Kissing Spine

Kissing Spine is a problem that is basically what it says on the tin. Sections of a horses vertebrae (the bits that stick up above the actual spine, dorsal spinous processes) rub together and impinge each other, very quickly becoming incredibly painful.

The horses spinal chord is split into sections, the cervical vertebrae – which is from the skull down the horses neck, to the thoracic (from the base of the neck to where your saddle sits) to lumbar vertebrae –  generally towards the back of a saddle to the highest point of the hind end –  then you have the sacral vertebrae (which is fused) and caudal/coccygeal vertebrae, which make up the latter part of the spine through the hind quarters and your horses tail bone.  Your horses withers are made up with thoracic vertebrae that have larger dorsal spinous processes that form the ridge we see at the base of our horses necks.

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The Equine Spine, you can see the smaller sections of vertebrae along the bottom and the dorsal spinous processes (where kissing spine occurs) sticking up above. 

A horse that has Kissing Spine will be in near constant pain, from very low grade to bad enough to cause dangerous, unpredictable behaviour. Horses with kissing spine can go for years without it being diagnosed, because unfortunately the symptoms can be very subtle. In my geldings case (and what is often found in a lot of horses) he couldn’t maintain a canter unless in straight lines and fell out of it, or bunny hopped / motorbiked around corners to power himself onwards. He began to refuse jumps (which he never ever did) and got to the point where he was bucking in the corners of the arena; where his spine moved more to bend round a corner and became more painful. His symptoms didn’t all present at the same time, every day and we actually only found out about his KS as he went lame in his hind end and went into Leahurst for a full body bone scan.
A fair amount of horses have kissing spine, but it’s often higher-performance horses in which the condition is noticed (certainly quicker!) as happy hackers mainly do lots of straight lines with little bending being asked of them.

Horses with a higher severity of kissing spine may become irritable when being groomed over their back as well as being unhappy being saddled & rugged up. They often buck when ridden, which can develop into more dangerous behaviour. This behaviour will usually become more frequently/strongly displayed the longer the condition goes untreated and unfortunately often horses become aggressive and dangerous under saddle. Freddie didn’t show any of these symptoms, however he wouldn’t tolerate being sat on bareback and exploded whenever anyone bigger than me got on him. It turned out, that where his kissing spine lay was towards the back of the saddle. Because i’m so small (5’2 midget) I didn’t push the back of the saddle down much, but anyone taller or heavier than me did, which caused his explosions.

Freddie Kissing Spine

Freddie KS 2

These were Freddie’s scans upon his diagnosis of Kissing Spine. You can see the difference between the normal spinal processes and the KS areas. The white marks on the bone is damage caused by the processes touching; you can see how close 2 sections are in the scan directly above as well as the spinal processes more to the right totally touching/overlapping, ouch!

Kissing Spine can be caused by multiple things; unlike in a lot of cases for domesticated horses it isn’t always what is done with the horse by people that causes Kissing Spines. Conformation can cause it; for example a horse that is very short backed may be more likely to suffer from the condition in the future as there quite literally isn’t as much room between the vertebrae as a long backed horse of the same size has. Damage to the spine can also be done by horses generally being poorly put together, which is why breeding should be done so carefully. Horses that work hollow are also more likely to do damage, as the spine is flexed in more of a smile shape rather than the centre of the back lifting upwards to support the horse.
There is no doubt that Kissing Spine can also be caused by what we as humans do with our horses. A high-performance sports horse that takes a lot of impact down it’s back and spine (a 4* eventer, for example) will typically have more wear and tear on it’s body than a happy hacker. In Freddie’s case, he was in heavy work before his body had finished developing, which has (we are 99% certain) caused his damage.

Treatment of Kissing Spine in the modern world we live in can be varied. A lot of people go for injections & rehabilitation first, with surgery being the last option. Surgery can involve removing the sections that are causing problems, reshaping them so they no longer touch & cause pain. Physiotherapy is important in cases of kissing spine, as often the condition goes undetected for a while, which causes horses to over-compensate with other parts of their body to avoid the pain as much as possible. Fred for example was also diagnosed with Proximal Suspensory Desmitis, which more often than not is secondary and caused by something else. (In this case, over compensating with his hind end to avoid his back hurting, and so in time damaged his suspensory ligaments.)

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This picture shows the varying degrees that kissing spine can show in, from very low grade (1) to total overlapping (5). 

 

Kissing Spine is a very common condition among horses and I’d be prepared to bet if you scanned a yard of 100 horses, you’d be surprised how many had some form of ‘hot spot’ show up. Depending on the severity of the condition will alter the course of treatment and recovery. Often, horses with kissing spine that are retired to grass will manage perfectly normally with no treatment. Using physiotherapy and treatment, horses often come back into full work and can be back out competing the same year. It is important to keep the horses whole body in mind when treating and rehabilitating something with kissing spine, as to support the back sufficiently the horses have to learn to engage their core and step under with their hind end properly. This takes time and patience on our part, especially when dealing with horses that have had the condition for a long time as you can’t tell them that they don’t need to move in a wonky way any more and that their back wont hurt again! They have to build their muscle up slowly while effectively re-learning how to move like a normal horse.
It’s very much doable, which is a bonus for all of us (humans and our equine friends) as now Kissing Spine no longer has to spell retirement or worse in most cases.

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Somerford Camp 2018

This weekend just gone I ventured on my very first pony camp with Storm. It was his first one too, having only been on two outings previously I was slightly apprehensive about how he may behave, though it turned out I had no reason to worry (as usual with him!).
On the Friday we arrived at Somerford in the afternoon, a friend of ours took me & my little pony in her box (shout-out to Laura for being a fab box-driver, photographer and for also being someone who gets naffed off at ladies who fall of beds when paracletic and wake you up after a very long day.) The horses were stabled in a barn next door to the vets, with a couple of bales of shavings waiting for us. Storm was very vocal, having a lot to say for himself and wouldn’t stop neighing for what felt like ages. I can’t blame him being in a strange place, but it did get embarrassing after a while. I met Laura’s friends who’d also gone on the camp, Ruth and her lovely gelding Harry, Claire and the gorgeous Whizzy and Rachel with the smallest (yet fastest walking) pony in our group, Eeyore. They are all lovely and obviously horse mad (It’s so nice being around like-minded people). We went round the farm ride that afternoon. To start with Storm was a bit jig-joggy, but settled fairly quickly and was a superstar. He was happily at the back the whole way round, even during a couple of good long canters (and one accidental gallop that I didn’t know was accidental until we stopped). He barely pulled, didn’t get hot or silly and just proved how sensible he is.

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Upon arrival!

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Enjoying the farm ride on Friday afternoon. 

Evening arrived and after bedding the ponies down for the night we waited for tea. I never got the specific name but it was some kind of chicken and mushrooms in sauce with pastry on top which turned out to be very nice. Though I was so hungry I probably could’ve eaten Storm. It was ace to be able to go back out to him at night, the pavilion where we were staying was literally 4 feet from the stables. The night was not so good as the day. Between being cold (I stupidly only brought one thin sleeping bag) and the snoring, I must have had about 4 hours. Early to rise as ever, I got up to sort his stable out before our first lesson, cross country. The nerves were starting to set in, despite my use of rescue remedy (though it WORKS!) and I couldn’t really stop my legs from shaking as I tacked him up. The two other ladies in my group were lovely, Lesley on Super-Cob Diesel and Jo with her gorgeous Palomino (who’s a stunt/actors horse of the future!).
Our instructor for the weekend, David, met us there and we started in one of the water complexes. Storm started to settle eventually, with us popping a little log and some steps to warm up. In the lesson, I ended up putting my lovely pony at scarier fences than I ever thought we would do, certainly not any time soon. We ended up going pretty much all over the field, jumping logs, skinnies, roll tops, pheasant feeders, steps, rails, going through the water, brush fences and ditches. Some were combinations, others we had together in little courses. That lesson was probably my favourite of the whole weekend, he was an absolute super star and astounded me with how brave and willing he is. Here’s some of my favourite XC pics.
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That afternoon my group had polework, which actually ended up as gridwork. Storms never done a double before, let alone a grid, so again I had no expectations. We ended up jumping a decent sized grid (well, not for a showjumper but for me it felt like it!) and doing a mini course of 5 fences. Once again, he was fab! Total surprise as to how brave he is again, but god the pony can’t half jump! He’s going to be fab.

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Those poles became grids. #BravePants

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Such a pretty pony 🙂 

On the Sunday, we had show jumping first thing. For some reason, I was more nervous for that than cross country. Stormy warmed up lovely and forward, not feeling too stiff or tired from the previous two days. We popped a warm up fence before David threw us in the deep end round a course. I have to say, round the first course we did he jumped brilliantly. He felt so bold and ridable and given he’d never done a full course before, in a big scary arena with lots going on around, other horses being in the ring and fillers involved, I couldn’t believe the pony I was sat on was so young and green. When the fences went up, I had a bit of a confidence wobble, I rode him very badly towards the first fence and we sort of fell through it, we were both fine and it didn’t knock his confidence thank god. We started again and he refused the next, a green one with fillers underneath facing the other arena. I didn’t give him enough direction, but he jumped it fine the second time. I managed to get myself together and stop being a total sack of potatoes and he flew the rest, until we came to the final fence. I could feel him tiring, but I really did ride him at it. He took offence at the simple yellow oxer however, and decided he didn’t want to cooperate. It was our only real blip of the whole weekend to be fair to him, but its also the only time he’s been a bit naughty. He really wasn’t keen on it, which was immensely frustrating for me as he’d flown some of the ones that were actually scary and I’d really pushed through my own nerves, and of course being a frustrated crier means I did have a few well up. How embarrassing.
Anyway, he went over it as an upright in the end, so I ended on a good note and popped back over two smaller jumps just to finish.
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That afternoon after lunch we had our last lesson of the weekend (boo!) which was XC. We didn’t go mad, given they’d worked very hard and jumped a lot over the previous days. He got a bee in his bonnet about a new ditch and a pheasant feeder going away from his pals but again went over them both eventually, popped some logs into and out of the water and did a couple of other littler things but he really was tiring by this point, so we ended on a good note again! I could tell he was tiring as he started getting a bit more nappy and being a bit like a tired toddler. We had a nice stroll back to the stables, I untacked and pretty much straight away loaded and went home! Laura had to do two trips to take us all home, so took me & Storm first. A not too long trip later and we were home. He went out for a quick leg stretch and of course had a roll, got all muddy in his nice new rug then was quite happy to come in for his tea.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. I can’t wait for the next one!

The Beast From The East

Warning, a bit of a moan coming.
The last few days have seen an unprecedented change in the weather for us UK dwellers, buckets of snow and minus temperatures have left us all in a state of disarray. There aren’t enough layers in the world to keep out the bitter wind that’s swirling around, whipping up blizzards of snow from the ground and freezing water instantly. It makes having horses in winter ten times harder, taps and hosepipes are all frozen, the ground is rock solid and the mud divots in the field have become dangerous potholes. The horses are all walking round on two legs because the cold sends them all loopy and are unable to do anything since the arena has been frozen all week and I daren’t brave the snow and ice to hack out – it’d be a suicide mission.
I feel like it’s a refresher, as much as it’s a pain in the bum the cold snap has come after a very horrid, wet winter. I’m hoping it’ll cleanse all the bugs and bacteria out of the ground (the solid frost I mean) and then we’re going to move onto spring and it’ll start getting warmer and the springtime flowers will start popping up. Maybe I’m being optimistic… For myself personally, the last month or two have been an absolute drag. I’m like a swan on a pond, all chilled on the surface but paddling like a loon underneath.
I’m unsure which direction to go in in terms of my life and it’s starting to get me down a touch. Before anyone says ‘you’re too young to be worrying about it! Give it time!’, whilst the sentiment is much appreciated being the kind of person I am, I like to have a plan of action where possible and despise uncertainty, so having no clue of where my entire life is going is very unsettling. I know what I want from ‘life’ in terms of the big things, but how to get there I have no clue. I’d insert the shrugging lady emoji now if I could. In my life I’ve wanted to be a fair few things, a vet, an actress, writer (still aiming for that eventually!), young horse backer, bridal shop owner, barrister, and now I draw a blank. If only I could be paid to write my silly little anecdotes and play ponies. In terms of college, I really am struggling with seeing the point. It’s so incredibly boring, especially when I keep having epiphanies about what “really matters”,  which makes me feel like I’m wasting my time sitting in a classroom doing boring things day in day out when I could be actually living, it isn’t like I legally have to be there any more (pro of being an official grown-up) so technically I could just say sod it and bugger off into the sunset to have another epiphany and probably a rather large existential crisis (which I’m already having.)
I’ve also noticed something quite interesting which is a further proof of how our subconscious makes us do soooo many things linked to what’s happening in our lives without us even realising. Cutting to the chase, since I’ve been feeling slightly out of control (anxiety and a lack of control don’t go hand in hand, my poor heart) I’ve had a couple of OCD tendencies slowly creeping back, for example brushing my teeth 4/5 times a day (I know, eye roll right?). I think it’s my subconscious giving me something to control as much as I want, as IRL it’s pretty swirlytwirlyhelpme. Isn’t it interesting though? Without me even thinking about it my body is trying to make my feeling uncontrolled better by shoving something back into my head and going ‘HERE, CONTROL IT!!!’. I don’t want pity or anything by saying this on a public blog post, it’s just something that’s a fact of my life & I find it interesting that it’s cropped up again now. I mean, it’s annoying since I was at my most chilled & stress free before the existential crisis, but to quote Mr Gump, life is like a box of chocolate!

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He might be cute, but that face is full of mischief. 

To get back to something more equine-y since I’ve personal-infoed myself out now, Max and Storm have become partners in crime, being basically a massive pain. They’re driving Fred mad, fighting constantly and jumping on one another like idiots. Storm has got big bald spots on his face from Max’s nipping & Max has come in a few times with nicks in his new rug from what I’m assuming is Storms doing. They’d have ASBO’s by now if they were humans. It doesn’t help that the snow has covered what little grass was on the field, so they’re bored and looking for trouble. We do put hay out but that only entertains rambunctious youngsters for so long. They will insist on legging it over the ground which really isn’t suitable for it, but I wont keep them stuck in for days on end (Max would probably come over his stable door) so heyho!

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“MAAHM WAIT ITS COLD!”

For those that are friends with me on facebook, you’ll have already seen that Saint Storm had his first ever bout of naughty behaviour under saddle on Monday. He decided after all the impeccable behaviour he’s give me a run for my money. He decided he didn’t want to stand still after I got on and started to faff, for which I sat to my seat like glue and ticked him off verbally. He apparently took offence to this, and went off like a rodeo bronc across the arena. All riders will understand what I’m saying by that swooping feeling in your stomach coming when you realise the ground is rushing up to meet you and there’s no longer a neck in front of you. Yeah, he chucked me into next week. I haven’t come off for a few years, so it was well overdue (and it was my turn anyway, me and my bezzie Mia take it in turns to fall off, not on purpose but it always happens that way so it’s her turn again now). I managed to flip through the air, basically like an Olympic gymnast (or so I’d like to think) and landed square on my feet! I’ve never wanted a camera on me more than that moment, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever done. Storm carried on bucking like a pig for a few moments, I was just kind of stood there like what just happened, until he decided he was done being dramatic and walked back over to me as if to say why on earth did you jump off.
The joys of youngsters and freezing weather!

More soon, (probably, unless I melt into a puddle of despair at my lack of direction)

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Angelic, or so it would seem…

A Battle for Confidence.

This is a longer, more chatty post. Story telling with a point to it if that makes sense.
The other day I jumped my green 5 year old over his first proper filler, in the rain, on the first ride since he’s been clipped and after a few days off. The filler was our bale covers that have a wall pattern on one side and hearts / diamonds on the other. They cover bales of straw or hay and are very effective. It’s got me thinking how much I’ve changed as a rider over the last 2/3 years.
Just over 2 years ago, I did my first show with Freddie. All it was was a quiet local show, and one ridden class. I was so nervous, I went in the ring (almost didn’t), walked once round and tried to come back out again. I didn’t, we did our first show together and got a 3rd place rosette for it. Afterwards I was elated. The previous year, I had gone to a large summer show with my loan pony at the time, and he was playing up. I was petrified, and despite it only being a walk and trot (nervous and novice riders!) class, I went in lead by my Mum and came out after walking a lap, a quivering wreck.

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Our first show.

I was terrified of riding, I completely admit. On more than one occasion, I was told to give up and thought to myself it isn’t worth all this anguish. How could I have gone from the 10 year old who wanted to be the next Ellen Whittaker (my idol at the time) to someone who jumped off in floods of tears at every little spook? The first time I remember feeling fear like never before was once about 7 years ago.
I was riding my pony, Shandi, out on the gallop track at the yard we were on. She was an absolute one in a million, my best friend. I was convinced we were going to be champion show jumpers, she’d go over anything and everything from any stride, constantly looking after me as I scrambled on backwards or put her at a jump virtually sideways in a jump off at our local club. Anyway, we were trotting round the far end of the track when out of nowhere, a massive field sprayers (like the ones bigger than average tractors with big fold out arms) came up in the field next door. Despite being an incredibly honest pony, Shandi couldn’t help being terrified in that moment. She span on the spot and took off up the field, and I didn’t let go of the reins as I came off. I was dragged a short distance and off she went. She ended up diving into the arena on the Yard, scared half to death. I tried to go after her, but ended up on the floor unable to see through the tears. I apparently rang my mum who misunderstood me and thought I said “there’s blood everywhere” (Sorry about that) and they came to find me in a sorry heap on the rubber floor. That’s the first time I came off and didn’t want to get back on. I did, through force, but that’s the last time I rode her. The next day, she was crippled with stress-induced laminitis. It could’ve been the anxiety from missing her field friends, but I think somewhere in my head I blamed myself for riding out on the track that day and her being scared half to death. We ended up having to end her suffering some 3 months later. I got over it; kind of, getting back into riding again, but honestly my confidence never really came back.

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Shandi not long after we got her, to jumping at our local club. Kids, don’t sit backwards to hack out your pony.

 

I had my moments, and for a while my confidence came back but it took a sharp decline after a couple of falls once again. Then, I lost my beautiful Bella, the heart horse that deserved the absolute world. We’d only had her about two years, but she touched my life like no horse ever had before. She died and I felt my world fall apart. She was too young, only 12, too kind and loving. All that cruelly stolen away because someone had been too greedy and taken advantage of her kind, willing nature and show jumped her too high far too young, and had destroyed her legs.

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Aptly named Arc Angel, this mare lived up to her name and then some.

Freddie and me fell out, he frightened me for a good few months. He has his moments now, but we’ve long since ‘clicked’ and I understand him completely. I’ve had a fair few falls since Shandi, and even more near misses. Part of my confidence comes from the fact I know now that I can handle mischievous behaviour off our equestrian friends. It may scare me at times, but I believe in my capabilities more now than ever. At the college I did my equine course at, we rode the riding school ponies twice or three times a week. Despite what they might tell you, unless you let them follow each other round in big circles at a slow pace, riding school ponies are not easy. They know their jobs and don’t really want to do anything but that. (For the most part, and this is talking about my personal experiences at one riding school.)  I had more than one near miss, as did everyone on my course! If those ponies taught us one thing, it’s how to ride something naughty. In one case, I was bolted with down a hard, fairly narrow track out on a hack with my instructor and friend. Being bolted with is my worst fear, simply because it’s so damn dangerous and you can’t do anything to stop a horse that wants to go. I didn’t fall off in that instance, and I did manage to stop the pony. Though at the time, I got off onto shaking legs and pounding heart, I got back on the pony and rode through open fields on the way home. A win for me and my personal battle with nerves.

My point to all this, is that not too long ago any one of those factors from my first few lines (rain, fresh clip, few days off, pony in a spooky mood) would have meant I got off after five minutes, shaking like a leaf and on the verge of tears. Now it doesn’t, and that’s a win. I still get nervous. At times, my heart pounds and my stomach churns. I get clammy hands and dry mouth and all the doubts in the world come into my head. The difference is, is that I’m done letting it beat me. I sit deeper, straighten my back and kick on. The rush after I’ve beat my nerves, whether it’s jumping a new fence, cantering through an open field or some days just simply getting on board makes it worth every second.

My message is that if I can do it, anyone can because I swear on my beautiful horses life, I was a wreck that didn’t see a way to be confident ever again. If you want it enough, don’t let anything stop you. I didn’t, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Even if some days all you can do is sit and walk, do it. Every tiny step counts, more than you’ll ever know.

This is dedicated to the memory of Shandi and Bella, the two chestnut mares that never lived up to their stereotype!

Dark nights & dreary days.

Though the title seems somewhat sad, it’s generally what a British winter is all about. Though today we’ve gotten lucky and while it’s cold enough to freeze my hands off, the sun is out and the sky is blue and it’s all rather pretty.

Apologies again for my absence. I’d go into detail about how I’ve restarted college and it’s cut time down so when I sit down to write I think I should be doing that essay or this project, but who cares about boring stuff like that?

I can’t even remember what was happening the last time I put together a little post. Max has come home, our favourite welshie has returned and is still behaving. He’s actually a lovely little ride, obviously green and stuff but he is super sweet. He popped his first jump under saddle the other day, and the biggest problem I had was that the saddle isn’t comfortable! Freddie & Storm have been on a kind of holiday, living out in the field for the past couple of weeks due to us having to use our stables as tack rooms as the barn is being replaced & the stable roof is being replaced. They look like yetis, it’s almost embarrassing. Fluffed up to the hilt and rather fat off the grass. They’re coming in next week, at which point it’ll be back in work for Storm and pottering around for Fred. Storm’s going to need clipping, which I’m dreading. I’m not very good at ‘lines’ when it comes to clipping, so his legs may look a bit wonky.

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Little Max, all grown up.

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Teddy & Bertie have had their first haircut, and for the     first 24 hours they ran round like they were on speed. I think the newfound aero-dynamics must have sent them loopy.

Here is a picture of said new-doo the day it was done. Don’t they look dapper?

Something very exciting that happened recently is that I got to have a ride on Farry, an arab I used to own. He was 18 months when we got him and around 2.5/3 (ish? it was a long time ago) when he went back to his breeder. It’s only taken 6 years for me to get onboard. What a difference it was, going from my round little natives to something fine and bouncy. His canter was quite possibly the comfiest I’ve ever ridden, it just felt rather surreal being on this elegant creature. Thanks again to his breeder & owner Jaymie for trusting me to get onboard!

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Fareem

The temperature has dropped today (enough for frost & icy windows this morning) and I felt myself conforming to the frenzy of panic that happens when you haven’t planned in extra time to de-mist the windows. I whipped out the ice scraper and blasted the heating on the windows like there was no tomorrow. I feel like being dramatic over the weather is something that may be quintessentially English. You see on the news about hurricanes in america and while people evacuate, there doesn’t seem to be any panic and some even stay put, waiting out the storm in hurricane bunkers. Or for example, the wildfires in Australia that you never hear about. They happen, but it’s something that’s part of living in an oven such a hot climate that people just deal with it. Over here, it gets a bit frosty and the gritters are out throwing salt all over the place, the roads pile up with cars driving at 10mph on the off-chance the gritters may have missed some ice and everywhere you go you see people rubbing their hands and going “Can you believe how cold it is?!” The most popular phrases in the UK currently are that one, “Can you believe how dark it is?!” and “Can you believe it’s nearly Christmas!”
People seem generally astounded at the events that happen annually, such as darkness, the cold (I mean come on, we live in England) and Christmas.

For horsey people, winter is the hardest time of year. Mucking out trebles, gateways and fields become poached enough to lose your wellies and your dignity, and horses are overly exuberant from the nip in the air and the lack of exercise brought on by dark nights, often leading to dumping you in a heap on the still slightly cripsy arena floor. I feel your pain equestrian folk, yet winter looms on despite my despair. It doesn’t help when you’re clumsy and more often than not go skiing down the yard when it’s a bit wet – let alone icy. What can we do to make winter easier for ourselves? Answer, not much. Good layers and waterproofs are a godsend, you may look like the Michelin man but you’ll be warm and dry (and it’s extra padding for the risk of an over-excited buck, should you come off.)
Unless you’ve got reems of money to throw at your field gateways, there will be mud. Tip of mine, don’t wash it off the horses legs. Though its unsightly, washing it off actually makes the skin more fragile and makes it 10x easier for bacteria to get in (which is what causes mud fever). You genuinely are better off leaving it to dry and brushing it off in the morning. It also helps if you don’t clip the legs off, but that isn’t always possible. I resort to getting some pink plastic dentists gloves to pick feet out so I don’t have to stick my hands in the gloopy, frozen muck. I’m sure the horses will appreciate not being hosed when the temperature drops too, I know I would.

Stuck in a Rut

So much so that I couldn’t even come up with a name for this update.
Apologies for this being somewhat delayed. I’ve been in a slump often referred to as writers block. With this blog, my book, everything. Boo. Sitting and staring at a blank screen, with the cursor blinking expectantly at me is the most frustrating thing ever. Even now as I’m typing this I keep stopping and wondering what sentence to string together next.

The ponies are all well. A little too well in Freddie’s case, he’s on a diet. He isn’t happy about it but I’m at my wits end trying to get the weight off so he’ll have to cope. He’s hacking round the woods now and could go further on the roads, I’m just contemplating whether it is safe to take him out on his own. He’s usually good, just a bit more on his toes and though it doesn’t bother me I don’t want him to jar his legs. We went out to our first show in about a year last month. Credit where it is due, the chubster was flawless. He behaved impeccably on the showground and in the classes (In-Hand as we can’t do ridden yet.) It was like he’d never been away. We came 7th in the first class, M&M, however the judge said he looked & went beautifully and was nicely put together (she couldn’t even tell he’d had surgery!) and it was simply that she prefers welshes. He was just as perfect in the second one and we came 3rd, and qualified for Blue Chip. Very proud moment. His only issue was getting back on the trailer, which he needs encouragement for. He isn’t frightened, just stubborn.
Max goes away to be backed on Monday, he seems (I’m tempting fate here) to have turned a new leaf the last few times I’ve worked with him. He’s been… GOOD! He still has an obsession with standing on the mounting block but at least he isn’t running away from it any more. He is still the big boss in the field, though our new(ish) addition Alfie gives him a run for his money. Storm gets picked on by everyone the poor sod, he keeps coming in full of bites. He’s being as good as ever though he’s frightened of my new coat and wont let me catch him with it on. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s red that offends him or the new coat smell. He has a natural jump on him, I know that from his first day with us when he jumped clear out of the arena. Only, under saddle he’s not as sure. We’re working on getting him to actually jump the jump rather than half jump it and take the rails out. In fairness to him, he is incredibly honest and does try everything. It’s just inexperience and the fact that he’s only actually been back under saddle since I’ve had him. He’ll get there..
I’m debating taking him to a dressage in september for some experience. I’ve only ever done a little mini one we did at college and he’s never done one so an experience it will be! I’m sure he’ll go round completely hollow and probably spook at the judges, but at this point so long as we get round the test it’s a win for me, given his utter greenness (is that a word? You know what I mean.)

I gave up there and bobbed to pets at home to get our new additions harnesses.
We’ve recently brought two Miniature Schnauzer puppies into our lives. Teddy & Bertie are absolutely mad, but so lovely. Teddy is a little bigger, Bertie with a much whiter face. I genuinely think that having two puppies is like having an actual baby. Only you don’t have to follow babies round the house constantly in case they decide to poop on your carpet and you can trust that when you put them to bed they wont eat it. Well in most cases anyways. I suppose I could have got those weird dog nappies but then with the fur and other things it’d just be a massive mess.

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Teddy at the front, Bertie behind

Following that I went up to the farm to ride (one of the pros of having horses out overnight, no jobs!) and decided to take Fred out on his first hack since before his ops. He’s been around the woods, but we have direct access to them so it’s not really off the yard. Anywho, the last time we went out on our own on the roads we had an incident with a van going over the motorway bridge that frightened him (and was a bit of an ‘oh no’ moment for me too, though that’s not the word I used at the time) so I did wonder what he’d do. Tell you what, he was better than he ever has been. He went straight over the motorway bridge and didn’t even step off the path when an imbecile in a car overtook us too quickly & far too close on the middle of the bridge. It made us both jump as you can’t hear anything coming up behind you with the motorway being so loud, but he was ace. Proper trusty steed. We had a mooch about the roads, passing some people who had a young girl with them that was awe-struck and said “Look! Just like a police horse!”

Anyway, sometimes to de-compress from life taking time out to just have a plod about on your own is all you need. Well, it’s what works for me! The only downside is that to get to more off road hacking you have to do quite a bit on the roads which is a bit too much for Fred just yet, so we’re sticking to on road at the minute.
I’m going to stop this little update here as I’m back in the block.

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Slow Down for Horses

Road safety is something that is pressed on riders from a young age, and rightly so. From Hi-Vis to head cams, as riders (MOST of us) we do everything possible to prevent accidents. One of the most unfortunate things about being a British Equestrian is the lack of bridle paths. Most us have to go on at least some roads to get to any kind of off road hacking, which is becoming more dangerous as the years go by.

Riding on the roads isn’t ideal, but is a necessity in the equestrian world. Sadly, a lot of drivers nowadays don’t respect the space needed to pass horses safely, resulting in a lot more accidents and near misses than there should be in a modern world. Our farm is on a ‘country lane’ and the speed limit is national (60mph) which frankly, is ridiculous. Our arena is right on the bend and alongside the road – with no option to move it, not that we should have to – and the amount of boy racers we’ve had virtually flying round is scary. We’ve had cars on their roof in the middle of the arena, men on bikes flipping over the fence, a tractor with a 30ft trailer stacked with hay tip and fall in as well as others. All because, people go far too fast, can’t slow down for the bends and lose control. Imagine what would happen if someone came round the blind bend at that speed and one of the multiple riders on our road was out hacking? It doesn’t even bare thinking about.

Speaking from personal experience, I have had several incidents far too close for comfort simply because drivers are in such a hurry to get past, or are speeding on country lanes. One involved hacking Fred out on his own (which I wouldn’t do unless he was 110% safe on roads.) We were walking over the motorway-bridge that we have to cross to get off our lane, on our way home. A large van came out of nowhere, flying up behind us, slamming on at the last second. This caused Fred to spook, taking off over the bridge, unaided by the fact there was another van coming the other way that didn’t slow down. I was lucky he is more sensible & didn’t bolt completely, and that the van actually did manage to mostly stop and didn’t skid – which would’ve meant us being hit. The situation was worse, as the motorway bridge passes over the M56, which is incredibly loud so neither of us could hear the van until the last second.

KILL YOUR SPEED, NOT MY HORSE

From 2010 to April this year, 222 horses and 38 riders have been killed on Britain’s roads.
According to the British Horse Society, 80% of these accidents were caused by drivers travelling too fast or not giving enough space. Last year, the BHS launched the ‘Dead Slow’ campaign, in hopes to raise awareness of how dangerous incidents on the roads involving horses can be. Not only for the horse and rider but for the driver and all passengers in the car as well. Since the launch of the campaign, the BHS told of a 29% increase in road incidents reported to them. Whilst this is a start, it is terrifying that horses and riders are still being killed on the roads today.
Prior to this, a memorable facebook page (with over 40,000 followers today) was set up by Lauren De Grunchy. This page involves riders stripping off for the camera with the caption “Will you slow down for me now?”. The message behind the page was to raise awareness again for horses and riders on the road, as drivers would definitely slow down for an almost nude rider!

Most car drivers are not horsey, and perhaps don’t realise how quickly a situation can change. Horses can go from a sedate walk to sideways at 30mph+ in a split second. They weigh half a ton, a lot of them more. The damage a horse can do to your car is catastrophic. For those that say horses shouldn’t be on the roads and that roads are made for cars, that is not an argument. If you’re going to be that petty, technically roads were designed for horses to go down as guess what? Before the car was the horse and cart.
Horses have every right to share the roads. No matter how you feel about horses, remember there are people on board them. People with lives, families, everything to live for. They are just enjoying their hobby, as you might be driving your car to enjoy yours.

 

Be Safe, Be Seen

To remain safer and to allow drivers to spot them earlier & quicker, a lot of riders wear Hi-Visibility clothing. There are SO many products out there now to ensure you are as visible as possible, there is really no reason not to wear it. Riders that don’t wear hi-vis and are spotted are usually scolded by the community, for giving us all a bad name and risking their lives for no reason! It doesn’t have to be expensive, there are plenty of cheaper brands out there and it all does the same job.

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Mia & Puzzle along with myself out on a hack. We always have to use roads to get to the bridle paths, here she is sporting her Hi-Vis!

There is no doubt about it, a lot of drivers drive irresponsibly. They aren’t all bad, but some perhaps don’t even realize how to overtake a horse. They aren’t bikes, they might not continue in a straight line at the same speed.
Dear Driver,
When you fly past us with inches to spare, you are risking your life.
My horse weighs over half a ton.
How do you think that would end, if he ended up lay on your windscreen?
That is why, when I ask you to slow down with a wave of my arm
I am not just doing it to hold you up, and get in your way.
I am trying to save our lives.

Up in the saddle, I can see and hear things you cannot.
I can see a car coming on the other side of the road, on the blind bend you insist on overtaking me on. Hear a tractor engine grumbling behind us, feel the tension in my horses back, as your speed frightens him.

Anything from a dog barking to a plastic bag flapping could create a small spook, which would result in my horse being in the middle of the road in a heartbeat. Do you forget, horses can go from a sedate walk to 30mph+ in seconds?

It isn’t just the horses life you’re at risk of ending. It is mine, as well as your own. Best case scenario, you injure my horse. Worst case, you kill us all.
Your car could be a lethal weapon. A simple knock could be a broken leg, or a fright enough to bolt. No matter how you feel about horses, remember that they did not ask to be in front of your car that day. Think of the life of the rider in the saddle, it is potentially in your hands.
Next time to try to squeeze past a horse and rider, or don’t slow down, just remember the person sat in the saddle. They have everything to live for, who are you to risk ending their life to be 30 seconds quicker?
If we didn’t have to share roads with cars, we wouldn’t.  Our bridle paths are going extinct, we have no choice.

Please, pass wide and slow. Slow down to 15mph and give a cars width.
Don’t overtake on a bend, or come flying past revving your engine.

Respect horses. Respect riders. Save Lives.