High Winds

There’s so many topical subjects to blog about this weekend. But I’m going to steer clear of the can of worms which is equine ‘flu, and instead talk about the high winds which have been forecast for this weekend.

There was a lot of talk on an instructors forum earlier in the week about risk assessments and teaching in stormy weather. Regardless of whether you are a teacher, horse owner, or riding school client, there are things you should be aware of in windy weather.

Firstly, consider if it is actually safe to ride on a windy day. I’m a big believer in not being a fair weather rider, and getting horses used to all sorts of weather. But you have to stay safe. So it might be that you lunge instead of ride, or flat instead of jump. Or school instead of hacking. Or just do some pony pampering and ride tomorrow instead!

With my instructor hat on, I need to make sure the arena is safe. An indoor is great, but you do need to be aware of tree branches banging on the roof in stormy weather. In an outdoor arena, you want to be aware of external threats. It may be the plastic covering on the stack of hay bales near the arena is billowing around, or nearby trees are dropping branches. If the arena is big enough, you may decide to work at one end to reduce the hazards.

As much as you can, try and make the area safe. Put away jump stands so they don’t blow over in a sudden gust and spook the horse. Remove any flapping objects or weigh them down.

If you have to travel your horse to a venue, such as a clinic or competition, then you need to consider whether it’s safe to do so. Are the roads likely to be blocked by fallen trees, or flooded? Is your horse a good traveller, and are you confident towing a trailer or driving a lorry in windy weather? If you aren’t happy, then you are better off rearranging or cancelling your plans.

Each horse is individual, and every rider is individual, so as an instructor I need to talk to the rider. If the horse is young or of a spooky nature, I’d probably advise changing the lesson plan to potentially lunging or in hand work to be safe. If the rider is a novice, or nervous and I don’t think they will benefit from a lesson in the wind then I will chat to them too.

This is where riding school clients need to take note. If your lesson, on your own horse or otherwise still takes place on a windy day, then you need to be prepared, and accept a change to your lesson structure. It may be that you don’t ride your favourite horse because they are unpredictable in the wind. Or it may be that you have a lesson instead of a hack because it’s safer. If you were supposed to have a jump lesson, you may be end up doing pole work or flat work because there’s a risk the jumps may blow over. If you were hoping (yes, some riders like doing it) for a non stirrup lesson you may be working on other areas because it’s safer for you to keep your stirrups as there’s an increased chance of your horse spooking in the wind. Your instructor will do what they feel is best to keep you both safe.

Really, stormy weather doesn’t need a big panic, you just need to be careful and assess the weather forecast (it might be better to rearrange your ride from the morning to the afternoon when it’s calmer), adjust your riding plans to get the best out of you and your horse, and most importantly to stay safe. And if you really aren’t sure, chat to your instructor, even if you aren’t booked in for a lesson that day, to see what they advise as they know the pair of you and your capabilities well.

Monsters in Hedges

I’ve been doing a lot of solo hacking with Llani at the moment. Three months ago his first hack with me and a friend consisted of us climbing the verges and spinning around in fear, so the fact he walked out through the village last week on his own, just glancing around at the various houses, is a fantastic improvement.

He is a fair weather horse, however, and when it is windy he is much more wary and nervous, but this week the weather was a typical autumnal breeze so I thought it would be a good test for Llani.

We stuck to an easy route, staying on the estate, so that he was confident in his surroundings and could get used to a bit of wind blowing leaves around.

Walking smartly down the track, Llani was looking around him warily. Then, we came across a water bowser.

According to Llani, this bowser wasn’t supposed to be there. He stopped, snorted, and after a minute of watching it he decided it wasn’t going to move so he would overcome his fear and walk past it. Not long ago Llani would have turned tail and fled, so I was pleased that he was taking in the situation and then mastering his fear.

Breathing heavily, and tense, he kept close to the hedge, keeping as much distance between himself and the monster as possible, and edged past the bowser. I reassured him as we went but suddenly, the leaves rustled and the sound of hooves in the field behind the hedge caused Llani to whip round and canter off, slipping slightly on his due-for-reshoeing feet. Ducking under a branch, I managed to get him to stop. He was trembling with fear.

Flipping typical, I thought. He starts overcoming his fear and behaving like a confident, mature riding horse and something trivial frightens the hell out of him.

I think half the problem was that Llani’s attention was solely focused on the bowser monster, that the rustling leaves against his skin and the horses in the field who were frightened by the moving hedge, frightened the life out of him. Unfortunately, he then associated the bowser with the monster, instead of safely negotiating it and putting it under the Safe Objects column of life.

Llani snorted and tried to run away from the bowser when I took him back down the lane, but I managed to get him to stop and study it until a pedestrian came along and, ignoring Llani, walked between him and he monster. Comforted, Llani edged past the bowser, making sure he didn’t touch the hedge on his other side!

I gave him a big pat and he soon relaxed. The rest of the hack was trouble free; he was unfazed by the haylage wrappers blowing in the breeze and he didn’t give the horses playing in nearby fields a second glance.

I suppose the bowser incident was educational for Llani, but sometimes I wish he wouldn’t over react so much!

Stormy Days

How is everyone surviving this stormy week? I’m glad today’s over! Or nearly anyway.

We all knew it was going to be horrific, it’s all the newspapers have talked about this week, but this morning was relatively calm and dry. I was in two minds whether to pop the boy out for an hour or two, but decided against it. And he wasn’t leaning at the door pestering me to go out! He must’ve felt the storm in his bones.

Over the morning the wind picked up and we had a few showers, but so far it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The stabled horses stayed in and the weekend ones came up from the valley. The mornings hack was cancelled, and then at lunchtime I spoke to one of the parents of my 4pm lesson. We decided to do another rain check after lunch as the weather wasn’t too bad, and I was loathe to cancel when we could get away with the lesson being indoors.

Over lunch it poured down! I let my boy into the indoor while I skipped him out and he had a buck and a play. Then I ran and got a friends horse in before he decided to bring himself in.

The afternoon only got worse, heavy showers and so much wind the shavings blew up in big spirals! I called it a day with the 4pm lesson, and a good job I did because at 4.15 the heavens opened and drowned us all. Thankfully we were skipping out in the barn, the rain was blowing sideways, which was quite spectacular to watch.

Then the lights went out.

Not a problem, we can see well enough to mix feeds and haylage the horses, there were only a couple more beds to do. So I asked one of the students to get the mares off the walker. Which she went to do, only to come back and say “I can’t”. Of course! The walker is electric!

What a dilemma. I have no idea if there’s an override, I sure know that you can’t push it when it’s on. So when there was a break in the new shower a few of us went out and I pressed the emergency button. I think that turned off the mechanics because it was then quite easy to push the partition round. Except we got so far before realising that we’d left the door open and all of us were in the middle of the walker! Someone then ducked under and caught the mares as they arrived at the door.

Once back in the barn one of the grooms asked an interesting question; would you rather be without water or without electric?

Having been without both on several occasions (I can vividly remember using a bucket and rope over a little bridge and hoisting up buckets for the stables) I would definitely rather be without electric! You can usually see well enough, or by torch, to do the essentials, but it’s a nightmare trying to source enough water for them.

However, at home, I’d much rather have my electric. I’ll forgo a hot bath so long as I can have an electric blanket and hot chocolate (milk obviously as I don’t have water)!