Monday 26 November 2007

How Charlie learns

I was hacking out on Charlie today, and he was absolutely great - confident, steady, forward-going - its now just over a year since Charlie arrived, and it struck me how far he has come.

When he arrived, he was so spooky that his former owner was concerned about him bolting out of our yard, and he had a reputation for freaking out when he encountered new things. He had been sat on, but couldn't hack out and couldn't school, because he had become so frightened of their arena that he panicked whenever they took him in.

It was very clear that if you pushed him beyond his comfort zone he would lose it, panic and stop being able to learn.

We were happy to take him back to basics, and do everything slowly, but the interesting thing about him is that provided you give him time and build his confidence then he actually learns in huge leaps.

I had expected we would have to do everything with him in tiny increments - for instance, I thought it would take several stages before he was happy to be compete or work in a new environment, and that we would have to build up very gradually. In fact, it was over 6 months before we even tried to load him, and when we did he loaded and travelled brilliantly; just the second time we took him out, he came out of the trailer very confidently, giving us a very clear feeling that he knew what he was doing. As proof of the pudding, he not only coped with the travelling but was also happy going into an indoor school for the first time and doing a dressage test in a brand new outdoor school, very similar to the one that had worried him at his first owners.

[As an aside, you always knew when he had lost confidence, because he flat out refused to move, and if you tried to force him he would explode(!). We learnt to listen to him the hard way...!]

It was the same with hunting and hacking him out on his own - once his confidence is established, he seems to be able to generalise very easily and actually is an incredibly fast learner. All credit to our chiropractor, who sent him to us, and said she had a feeling he would be a star ;-)

Friday 23 November 2007

Good feet, great owners!

Saw a fabulous horse yesterday...His owner had emailed me a few months ago wondering if a crumbly footed warmblood could go without shoes. We talked about diet and she did a great job revising his feed and setting him up for having his shoes off.

So 6 weeks ago his shoes came off, and thanks to his owner's preparation he was happy on grass straight away and on roads within a few days. Since then his owner has ridden him every day, always within his comfort zone and on surfaces he was happy with.

When I saw him yesterday you would have sworn he had switched feet with a different horse...Although he still has weak digital cushions he has superb hoof wall, great frogs and lovely concavity. There is no trace of the weak hoof wall, flare and white line infection he had a few weeks ago. He is fantastic :-) and so is his owner :-) I will try and post pics shortly!

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Much better!

Phew, my hopes that our run of bad luck is over, at least for now, seem to be realised.

I took Charlie hunting - first time on his own - yesterday. We cheated, as we did have an escort (our kind hunt secretary!) who hacked to the meet with us, but he did not have any of our other horses to nanny him.

Luckily for me, he was awesomely sure-footed slipping and slithering down some horrible little paths for the first half an hour or so, and was unfazed despite my saddle at one point slipping down towards his neck (!).

What Charlie hadn't realised, however, was that sometimes when one is out hunting one gallops - very fast, with several other horses, and (yesterday anyway!) on home ground... :-) he thought this was marvellous and for the first time ever got slightly strong, but his manners overall were impeccable, so I am not holding it against him! We will see how he goes over the next few times, and we can easily change tack (literally and metaphorically!) if need be.

Today was a lovely day - I was trimming horses in south Devon and had booked in to go and see a new horse whose owner was concerned about him. I was only scheduled to go and have a chat to her, but turned up to find a very handsome grey cob, with terribly high heel, long toes and a horrible, wasted digital cushion and frog...

His owner said that she had found his stride shortening over the past few months and he had started tripping and being very reluctant to go forward, culminating in him going lame. I don't normally agree to take shoes off horses then and there, but today was an exception as the horse was clearly unhappy and was only going to get worse if he was left.

I trimmed him, and we spent (as usual!) a long time talking about his diet, exercise routine and management, and then came the moment of truth when I asked his owner to take him out and walk and trot him on the road.

Both his owner and I had the feeling that he was much happier out of his shoes, and it appeared we had got the right impression as he immediately moved off better and actually trotted up level on tarmac. He and his owner have a lot of work to do to build his hooves and especially his digital cushion back up to full health, but he is already (literally!) on the road to rock-crunching hooves.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Waiting for the next thing to happen...!

After a really trouble-free few weeks, the last few days have been a bit more problematic...!

It turned out that Andy has cracked a rib, and so has been struggling all week with riding, but by the end of the week he was a lot better. So on Friday, after a day of trimming other people's horses, I spent the evening getting ours ready for the opening meet on Saturday...

All seemed to be going fine, and we decided to take Felix and Bailey as the opening meet isn't really the place for green horses. Saturday morning came, and Conto was the first casualty, as he had a slightly puffy hock...Its not really bothering him but he has obviously either knocked it or got kicked by one of the others, so that is him off games for a few days...

We then got the meet and it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful day in amazing countryside...and it was, until first I made an operator error and got myself and Felix in between a bog and some low trees, which resulted in me being swept off and landing in the bog myself (!).

It was mucky and embarrassing, but the day got worse when Bailey and Andy came a cropper on a very steep narrow path and she slipped down and thoroughly cut herself, from quarters to fetlock and everything in between. Shehad to be stitched up, and was very good, as was our vet, but all in all not a terribly enjpyable couple of days...

Added to the fact that the weather has now definitely changed for the wetter, and waterproofs are go... :-( Roll on next week, and lets hope for an improvement(!)

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Everyone on their best behaviour...

I had a bit of time yesterday afternoon to practice loading the Conto and Monsoon, neither of whom had gone in the trailer since they arrived here in May and August respectively.

Both were a bit sticky to load in their old yards, but they are so chilled out now that I was hoping for the best, especially since I wanted to take Conto out to a meet again on Wednesday to give him another quiet hour or so hunting as his second day out.

Both of them were angelic, walking straight in with no fuss or bother, on their own, and I was really pleased with them both.

Proof of the pudding today, when I took Conto over to a local meet - he walked straight in, travelled like a perfect gentleman, unboxed nicely at the meet and off we went. He behaved impeccably, even letting me jump off to do a couple of awkward gates and standing nicely to let me get back on. What a darling!

We had a couple of nice little canters and kept out of everyone's way, then came home on the buckle...Lovely. If he keeps this up the next few times I will be VERY happy!

Monday 12 November 2007

Fun in the sun...

The weather down here at the moment is glorious - for me its more than worthwhile having a wet summer if we get an autumn like this as a pay-back!

The news over the weekend was that Conto had his first day out hunting, and was a very good boy, although his eyes were out on stalks - a party as good as this was not something he had previously encountered!

I took Felix out this morning, and we had a happy few hours out - it always feels really naughty sneaking out on a Monday morning to go hunting, but since I work on Sundays its not as bad as it sounds ;-)

Wednesday 7 November 2007


Today was a first for me...Monsoon has been in work for a few weeks now, and is proving to be a real lady - brave on her own, fun but calm in company and bomb-proof in traffic.

I've ridden her out a fair bit, but today Andy and I took her and Charlie out for a mini-blast, on a route where we have the opportunity for several canters on wide open fields with perfect going :-)

I have ridden thoroughbreds before, and their length of stride and relaxed way of galoping is always lovely, but this morning was different...

We set off very quietly, just trotting round the margin of the field, and then Andy and Charlie tipped into canter...well so did Monsoon, as you would expect, and she was just bubbling along in the quietest possible canter, barely ticking over...but then I looked across at Charlie - to find he was stretching out and cantering with a focussed look on his face - not flat-out, but definitely putting some effort in. I suddenly realised that I was on a different sort of thoroughbred - the sort that has actually won :-) I'd not had that feeling before, and boy, is it good!


Saturday 3 November 2007

Back from the US, and great to be home:-)

We had a fantastic time in the US - it was a privilege, as always, to be able to spend time with Charles Hall, farrier extraordinaire from Tennessee (he, Sarah and I had not met up for a couple of years so had loads to catch up on!). Paige was the perfect host, combining amazing hospitality with almost continuous hoof-stuff, including dissections, trimming, riding (yay!) and some fascinating time with Dr Ray Goer who is carrying out research into laminitis and insulin resistance at Virginia Tech.

It was brilliant to get home, however, and find that Andy had decided to extend and improve our track system yet again (!) and to effectively double the size of the gravel yard...he demolished a horrible Leylandii hedge in the process (with the help admittedly of a JCB) and it looks great (if you are a hoof anorak with a passion for pea gravel and shillet!).

The horses were all on fine form, and Felix was super-keen to get out hunting this morning, with Andy and Bailey, for the first time in a couple of weeks...

I gave in and clipped Conto and Monsoon, the only 2 horses to escape the clippers so far (!) and "unzipped" them, as they are both boiling in this glorious unseasonal sunshine...It can roll on, as far as I am concerned - we are owed it after this summer :-)