Monday 31 August 2009

"Burning questions"

There was a great comment posted on a blog entry that I made a couple of days ago, and I hope the poster doesn't mind me using it here:

I can understand that you don't want to give advice on specific horses. But you have to understand that we are desperate out here! There are so few people that have seen many navicular horses. Here are my burning questions. They are general in nature though. As you see a horse recover do you begin under saddle exercise at the gait that they are sound in. Ex. if they are sound at the walk do you walk them under saddle even if they are not completely sound at trot? Do you give any palliative drugs such as bute or Adequan as you progress through recovery? How long (in general) is it for horses to recover...months? years?
I totally sympathise with the frustrations of wanting answers for your own horse - I was in exactly the same position myself, and its maddening, I know. I'm also aware that advice over the internet is usually disastrous, because its based on partial information, but I'll answer Ligeda's "burning questions" as far as I'm able to.

We work horses here only to the extent that they are sound. In practice that often means that "soundness" develops in gradual steps, so that a horse will be sound in a straight line in the field in walk before it becomes sound on a circle in trot on a concrete surface.

This mirrors how "navicular" horses become lame, so its not surprising that they become sounder in reverse, as it were. We always work with the horse's vet and we find that the horses' soundness generally improves as a result of correct work; its typically beneficial to work them within the limits of their soundness (but not beyond that!) as that limit then gradually increases.

We don't use analgesics and I can't really see circumstances when they would be useful in our set-up, although of course if the horse was prescribed drugs for a separate condition that would be another matter.

Some horses are already on bute when they arrive, but we ask owners to send horses here off bute, or else we stop it when they arrive. This is partly because we are able to use the different surfaces here to keep horse's comfortable and partly because we need to have a true picture of their soundness so that we can develop an effective rehab programme for them.

As to how long they take to recover, it is dependent to a large extent on how long they have been lame. A horse which has only developed soft tissue damage to the DDFT will recover more quickly than a horse who has damage which has progressed to the navicular bone itself.

However, as a rule we suggest owners need to send horses here for at least 8-12 weeks, as we need that length of time to make a difference to them. Normally they will be significantly sounder within that time period, and will make further progress at home over the next 8-12 weeks - so all in all, you should be able to see most of the benefit within 6 months or so, although sometimes horses carry on improving for longer.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Mileage - week ending 30th August

A generally quiet week this time round, partly due to filthy weather - gales, inches of rain, ex-hurricanes, all more reminiscent of November than August...still what do you expect for a bank holiday? Roll on September and an Indian summer (!)

Anyway, hunting mileage was:

Bailey: 14
Felix: 17
Charlie: 15
Jacko: 10

Friday 28 August 2009

I can't give advice if I haven't seen the horse...

I'm getting lots of emails from people wanting advice about their horses, and although thats nothing new, the volume is increasing, perhaps because of the book.

I'm always happy to hear from people and try to answer queries as best I can - often the best option is to send people to the book, as there is a lot more detail there and it saves me repeating myself ;-)

I thought it was worth putting on here, though, a reminder that I can't give people specific advice unless I've seen their horse myself - each horse is different and a programme that works well for one will probably need to be radically modified for another horse - there's just no "one size fits all", especially when you are talking about rehabbing horses which have been long-term lame.

You need to be very careful not to over-stress hooves straight out of shoes, which is why the surfaces we have here are essential; a level of work which may be fine for a horse here, which can work on pea gravel, might be totally inappropriate if the horse had to work on tarmac instead, for example.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Wacko Jacko

Our friend Edward has taken both Hector and Charlie hunting over last season and this, but yesterday he truly stepped up to the plate, taking Jacko out in the teeth of hurricane warnings and despite it being a 6.30am start :-)

Although Jacko had been out with Andy several times this month, either the hurricane, the location or a change of rider brought about a deterioration in his manners, and he spent the morning bouncing and fidgeting, although as Edward said, there was no malice in it, just misplaced enthusiasm (!).

Fortunately Edward was calm and unflappable as always, and eventually his attitude filtered through to Jacko - more or less! I wished I'd had the camera out, but if I had perhaps things wouldn't have turned out so well ;-)

Tuesday 25 August 2009

...and hurricanes

... the remains of Hurricane Bill, or as one met. site is calling it: "ex-Bill", blew in this morning...

Apparently the surf is great, but my brother and nephew were camping in the field in their tent, and had to evacuate themselves and their puppy back into the house at about 4.30am to avoid being blown and washed away...The whole house is now a giant drying room :-)

The horses are rather unimpressed and are keeping to the barn for now - I think the weather is supposed to cheer up later on, but they were all enthusiastic about coming in despite it being 5am and dark(!).


We had a slightly overdue visit from the equine dentist yesterday - he'd gone down with appendicitis (ouch!) over the summer and had to reschedule us once he was back on his feet.

All of our horses of course have been done many times before - they are all on a once a year maintenance check-up, which certainly makes it easier on both the dentist and the horses.

I find it hard to understand why people don't bother to have horses' teeth done regularly - we've had several arrive here who have not been done for years, and have developed sores or even ulcers from sharp teeth.

Even if they tolerate being ridden, or are ridden bitless, it must be horrible for them to have sharp points digging into their cheeks every time they chew :-(

Interestingly, these horses have not usually shown too many obvious problems chewing or being bitted, which makes you wonder how bad things have to get before there is an "obvious" problem.

The other issue of course is that once teeth have been neglected for a few years, it is a much longer and more difficult process for the dentist to sort them out, and more uncomfortable for the horse. By contrast, our own horses are all happy to done by the dentist, and even seem to enjoy the process.

PS: I am a complete hypocrite of course, because although I get the horses regularly done by the dentists, I am far too frightened to go anywhere near one myself :-0

Sunday 23 August 2009

Saturday 22 August 2009

Mileage - week ending 23rd August

A quieter week for the hunters, with Felix going out twice and covering 30.3 miles, Bailey covering 15 and Charlie 15.3 miles. Andy has been flat out with LSE stuff, so has only been able to get out hunting once. Neither of us will get out tomorrow as we are off to meet our new puppy, although we will not be bringing him home for a while as he is currently only 5 weeks old :-)

And yes, I will post photos of him as soon as we get back ;-)

Friday 21 August 2009

The grass is greener... south Devon! I was there trimming horses yesterday and several of the horses, due to circumstances entirely out of the owners' control, had been in lighter work than usual since I last saw them.

You would normally think that by late August the grass would be less of a problem, but all these horses had been faring extremely well even on limited, night-time grazing on relatively "poor" fields.

One client has just taken a second cut from her hay fields and got 70 big bales from 11 acres - thats nearly twice what we would get up here. It just goes to show how incredibly rich the land is down there but of course its proving a headache for horse-owners, as most horses just don't need anything like that level of goodness as a maintenance ration(!).

As I got back up here, of course, I got out of the truck after trimming all day in a t-shirt and put on a long-sleeved top and a fleece - home sweet home ;-)

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Its that time of year...

...when, unless the weather is really stunning, everything starts feeling just a little bit autumnal - horses thinking about changing their coats, trees thinking about changing their leaves, nights a bit longer and days a bit shorter - its still summer (allegedly!) but you can tell its days are numbered.

Down here the weather has been warm but cloudy, and it feels as if we are in limbo - not cold enough for lighting fires and rugging up horses, but not barbecue season by a long shot. The fact that hunting has started again puts the seal on the change of seasons, but thats a compensation, after all :-)

We had a fantastic photographer out with us last week, who's just posted some incredibly atmospheric shots, which capture the mood perfectly - they are at

Monday 17 August 2009

Some farriers came hunting...!

...and according to some friends of mine, their comments and language as they saw my truck pull in to the meet were quite colourful - along the lines of "Oh no, not one of those {insert colloquialism of your choice} shoeless people!"

We had 3 horses out, as did the farriers - and in fact although they clocked us straightaway, I didn't realise they were farriers till much later on.

The problem for them was that it was one of those mornings which start FAST and don't really let up - so there they were, in country they didn't know at 6am going like bats out of hell up hill and down dale - and one of them later admitted that he hadn't ridden since February :-0

After an hour they looked a bit shell-shocked and a couple of their horses had lost shoes (!). They were very game, and carried on till the finish, but had to be revived with tea and bacon butties provided by us regulars at the end.

Comment of the day from one of them: "At least when you lose a shoe they go a bit slower" - erm, not quite - he managed to ignore the fact that all 3 of us with barefoot horses were waiting for them, shutting gates behind them, then overtaking them and catching up the rest of the field while they brought up the rear ;-)

Saturday 15 August 2009

Mileage - week ending 15th August

Hunting mileage for this week:
Jacko and Charlie: 30.6 miles
Felix: 14 miles plus a few hundred fast yards competing at the inter-hunt relay - we came 6th :-)

The other horses have only been out on exercise but that may change next week(!)

Friday 14 August 2009

Good news about Angel and Blue!

Two pieces of good news, the first about Blue, who went home a month ago. I hadn't heard from his owner, who of course knew I was away on Ride Bare, but I was just beginning to worry about the pair of them (despite telling myself that no news was good news!).

Then I got a message yesterday, saying that Blue is on great form - "fabulous", to quote his owner, and she is delighted with his progress! I am so pleased that he is continuing to do so well, and that message made my day :-)

Second piece of good news is that the vet was here today, and I trotted up Angel for her, not having told her anything about his history. She was here because he had a minor injury to a hind leg (the good news is he's been cleared to come back into work again) but the best bit for me was that he was sound in front trotting on concrete and on tight turns - result!

Thursday 13 August 2009

Project Dexter - more horses needed!

While I was up with Sarah last month I had the chance to meet up with Prof Peter Clegg at Leahurst who is kindly overseeing "Project Dexter", our research into rehabilitation of horses with navicular and deep digital flexor tendonitis.

We've been successfully rehabbing these types of horses for years, but only recently have set up the project, as a way or trying to provide more than anecdotal evidence of what can be achieved.

Prof. Clegg was very encouraging, but we definitely need a few more horses through the rehab programme before we can publish authoritative results.

There is more about the project, and our preliminary results, at

If you know of any horses who have been diagnosed with these types of conditions, and whose owners might be interested in sending them here for rehab, please get in touch with me via the website :-)

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Angel's hooves, 4 months on

Angel has now been here just over 4 months, and his hooves have changed dramatically. When I first posted photos it was clear how weak his left front hoof was - underrun and at a completely different angle from his right hoof.

Now, in the top photo taken last week, you can see how much stronger the white hoof has become. The whole caudal aspect of the hoof is stronger and as a result not only is it less underrun but Angel is also happy to weightbear on it properly.

You can see in the top photo as well how far down his hoof the last growth rings have moved - these chart the day his shoes came off and its clear that at 5 months he will have grown a complete new hoof capsule.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

"Feet first"

.. for those who've asked when its out, it came out while I was away :-)

A few people have said that Amazon has been slow to get pre-orders out, so I've put a link on here to the publisher's website, where you can get it direct and a bit cheaper than Amazon.

I have copies here too, so if you're local to me and want a copy, drop me an email.

Monday 10 August 2009

After Ride Bare - what next?

Ghost's injured leg is now better, and so I took him out this weekend, forgetting that although he was a paragon on Ride Bare, he is not necessarily a reformed character at home, on open fields which he knows all too well :-)

Don't be fooled by the innocent expression - only a few minutes after Andy took this, my 24 yr old veteran was carting me across the hayfields that were cut 2 weeks ago, revelling in the chance of a quick blast even though my intention had been to have a quiet, just-back-in-work type ride (!).

On Sunday we did a longer ride, with a long uphill gallop, which he relished even more - and of course did at exactly the speed he wanted - its a good job there were very few stretches like that on Ride Bare!

Its nice to be able to report that he is back on top form, and I am wondering what we should do next - he had such fun being the centre of attention on the ride that it seems only fair to try and find another starring role for him - suggestions welcome!

Sunday 9 August 2009

Look who I found!

Some of you will remember Conto, who came to us originally several years ago as a rehab horse. He did brilliantly, and hunted up here for 2 seasons but he was such a lovely horse, bombproof with fantastic manners and well-schooled, that when we had too many horses here I decided to try and find him a good home, knowing he would be an easy horse to "re-locate".

Sally Hall had seen him out hunting, and had someone in mind who was looking for a perfect gentleman of a horse, so down he went to Urchinwood last winter, and when we stayed there as part of Ride Bare I met up with him again :-)

He is looking well - obviously relishing the much better climate they have (!) and is a great favourite with everyone, not least his new owner. He is still barefoot and does a mixture of schooling, hacking and jumping, which he seems to thrive on. He is not quite as rock-crunching as he was when he lived here, partly because the grass down at Urchinwood is unbelievably good, but nevertheless both he and his new owner seem very happy!

Saturday 8 August 2009


Now that hunting has started again, I am able to start recording the mileage the horses are doing when they are out, and I am planning to keep a record for the whole season, if possible - after all the endurance competitors know how many competitive miles their horses do in a season, so it will be interesting to see what the hunters do.

I'll put the info up every week, if I can, so here is this week's :-)

Week ending 8th August

Jacko, Charlie and Felix each did 18 miles hunting plus 18.5 miles as the last day of "Ride Bare", so a total of 36.5 miles (59km) this week. Of course Felix did that on top of having done the southern leg of Ride Bare last week ;-)

Thursday 6 August 2009

Photos from Ride Bare

At the top, Felix making friends in Triscombe, on our penultimate day, and earlier pics of Ghost enjoying his lunchtime at the West Arms in Wales, and surveying the view as we climb yet another hill - in an all too rare moment of sunhsine!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Happy boys!

First day of hunting today, and Jacko, Charlie and Felix all got to go - they were SO happy! Flawless behaviour from all 3, despite leaving home in the dark (Jacko wasn't sure, till he realised where we were going...).

Felix clearly hugely relieved that the stupid pointless exercise of riding around the south of England that we undertook last week has now finished and normal, exciting life has resumed (!).

Tuesday 4 August 2009

The good samaritans

One of the most wonderful aspects about the ride was the number of people who went out of their way to help us - either in setting it up, helping out with logistics, rescuing us along the way or staying to man the fort while we were away.

There were so many of them that there is a grave danger of me missing someone out, but I thought they really deserved a blog all to their own, so, with big thanks to all of you, here goes :-)

  • Linda, who provided brilliant horse and person B&B for our first night, dried out all our soaking wet stuff and even lent us fluffy slippers!
  • Jo Ellis, who rode with us on the second day on her lovely horse Devon, and who arranged the most wonderful accomodation for our first 2 nights.
  • Liz, Adrian and their lovely dogs and horses, who gave us another memorable stay, with wonderful hospitality, and who remained unfazed despite having to help us with the traumas of our third day when Morris was injured.
  • Louise, who provided the "horse ambulance" to rescue Morris and then made another long journey to set us back on our way again afterwards.
  • The unknown stranger who took pity on us in Knighton and remembered having seen somewhere that might be able to house horses, when we turned up in the pouring rain and needed to give Ghost an unscheduled rest day after he was kicked. He not only took me there and brought me back, but his wife made Sarah a cup of tea while she waited in the rain with the boys!
  • Mr and Mrs Hodnett at Brook House Farm, who generously allowed us to house 2 wet horses in their wonderful barn for 2 nights when we turned up "homeless" on their doorstep, as well as providing limitless hay for the boys and cups of tea and home made cake for us.
  • All at the Horse and Jockey in Knighton, who provided human accomodation and endless supplies of ice for Ghost's leg!
  • Sal and Peter Hall at Urchinwood, who provided beds, food, sympathy and advice at the end of the Welsh leg, and gave the horses such a 5 star stay that they didn't want to leave!
  • Carol in Petherton, who took pity on Felix and I at the end of a long day in the Somerset levels, and rang to get permission for us to ride through Petherton Park rather than do another loooong detour to reach our stop for the night!
  • All the staff at the Blue Ball in Triscombe, who allowed Felix to graze the beer garden lawn and spoiled him with carrots!
  • Sam and Lucy, who rode on the last day and made it so much more fun, both for me and for Felix, and Ted who came and took the fabulous photos.
And of course, as always, Andy here and Lee at Sarah's, who stayed at home to keep everything ticking over and without whom we wouldn't have been able to go at all, plus my parents and Andy's Mum, who all came to keep Andy company while I was away :-)

Monday 3 August 2009

So what happened?

The astute readers among you will have spotted that I started off on Ride Bare with Ghost and finished on Felix...

I'll say straight away that Ghost has absolutely nothing to prove - he was a superstar and behaved flawlessly. Long distance riding is obviously his niche - I wish I had discovered it years ago, because he seems to like nothing better than marching on to find out what's round the next corner. By contrast Felix, although perfectly polite and totally unfazed, regards it as a rather pointless exercise - he may be the smarter of the two ;-)

So what happened?

For a start, the ride was made much more arduous by the appalling weather, which turned many of the drovers tracks we had planned to use into steep, slippery streams and many of the grass tracks into skating rinks.

The horses were magnificent: brave, tough and persistent despite foul weather and long days.

Sarah had very bad luck when Morris unfortunately fell on a very nasty path on the 2nd day - he cut and bruised his fetlock and although he is fine now, he was lame and unable to carry on. He also blotted his copybook by beating up poor old Ghost, leaving him with various bites and kicks, of which the worst was a nasty cut and swelling on his right front leg.

For a while it looked as if that would be the end of Ride Bare, but Ghost is a tough old bird and was sound on the leg, so we carried on, very carefully, prepared to pull him if necessary. In fact despite the terrain being incredibly hard, and very hilly, he coped well and although we gave him an extra day off after an extremely difficult descent from Offa's dyke, he was on good form.

Ghost soldiered on south and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself (apart from the weather - sideways sleet and mist EVERY time we were on the hills...!) but coming through the Brecon Beacons, at the end of the Welsh leg, we had to cross a mountain pass, and a combination of terrible, uneven, slippery ground and a very stiff climb brought the swelling back up again, so it was time to take him home and substitute Felix.

It was a magnificent performance by the old boy, though - at 24 years old he came all the way through Wales, over the most challenging possible terrain, despite a bashed up leg - and then when you factor in that he had "navicular" and was dead lame at 17, its even more impressive :-)

At this point Sarah had to go home as Morris' injury, instead of healing nicely, had become infected - he is fine now but it was a worry, so Felix and I carried on on our own for the last 5 days.

At this point the weather finally started to improve, after another dreadful day of non-stop rain, which was just as well as my sense of humour was starting to run out after our endless run of bad luck!

In the meantime, Andy was looking after Ghost who by the time I got home was back on good form again. He still has a slightly filled leg but its improving daily and he is sound trotting across the field so I will probably bring him back into work gently next week.

Ride Bare - Felix and I on our way home...

...joined by the rest of the gang for a great last day! Lucy on Jacko, Andy on Charlie, Sam on Bailey and me on Felix. Thanks to Ted Humble-Smith for the superb photos!

Back from Ride Bare!

Where to start?! I got back yesterday, riding the last day with Andy on Charlie, Sam on Bailey and Lucy on Jacko, and for the first day of the ride it was dry all day :-)

Sarah and I decided before we even set off that the motto of the ride was "More epic than we planned" and boy did the ride live up to that description!

I will post lost more on the blog about the ride, but that won't be till later today, as I have a huge amount of catching up to do here, and a score of people to thank - we met very many good samaritans on the ride, and couldn't have got back here without their help!

For now, though, horses are all in one piece and we are all safe home - but what a long, strange trip its been - more later ;-)