’s three hours more of wandering around, nibbling at grass, rather than those three hours spent stationary, demolishing a haynet. This means she requires less soaked hay as her nights are shorter, and I think it’s had a surprisingly strong effect on her losing weight.
With the change of yard there is of course a change in the hay and type of grass in the paddocks. The grazing is slightly poorer, but this suits a good doer, and has a higher percentage of grass in it rather than her previous field, which had a lot of clover in. Clover is rich in nitrogen and very fattening. I think this will have more of an impact in the spring and summer. I think the hay the little mare is now fed is of a similar nutritional value to before, and it is still soaked overnight so I don’t think the forage has affected her weight.
In the two months since moving to their new yard, the pony has become much fitter, improved muscle tone, and has improved in posture, which will hopefully mean that she is less likely to injure herself. Her good muscles have improved, so she has a topline. The weight has literally dropped off her; she’s gone from the bottom hole on each side of the girth to top hole and it still being loose!
I find it amazing the way a couple of changes – increased workload and reduced time chomping in the stable – have had such a huge impact on this mare’s weight. I feel much happier heading into spring with her and less concerned about laminitis, as I feel we will be able to control her weight more easily. I also think that she will be finding the ridden work far easier carrying less weight,which will only improve her performance.
It does make you realise that if you struggle to get the weight off your horse then increasing workload and increasing turnout on minimal grazing but plenty of space, is paramount to the weight loss journey.
The spring grass has a lot to answer for at the moment. Horses spooking at their rugs, jumping a mile at the smallest puff of wind, putting on weight, and trying to dislodge their riders! I`ve had to make sure I have been wearing my Velcro jodhpurs on a few of my hacks …
So today was interesting. I was teaching a young girl and her little pony, who is usually pretty steady and obliging. We started off with a pretty steady trot, did some lovely circles and changes of rein. I thought she`d grown so needed her stirrups taking down a hole, but she wasn’t convinced so we did some sitting trot without stirrups. Instead of her usual stable position, she was a bit wobbly and her pony was trotting in quite a bouncy fashion. But my point was made, and we dropped the stirrups. She then looked in better balance and could use her legs more effectively.
The pony isn`t that fit, and is unclipped so soon began to get a bit hot and tired. Well, he seemed to settle down to work.
We moved onto the row of trotting poles. I had placed nine in a line, and out of character, the pony picked up a little speed through the poles. He remained in trot, he just had a bit more of a spring in his step, so we did it a few more times and he didn`t get any more excited, which is fine. I like the ponies to enjoy their work, but only to the extent that their rider`s feel they are being taken into the exercise rather than having to nag every stride.
Both pony and rider were looking very confident and balanced, and were settled into the exercise so we had a change of rein. This time, as my little rider turned onto the three quarter line towards the poles, her pony drifted to the left and picked up canter. Now bear in mind that this rider is still getting her confidence up on the lead in canter, and I was contemplating lunging her in canter to build her independence. The pony didn`t get any faster down the long side, but it was a steady, bouncy canter. Thankfully, my rider kept her cool and listened to my instructions – “Sit back! Heels down! Pull your reins! Woah!” – and she managed to bring her pony back to trot. I hurried over, hoping she wasn’t too worried, making a joke – “We aren`t ready to canter yet! We`ve still got to do the trotting poles!”. After walking and discussing how well she had sat the canter, and what we can do to stop that (half halting a bit quicker and not using the leg quite so much in trot) happening again. Then we did the poles with a shorter approach so the pony had less opportunity to take the lesson into his own hands!
He performed beautifully and we progressed to a jump. I kept the trotting poles where they were and just built the last two into a tiny cross pole. I hoped the line of trotting poles would keep the pony in a steady rhythm (I also rolled them closer together so he had no reason to stretch). After a quick practice of the jumping position, which is looking much better with her lower leg more stable and heels staying down. Over the poles and jump a few times without a problem. The pony was by now quite sweaty and I hoped he had gotten rid of his excess energy, so I suggested cantering on the leadrein and leaving lunging to another day.
We talked through the plan for cantering – hold on to the grab strap for a couple of strides, and when she felt secure let go, one hand at a time. The pony picked up canter when I asked, as normal, and we cantered down the long side. With my sideways glances I could see my rider sitting up nicely and just holding the reins. The next moment, I saw the hind legs of the pony way up in the air! I started slowing down, and to my relief my rider had only tipped forwards slightly. Unfortunately, as she was putting herself back into the saddle, he threw in another buck! This time, she flew towards his neck and I grabbed her little waist, pulling her sideways off the pony whilst pulling the pony up with the other hand. We stopped and I plonked her on the ground. She looked quite shocked, and a bit worried, so I immediately explained what her cheeky pony had done and how well she had sat the first buck. That stopped any threatening tears, and as she was unhurt I put her back on. We had a walk around the arena, with me nearby, just getting our breath back and processing the last couple of minutes.
Then on the other rein to the canter rein, and at another corner in the school we did some trotting to build her back up. This rider tends to think about things a lot, and can build up a worry, sometimes needlessly. So I felt it was important to have another canter in this lesson. So she ended on a good note and wasn`t left reflecting on the bucking canter.
Again on the opposite rein to the previous canter, we got ready to canter. I wasn`t taking any chances and held onto her leg with one hand as we cantered. The pony skipped into canter angelically, and I watched her and him closely (there was no pressure to let go of her grab strap) and after half a dozen strides, as his tail was starting to swish threateningly, we stopped.
Giving him a pat and telling my rider what a good job she had done, I have to say that I was relieved to have gotten through that lesson successfully. Tonight, the pony is going to be lunged, and will be lunged before she rides for the next couple of weeks while the spring grass is about! Our next lesson will just build on from todays and hopefully we`ll get to do some more cantering because I really do want her to start cantering independently. She has a lovely, balanced seat, it`s just a question of her feeling confident enough to control him without me next to her.