Horses and Heat

Horses and Heat don’t mix very well do they? Poo picking, stable chores and riding are sweaty work in average temperatures.

The trouble in the UK is that we aren’t geared up for hot weather. Our native breeds have dense coats all year round, and the temperatures tend to sky rocket for days at a time before dropping again, which makes it hard for everyone to acclimatise.

If we are due only a couple of days of hot weather then I think I sit with the majority of equestrians in either riding early in the morning or giving the horses a day off. It’s also then easy to rearrange my work onto cooler days.

However, if the heat is here to stay, then there’s a degree of acclimatising to do. Especially if you compete. It’s all very well avoiding the heat and riding early in the morning, but what if your class falls at midday? As painful as it is pulling jodhpurs on over slippery, sun creamed legs, you do need to ride during the day so you are both prepared to ride a dressage test in the scorching heat. If a horse is in rehab, or needs to be exercised in order to lose weight then long periods of down time aren’t conducive, so it’s better to do lower intensity work for a few days than nothing at all. For example, I’d say that this week it is acceptable for a pony on fat camp to do less work because he’s unfit and finding it difficult to work and plateau in terms of building fitness and losing weight. Weight is maintained rather than lost, or even worse put on! When it gets cooler, his workload and weight loss can increase again.

However, exercise does need to be adapted in this heat, taking into account humidity, horse and rider fitness, taking lots of breaks, seeking shade, avoiding fast work and jumping in the heat of the day. Some horses cope better with the heat – usually finer coated animals, and those with no excess fat. Older horses tend to struggle with the heat too.

My lessons this week, working around the heatwave, have involved;

  • Hacking with a young client and teaching her about the ground, where it is suitable to trot, how to ride up and down hills, and what to look out for when riding in woods and fields. All the time building her confidence to trot independently on hacks.
  • Long reining and in hand work.
  • Walk poles.
  • Teaching the different types of walk so that rider and pony don’t waste the elongated walk breaks, and to encourage them to have slow and steady schooling sessions for the rest of the week.
  • Taking a horse into the jump paddock and desensitising him to traffic on the other side of the hedge, and riding him around and between jump fillers.
  • Stable management.
  • No stirrup work, as riders are usually happier with shorter bursts of work.
  • Transitions, especially halt transitions.
  • Lateral work and rein back.
  • Bareback.

I like having lessons at an enforced steady pace. Walk is so often overlooked, and improving the walk makes dramatic improvements to the quality of the trot and the transitions. I was really pleased with how one lady started to get a longer striding, swinging walk and then floated along in the trot, truly using his back and looking very supple through his ribcage.

The important thing to remember is that everyone copes with the hot weather differently, and to remember frequent breaks, sun cream, modified riding attire (I’ve not used gloves all week), and to drink lots of water. Each lesson has begun with me asking my client where their water is, and to say if they feel unwell or need to stop for a break. Then I know the lesson will run more smoothly.

Something a Bit Different

My normal work finished for Christmas last week, and I’ve got a nice long week to try to tick off some of my to-do list without adding to the bottom of it. However, today was the final Pony Club rally of the year.

Having only just taken over the role of chief instructor for this branch of the Pony Club, I’m still working out what members want in terms of rallies, as well as how I can improve their knowledge and ability within the equestrian world.

I had thought early on that I would like to see more stable management rallies, and to improve the children’s off horse knowledge. The obvious place to start is with the achievement badge scheme, run by the Pony Club. Fabric badges are available for a huge variety of subjects – points of the horse, poisonous plants, first aid, to name a few. They’re aimed at primary school aged children, and as they love receiving souvenirs, we decided to begin doing more badge rallies. I’ve also designed a rewards system for when the children achieve five, ten, fifteen, twenty and so on badges. A little prize or gift will be a great motivator for them, and hopefully by learning through the badge rallies their efficiency tests will seem easier.

With this in mind, we planned a stable management rally for the Christmas holidays. I suggested that because the weather was risky, the evenings dark, and parents so busy in the run up to Christmas, that we combined the lecture with an off horse, indoor activity. Then it doesn’t matter on the weather, parents can use those couple of hours for some last minute shopping or wrapping, and the children can have some fun.

So I sweet talked my farrier into providing me with some pony sized horse shoes. He cleaned them up for me and I had them sprayed silver so they won’t rust. Then I bought some ribbon, beads, glue and a lot of glitter!

I decided to teach the kids about the native breeds of the United Kingdom, so they could go home with that badge. Of course I had to revise my own knowledge, but I didn’t want to bore them to tears by just talking at them. I decided to ask them questions to engage them, to bring along one or my breed books which has photographs of all the native breeds, and to show them when the different breeds originated on a map.

As we discussed each breed, a child came and put the label on the correct area on the map.

To finish the lecture, I decided on a group exercise. I printed out a photo of each breed with six statements – the name of the breed, their height, two statements of distinguishing features (usually colour and something about their body shape), their original job, and what they are used for nowadays. Within each statement I tried to provide clues (e.g.”this Scottish breed of horse stands 13.2-14.2hh, slightly bigger than it’s cousin the Eriskay”). I laminated everything and cut the statements out into small strips.

Then of course I couldn’t match the statements to the picture myself, so I had to make the exercise easier! In the end I split the children into three groups and gave each group five sets of cards, all muddled up. Within each group I put one draught horse, and divided the other breeds up so that the similar ones weren’t in the same group. For example, I separated Fells and Dales, and Exmoor and Dartmoors.

I was really pleased with the children’s attempts at this exercise. There was some level of deduction, some debating about the meanings of the phrases, and some even remembered the facts I’d just told them!

Each group had an older helper to assist them, and read out the sentences if necessary, and I circulated, checking how they were getting on, and giving hints and encouragement to the sometimes lively debates. They soon matched all of the cards to the correct breed and then we did the fun bit!

Let’s just say that glitter went everywhere! But the shoes looked brilliant and the children had great fun.

Feedback was very positive, with happy parents, and the children proudly showed off their badges and horse shoes.

Today was a different rally, but really fun to do. I don’t think we’ll do crafts at every badge rally, but it’s certainly one to remember for next winter. I thought I might do a colouring competition, or design a poster, at a future badge rally where they can put their new found knowledge to good use. Then when the weather is warmer we can do the outdoor stable management, such as the grooming badge, and tie it in with a lesson.

Self Selection

I’ve been home this weekend, for a busman’s holiday, and one of the jobs my Mum gave me was to handgraze her friend’s horse who is recovering from colic surgery. It’s a great arrangement on the yard, as the mare needs holding out four times a day. There’s a timesheet, and whenever anyone has a spare fifteen minutes or so (while their horse is eating their bucket feed or they’re chinwagging over a cup of tea) they will hold her out for grass. Then they pop their name on the timesheet and her owner knows what she’s had each day and by who. It’s such a great example of teamwork and a supportive yard in what would otherwise be a full time job.

Anyway, I digress. Mum’s instructions to me were to walk past the lush green grass on the side of the track, and head for the weedy area as this mare turns her nose up at the grass, preferring to devour the variety of weeds instead.

Mum and I have talked about how horses often opt for the unexpected plants in hedgerows, and how there’s been a lot of research in the properties of different plants. For example, cleavers has a beneficial effect on the skin and lymphatic system. This was Matt’s plant of choice when he was on box rest.

Mum spent a lot of time when he was on box rest cutting down a variety of grass, plants, herbs and hedgerow while Matt was confined to his stable to provide a variety of forage to stimulate him and to enable him to self select what his body needed. What he ate, he was given more of the following day, and when he moved onto a different flavour, his bucket reflected this. Once he could start going for walks she handgrazed him on the verge and hedgerow during his walk outs.

This is why I like it when the fields have a native hedge, and aren’t just seeded grass, as it provides some enrichment for the horses. Recently, once the grass in Phoenix’s summer field had been eaten, she showed more of an interest in grazing the sides of the track as we walked to and from the field. I tend to go with the flow, letting her choose where to stop. It was always interesting that she opted to munch on the tall thistles.

I could remember that milk thistle is good for cleansing the liver, but I didn’t think these were them so I had a look on my plant identification app (this is the ignorant gardening geek inside of me raising its ugly head), and Phoenix was definitely eating plain, bog-standard field thistles. Very carefully I might add, as she cleverly wrapped her tongue around the spikes and devoured it, stem and flower.

For anyone wondering, milk thistles have round, purple flowers with pale green leaves with white veins, giving a mottled effect. This thistles Phoenix was so delighted by have narrower, taller purple flowers, and leaves of a uniform green. I’m going to keep an eye out for any milk thistle and she if she’s as taken by that as the usual subspecies.

Then I began to wonder why the thistles were such an attraction, despite the dangers involved in eating them. Once source I read said that thistles have deeper roots than grass so are more nutritious. This aligns with my observations in the garden, where all the weeds have far deeper and longer roots that the grass, which is why they’re so difficult to eradicate and why my lawn will never resemble a bowling green. It’s a sensible theory. My Dad’s theory is that thistles probably have a higher water content than grass, especially during the hot months we’ve just experienced, so are more attractive to horses.

Dried thistles are very palatable too, and less spiky so even the fussiest horses will eat the leaves and stems. I’m building up the courage, and trying to remember my gardening gloves, to cut down an armful of thistles to put in the field for Phoenix and her friends to pick at if they wanted. In the meantime, I’m sure she gets enough enrichment from the hedge at the back of the field and the variety of grasses and weeds in the paddock.

It’s always interesting watching your horse’s choice in forage whilst grazing, and definitely worth identifying the plant so that you can supplement it if necessary, or take them to areas when it grows in plentiful supply for them to nibble at.

Has anyone’s horse got a favourite non-grass plant which they always search out? And have you looked it up to see the benefits of that plant?

Lameness Diagnosis?

It’s incredibly frustrating when your horse “isn’t quite right”, which is what one of my clients is going through at the moment. There are a couple of avenues that we are exploring, but this takes time.

You end up talking about this mystery not-quite-rightness to anyone who will listen, and invariably you run of the mill suggestions, which of course you considered on Day One. But hopefully one day, someone will make a suggestion that you haven’t thought of and you can investigate its potential.

This happened to me last November. I was tacking up a client’s horse when another livery whom I knew from sight was riding in the arena next to me. I wasn’t paying particular attention except for the fact she seemed to be faffing. Trotting, then walking, then changing the rein and trotting again. So I asked if she was okay.

The rider launched into this story about how her horse had been slightly lame on and off all summer and she’d had the vet, physio, saddler, dentist and no one could shed any light on the problem.

The horse was fractionally lame, and the rider really noticed it as a reluctance to go downhill with pottery steps. After four or five days, the horse was fine for another few weeks.

I asked when was she shod. I wasn’t about to slate her farrier; as far as I could tell the mare was shod well. She had been shod the week before, and had been slightly lame last weekend.

With a bit of deduction, we worked out that the farrier had been on Wednesday, and the mare had next been ridden on the Saturday. Which suggested to me that the lameness could be due to the farrier or her feet.

My only real suggestion was that the farrier was taking the mare’s hooves a little too short for her liking so the shoes felt uncomfortable for a few days. Looking at the feet, the toes didn’t look too short, or that they’d been dumped, but I know that some horses have more sensitive feet – thinner hoof wall, sensitive laminae closer to the edge of the hoof, etc. Tight shoes could cause short strides and a reluctance to go forwards. I wasn’t sure if it would cause a reluctance down hills.

The lady went off with this suggestion and looked in her diary. Each lameness period coincided with new shoes. So she rang her farrier and talked to him.

The next time I saw her she updated me on her investigations, and said the farrier had taken on board her thoughts about the shoes and they were going to put the mare onto a seven weekly shoe cycle, and leave her with slightly longer toes.

Since then, the mare has been sound: full of energy, jumping confidently, and winning competitions.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert in horse lameness or farriery. I based my suggestion on the fact that I’ve previously seen a horse shod badly (the toes were dumped and the shoe was too small for the foot) who became reluctant to go forwards and became pottery in her stride. This is why it can be so useful to talk to others about your horse’s not-quite-rightness. They may have seen a similar situation and be able to point you in the right direction so that with the help of the right professional your horse becomes sound.

Feeding Succulents

One of the rules of feeding is to feed something succulent to your horse daily, and the most thought of options are apples and carrots.

As a bit of a domestic goddess now, well only once or twice a week when I batch cook and freeze baby sized portions of food, I’ve generated lots of vegetable peelings. Add into the equation that a lot of baby recipes say “half a beetroot” or “one and a half bananas” and the fact I don’t want to pile on the pounds by finishing off all her leftovers, we have some food leftovers.

Whilst sweeping the carrot peelings and tips into a bag for Phoenix, I suddenly wondered if she could have the beetroot left overs. Yes, I know they eat sugar beet which is a relative, but still I thought I’d better check.

A quick ask of Google, and I found a list of equine friendly fruit and vegetables. Some I knew (Otis is partial to a banana), and some I didn’t know about.

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Banana (can be fed with the peel)
  • Blackberry
  • Coconut
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange
  • Peaches
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Plum
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon
  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Parsnip
  • Swede
  • Turnip

With this knowledge, I proceeded to add the remnants of the celery stalks to Phoenix’s bag.

The only safety issue with all these different vegetables is making sure that they don’t pose choking hazards. It’s a bit like having a baby around really. When I was young, it was drilled into us to cut carrots lengthways, not into discs, as it is less of a choking hazard. Unfortunately, it’s a rule that often gets forgotten, as many times I’ve seen well-meaning, naive riding school clients feeding their favourite horse some carrots cut into discs. I was particularly worried about the beetroot, so I roughly chopped that up before adding it to Phoenix’s bucket. Then I have halved the tips of the carrots and cut the celery into chunky sticks ready for tomorrow.

I wonder what Phoenix made of the beetroot she had in her dinner tonight…

Equi-Spa

At the end of the summer I was approached by an American company, Equi-Spa, asking if I’d trial and review some of their grooming products.

Always up for trying new things, I had a look on their website to see why they differed from other grooming products before accepting their offer and very quickly a parcel arrived in the post for Phoenix.

In the box we’re three sprays: Orchid Oil Gloss, Peppermint Summer Protection, and Fairy Tails Spray.

I’m a great believer in elbow grease for keeping a shine on coats, so always use the body brush enthusiastically. However, I had felt in August the Phoenix’s coat wasn’t shining as I’d like. Her summer coat was fading and been bleached by our intense summer, and the first symptoms of a winter coat were appearing, which always makes coats look dull. If a product can help improve coats during the change, then they must be worth investing in.

First of all, I used the Peppermint Summer Protection. This is a pest repellent which uses only natural plant extracts. Having a baby in the vicinity, I don’t like using fly sprays full of chemicals, so this appealed to me. In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you the effectiveness of it as a fly spray at the moment: we weren’t particularly bothered by flies when I used it, but we are getting towards the end of fly season and don’t have those irritating zooming little black flies at the moment, which do irritate Phoenix. The spray does smell pepperminty and fresh, which can only be a good thing. The biggest impact I found from using the spray regularly, was the improvement to her coat. The spray leaves a residue which makes the coat slightly slippery (so I avoided over using it on the saddle area, just in case) which means dirt doesn’t stick to her, so she comes in cleaner and any mud is easily flicked off. Which is great for September, when the showers, warm weather, and coat change lead to plenty of rolling. Phoenix’s coat also developed a lovely shine to it, which many people complimented me on.

I really liked the spray bottle as by twisting the nozzle you could adjust the mistiness of the spray, meaning you waste less. However, the spray is quite loud and if you have a diva like Phoenix who dislikes sprays (you’d have thought she’d have gotten used to it by now, having been sprayed daily since April) it can be fun and games applying it. I did think it was worth the dancing though, as her coat looks and feels great even though she’s between coats.

The other two sprays (which arrived with black tape around to prevent leakage during transport, which I felt was a great just-in-case idea and doesn’t reflect the quality of the sprays in any way) are both mane and tail sprays. Again, the spray bottles are good quality and have a locking device so they don’t accidentally go off in your grooming kit. I also liked the tall, narrow bottle shape so it’s easier to keep them upright in your grooming kit. They stream the liquid out instead of spraying, so Phoenix was a fan, and I felt wastage was minimised.

The Fairy Tails spray is a non-toxic detangler –

Formulated with botanical extracts, pure essential oils, minerals and amino acids to detangle, manage and enhance manes and tails naturally!

– and I felt that a few squirts through the tail was all that was needed to make brushing it easy. Perhaps I should be trying this on my notoriously tangled hair? Phoenix doesn’t have the thick, lustrous mane associated with Welsh Cobs so whilst brushing it through is fairly quick I like to minimise what I pull out, especially when she’s already got a short patch from last winter’s rug and some more missing from an altercation with a hawthorn hedge. This spray does mean my brush flies through, and I’m hoping it means any hawthorn branches do too! There’s no smell with this spray, and the effects do seem to last. So many detanglers claim to last for weeks, but in my experience they need to be reapplied every day.

The second tail spray smells divine! It’s the Orchid Oil Gloss detangler, and again is non toxic.

Formulated with premium coconut and orchid oil extract, pure essential oils, minerals and amino acids to detangle, manage and enhance manes and tails naturally!

I felt this spray was superior to the other, as it really gave Phoenix’s tail a shine. Chestnut tails are a lovely mix of colours – highlights many ladies lust after – but they do lack the shine of a black tail.

The Orchid Oil Gloss also stayed in the tail for a few days which meant that brushing through her tail took moments.

All in all, I was impressed with the quality of all three products and the positive effect they had on Phoenix’s coat at a time of year when it is not looking it’s best as she prepares for winter. I look forward to continuing to use the detanglers over the next couple of months and hopefully see the improvement in her mane as it grows out, although looking back at the photos I think it needs a bit of a tidy up. Like owner, like horse! I’ll probably use the peppermint spray infrequently over the winter to condition her coat, but it will be good to further trial it in the spring when the flies reappear. I particularly like the fact the sprays are all natural and chemical-free, which can only benefit Phoenix, me and the environment. As well as the grooming products I tried there are some for hoof protection, udder/sheath cleaning, muscle care, sweet itch relief, and skin/coat care. They’re all natural products and look to complement each other in the care of working horses.

If you want to find out more about Equi-Spa and their various products then here is their website – www.equispa.com – with an online shop, and there are also links to lots of welfare and management articles too, which make for interesting reading.

Treats

Everyone who has horses buys treats of some description. Be it to bribe them into a trailer, or to persuade them to leave their field mates. For me, I use treats for Phoenix’s various carrot stretches and to disguise Otis’s sweet itch tablets.

Anyway, this means that I ended up in the tack shop the other week looking at rows and rows of various treats. And honestly, it’s mind boggling.

And expensive.

Let’s take a look, and compare the prices.

Spillers horse treats – £6.29 per kilo.

Global herbs treats – £10.79 for a three kilo bag. That’s £3.60 per kilo. Half the price of the Spillers ones!

NAF treats – £7.29 per kilo. These are by far the most expensive on the market.

Equine America treats (these have coconut in and get a suspicious sniff when first offered) – £7.95 for four kilos. At £1.99 per kilo they are almost four times cheaper than the NAF ones.

This is where it gets interesting. A tub of Baileys Tasty Treats is £9.29 for five kilos. That’s a reasonable £1.86 per kilo. If you’re going to buy a tub of treats, this is probably the best value for money.

That is, until you realise that these treats are identical to the 20 kilo bags of Baileys Fibre Plus nuggets. Which can be purchased for £10.25.

That’s fifty pence per kilo!

Obviously we bought the twenty kilo bag and decanted them into several Quality Street tins so that they didn’t lose their freshness.

I was horrified at the daylight robbery in the tack shop. We equestrians really need to consider how much we spend on treats. Horses don’t care if their treats come in colourful packets or not. We’ll consider the sugar levels, obesity and negative effects on behaviour of various treats another day. A horse treat only needs to be bland and with a low calorific value. Really, the pure fibre approach of Baileys tasty treats is perfect and I’m yet to meet a horse who’s turned their nose up at them. But what is wrong, is the extortionate price difference between a “treat” and a “feed”. Also, consider the environmental impact of a paper bag (which can be used to store potatoes over winter) carrying twenty kilos of treats, compared to the equivalent twenty plastic bags of alternative treats. By being attracted to the pretty packaging and falling for the marketing ploys we’re all being taken for a ride.

Coping With The Heat

How is everyone managing during Britain’s 2018 heatwave? We’ve been doing horses and any outdoor jobs in the morning and evening; hiding from the heat during the day because it’s too hot for anyone, let alone babies.

In general, horses in the UK seem to find it difficult to adapt to the heat. Partly because it’s so infrequent and comes along suddenly, and partly because a lot of horses are colder blooded, native types with thick, dense fur.

So with the hot weather, comes a few routine changes. I for one have been riding later in the evening. In my pre-baby life, I’d have been up with the larks riding in the cool. Schooling sessions become shorter or non existent. I did a lesson yesterday morning which consisted of about fifteen minutes in trot, split over the lesson, and the rest in walk. It was a good opportunity to practice lateral work without stirrups and nit pick on my rider’s aids. Hacks become much more appealing, don’t they? Any woods provide some shade and there’s usually more of a cool breeze. I read last week that horses feel the heat more than we do so it’s important to consider them when deciding to ride.

Some people prefer to have their horses stabled during the day in summer, and turned out overnight when it’s cooler and there are less flies about. For me, it depends on the horse and their field. People underestimate the shade that trees provide. I found this out a couple of weeks ago at a wake. The back garden of the house we were at had several large trees on one side and a sunny patio on the other. Sitting on the grass under the trees I was lovely and cool while those sat at the patio table with a parasol up were still boiling hot. So if your horse’s field has trees to provide shade and they aren’t bothered by the flies I would personally prefer them to stay out where they can move around and benefit from any breeze (which also deters the flying pests) that’s about. It’s also worth considering your stables. Wooden ones can become ovens whilst stone barns stay lovely and cool.

Wash them off liberally. Yes they may not have worked up a sweat walking around the woods, but they’ll still be grateful for a shower. There is the age old argument about how to cool off horses properly. The way I see it, the majority of the time horse owners aren’t dealing with a horse on the verge of hyperthermia and heat exhaustion (this week excepted) so hosing them and allowing the cooling process of evaporation to cool them down is sufficient. This week though, you may want to opt for continuous hosing and sweat scraping to bring down their core body temperature quicker.

Then of course is ensuring they’re hydrated. Horses will drink more in hot weather, much like us humans, so making sure they have plenty of clean water available is paramount. Ideally the water wants to be cool so that it is more appealing to the horse and refreshing. Standing water buckets need to be in the shade, but be aware of flies congregating around them. Self filling troughs are very often cooler despite being in the full sun because they’re continuously topped up with cold water from the underground pipes as the horses drink.

When a horse starts to get dehydrated they also stop wanting a drink, which obviously compounds the problem. What’s the evolutionary benefit to this, I wonder? It’s far better to never let them get thirsty in the first place. Adding salt to their diets, in feeds or with a lick, encourages them to drink. It may also be worth having a feed such as Allen and Page’s Fast Fibre which has very little calorific value but needs soaking for ten minutes before feeding. Adding that to their bucket feed, or even substituting that for part of their hay ration will help keep them hydrated. Some horses like their bucket feed to be sloshy so that’s a good way of giving them more water. You can add electrolytes to their feed too which aids hydration.

With this intense heat we’re having, there’s also the risk of sunburn. For both humans and equines! I heard a few weeks ago about a horse who had been clipped. I think he was a predominantly white coloured. But over the next couple of days his back got sunburnt due to the coat no longer protecting his pink skin. That’s a good reason to use a quality UV-proof fly rug, only half clip or indeed not clip at all! The UV-proof fly masks with nose nets are great at protecting white noses, and using factor 50 suncream helps prevent sunburn – don’t forget to use it on yourself too! I’d also be wary of white legs, particularly on fine coated horses as these could also suffer from sunburn.

Finally, check they aren’t overheating in any rugs. A lot of fly rugs are very breathable and thin, but sweet itch rugs tend to be of a thicker material. It might be worth using a lightweight fly rug on a sweet itch horse during the day, and sacrificing it if they start a scratching session and them staying cooler rather than them getting too hot in a sweet itch rug.

It is also worth reading up on the signs of equine heatstroke and be prepared to call the vet if you think your horse is suffering from it. Here are the symptoms:

-Weakness

-Increased temperature

-High respiratory and heart rate

-Lethargy

-Dehydration

-Dry mucous membranes in the mouth – they should be pink and have a slimy feel to them. To check the mucous membranes, press your finger on the gums and they should turn white with pressure. Once you have released your finger they should return to a normal pink colour.

The Number One Rule of Feeding

What's the number one rule of feeding? Which one do you place the most importance on?

For me, it has to be that horses should be fed little and often. It applies to horses of all sizes and workload, and can lead to a whole host of health issues if they do not have food moving through their digestive tract.

Horses have evolved to graze for a minimum of sixteen hours a day, therefore they are trickle eaters. Having small amounts of fibre at each stage of their gut helps regulate peristalsis which reduces the likelihood of colic, prevents stomach acid splashing up the lining of their stomach acid, causing ulcers, and means that they are most efficient at digesting their food and extracting the nutrients.

Even obese or laminitis horses require almost constant access to fibre. However, they should have fibre with very little nutritional value, such as soaked hay or straw. Unfortunately, too many people starve laminitis horses, which can lead to them developing stomach ulcers.

I also feel that there is a psychological benefit to a horse or pony having a semi-full tummy all the time. You know how ratty you and I get when we're late home and dinner is subsequently late. And we can reason why we're hungry, and when our next meal will be. Horses can't, so it stands to reason that when they are hungry they are more likely to bicker between themselves, and to be less tolerant of us – nipping whilst being tacked up, fidgeting whilst being groomed, for example. I think a lot of bad behaviour on the ground stems from horses being uncomfortable in their digestive system. Sometimes they're a bit gassy and bloated, but more often than not they're hungry. If they were to develop stomach ulcers, this also leads to negative reactions when their girth area is touched, which some people believe is naughtiness.

Horses and ponies who are starved for periods of time, or had their grazing restricted with a grazing muzzle for example, have been shown to gorge themselves, managing to take in as much grass in the short time they are unrestricted than the longer period that their intake is limited. Which is why it is recommended that ponies who need a muzzle wear it in the paddock during the day, but are stabled with a quota of soaked hay overnight, to prevent the gorging behaviour.

My reason for bringing up this subject is that last week I was involved in taking a young client to Pony Club Camp, which gave me a parental insight into the week.

I was disappointed to learn that the ponies did not need a haynet during the day. They were to be tied up in the barn; ridden for a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon, with a two hour lunch break in between. During this week the ponies would be working far harder than in their usual day to day lives, but their anatomy is not designed for them to go without food from 9am until 4.30pm. Yes, there is a risk of bickering in the pony lines with food, but surely if every pony had a small haynet and were tied at a correct length of lead rein, far enough apart, there would be less of a problem than when they're hungry and irritable. I would have also thought that they would perform better in the afternoon session because they were happier and had more energy.

Each evening, the pony I was involved with went out into his paddock and gorged, so he was bloated the next morning. This can't be good for his digestive system!

I felt it to be quite ironic that the children are taught correct pony management, and there is both a mini and a big badge all about the rules of feeding. At some point the children are going to realise that they aren't following the rules of feeding, and will question it. This leads to a mental internal battle, and unfortunately a lack of respect for their instructors and mentors. Which is a shame.

I think it's a case of "do as I say, and not as I do", which I don't think is the right attitude for any educational environment, and one that I certainly didn't appreciate when growing up.