The Healthy Horse – A Balancing Act

As we head towards warmer weather, we all want our horses to look and feel the picture of health. However, with modern forage and grazing lacking in many essential nutrients it is important to ensure that all equines receive the correct nutrition to help their bodies maintain optimum vitality. But how can we do this in the most cost-effective and simple way?

Fibre first

The horse is a grazing animal, and has naturally evolved to consume forage in order to survive. This forage provides our horses with a natural source of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and fibres in a format that is easy and efficient for them to digest. Fibre is a generic term referring predominately to forages such as grass, hay and haylage, but also includes alternative forage replacer products such as high fibre pellets, alfalfa, grass cubes and short chop forages.

Is your forage lacking?

Modern forage and grazing can be deficient in many essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements so while feeding a diet high in forage is vital, it is recommended that any deficiencies are balanced by supplementing the diet with additional nutrients. This will ensure that your horse is capable of maintaining all over health and vitality.

What is essential?

A balanced diet contains many nutrients. Look for products with B Vitamins such as Vitamin B12, B6, B1 and B2, folic acid and biotin, as well as macro minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and sodium and micro minerals such as copper, iron, selenium and zinc. Amino acids, anti-oxidants and fatty acids also play important roles.

Health Tips

  • Even horses and ponies who are prone to weight gain require a good level of nutrients to maintain health and support immunity.
  • Feed a lick is a low calories alternative to buckets of hard feed and can help reduce boredom when horses are stabled or on restricted grazing.
  • Feeding a good quality oil source is great for coat and skin health and provides a slow release source of energy.
  • Flies and insects can be a problem. However, feeding garlic is a tried and tested method of helping to deter biting bugs.
Fight Your Horses Fears

Help Fight Your Horse’s Fears

Our 14 stress-busting solutions will keep you calm when your horse panics or spooks, leaving you free to help him cope.

When your horse goes into panic mode, it can be difficult to keep your own anxiety under control. As we all know, the unexpected will sometimes happen especially out on hacks and your ability to stay in control and help him do the right thing when stress takes over will strengthen your partnership and make your time together safe and enjoyable.

Read on to learn simple techniques to keeping calm and managing your horse’s fear and gives you some quick solutions to help you contain spooky behaviour before it escalates into a deeper-rooted problem.

Dealing with the unexpected

You’re out hacking when your horse is startled by a bag flapping in a hedgerow. In a split-second his eyes are on stalks, his body is rigid and his heart’s pounding in his chest. What can you do when stress appears out of the blue?

The Stress Busters

1. Learn from the event

If something jumps out of the hedge and frightens your horse, things tend to happen far too quickly for you to be prepared. He may suddenly leap in the air and to one side, or spin round. You’ll probably have a fright, but it’s when you’re back at home that the fear can set in. Anxiety can quickly build when we dwell on what went wrong and we then become nervous the same thing will happen again.

In cases like this, it can be helpful to review what happened. You, as the rider, will usually have contributed in some way to the incident. Perhaps you were daydreaming at the time, with slack reins, or too busy chatting to a friend to make sure your horse was on the bit and listening? Run through the sequence of events and ask yourself what you’d change to make it better next time.

Once you’ve taken what’s useful from this process, be strict with yourself and don’t think about the event again. Whenever you find yourself doing so, think of something else. It might seem strange at first to control your thoughts in this way, but, with practice, you’ll find it really does work.

2. Squash unwanted thoughts

This technique is quick and simple think of a method to annihilate unwanted thoughts from your mind, such as putting them in a car crusher, and recall that image every time the same negative thought arises.

3. Embrace flower power!

I always recommend Bach flower remedies as a way to stop a spiral of negative thinking. Some people can’t let things go, the anxiety becomes more and more powerful until it turns into a real stumbling block that’s difficult to get over.

If you find your thoughts going round and round in your head, the perfect remedy to dispel them is White Chestnut which can help you think straight. By using all these techniques, you can prevent a simple set-back becoming an impediment to your riding enjoyment.

4. Look to the future

If, when out hacking again, you feel your horse starting to spook, don’t stare at the scary object yourself; instead, look where you want to go. Directing your gaze is powerful look as far, and even further, than you want to ride. Rather than staring at a point just a few metres in front of you, imagine riding right over the horizon. This will put all your energy into going forwards.

5. Control his head position

If you’re a nervous rider or your horse is particularly spooky, teaching him to lower his head on command is a useful technique. Use leg-yield or shoulder-in to bend him, but try to keep him moving forwards in the direction you want to go.

These are unlikely to be school-perfect moments as your horse may well be stiff and tense but that’s ok. The object of the exercise is to help switch off his stress hormones and stop him setting himself against you.

Keeping him calm and grounded

This time, your horse knows about the monster around the corner because it’s there every time you hack out. Whether it’s a pen full of pigs or a noisy dog that jumps up at the gate every time you pass, it’s enough to make him stiffen and resist as he draws near. How can you guide your horse if he anticipates fear?

The Stress-Busters

6. Be his leader

In spooky situations, ask yourself ‘How can I help my horse?’. The horse-rider relationship should be a partnership and, if one of you abandons the situation, the partnership becomes unstable. By failing to help him manage his fears, you’re effectively leaving him to cope on his own.

When your horse is afraid, you can either follow him and become afraid yourself, or be calm and grounded; either way it will transfer to your horse. Horses are extraordinarily intuitive. I’m convinced that we communicate with them not just through our body language but with our thoughts and energy fields. The process is far more subtle and mum-layered than purely physical.

7. Breathe deep

If you anticipate a spooky situation, breathing techniques can calm you and your horse. Breathe in through your nose before taking twice as long to breathe out through your mouth. Practise this at home so that it becomes easy to implement in a stressful situation. Count three on the in-breath and six on the out to achieve a calming flow.

8. Stick to your saddle

The next technique is to relax your stomach and abdominal muscles, but only for a brief time as your lower abdominals need to support your back. Imagine you’re full of something heavy, like sand or treacle, that’s flowing down through your body and out through the soles of your feet. This sticks you better to the saddle.

9. Make a movie

When you know that you’ll be encountering a difficult situation, Visualisation techniques can help. Run a little film in your head of riding past the obstacle with no problems. Visualise everything going exactly to plan, then rehearse this film mentally for a few minutes each day. With practice, you’ll learn to keeps things calm enough that your horse won’t resort to instinctive behaviour, whip round and run off. If he gets tense, again, roll VT!

Preparing your horse for tough times

Changes are ahead, or perhaps treatments or procedures that you know may leave your horse scared or unsettled. What can you do to prepare him for difficult times, or lessen his fears if he’s not coping well?

The Stress Busters

10. Be his rock

Perhaps your horse has had to leave his friends to move to another yard and must fit into a new herd. What’s important is how you are around him which means keeping calm and grounded. Combine your breathing techniques with imagining yourself filled with something heavy (on the ground and in the saddle) to reassure your horse there’s nothing to be fearful of. Your state of mind will affect his, so be aware of the signals you send him if you feel yourself being sucked into his anxious state, step away, calm yourself then return to him.

11. Cope with change

Giving the Walnut Bach flower remedy to your horse to help him cope with change. The same applies if he’s worried by treatment from the vet or farrier, or over-anxious about something such as being clipped.

12. Fight fear of the known

The flower remedy Mimulus will help him cope with a fear of known things, especially if he anticipates discomfort.

13. Terror buster

Rock Rose is useful if your horse is really frightened, as it helps calm a state of terror. Sometimes scary things happen, so it’s important to have something handy like this to help him.

14. Repeat, repeat, repeat

As a general rule, if something works, keep doing it. Identify the element you changed and use that instead of reverting to old ways. Being able to stay calm and keep things in perspective is the key to giving your horse the confidence he needs to cope.

Revitalise Your Riding

Revitalise Your Riding

Ready to re-discover what riding is all about? Here’s how to rev-up your riding routine with seven fun activities.

1. Try Horse Agility

Think agility classes are only for over-active Collie dogs? Think again! Horse agility is gaining in popularity across the UK, with clubs springing up faster than you can say ‘jump that hoop’.

Popular with owners of the smaller breeds (it’s a great way to keep a miniature Shetland fit and entertained), as well as everyday riders, more and more owners are appreciating the relationship-boosting benefits of training your horse to go in, around, over and through a range of obstacles. It’s a great way to spook-proof your horse!

2. Hop On A Schoolmaster

You can give your horse a well deserved day off and still rejuvenate your riding this time on another horse. If you can’t afford a lesson on a trained schoolmaster, a friend’s horse will do, it’s all about variety. A different horse gives a different perspective, regardless of his standard, you can always learn something.

You’ll soon find out if you’ve got into bad habits with your position or aids. Or perhaps your horse has become lazy, because you’ve been micro-managing his faults. If you’re riding a schoolmaster you’ll hopefully experience what it’s really meant to feel like.

Be Open-minded and always try to take something from the ride, good or bad even if it’s to feel thankful for your own horse and to better appreciate his qualities.

3. Discover Prix Caprilli

What better way to liven up dressage if you’re a little wild at heart than by adding jumps? Named after Italian rider Frederico Caprilli, the father of the forward jumping seat, it’s a fab way to have fun with your horse. Tests are judged on movement, impulsion, submission and riding, and the jumps simply shouldn’t interrupt the flow of your performance.

4. Discover Parelli

The idea behind their world-famous program? Improving the horse/human relationship using simple groundwork techniques.

It brings the best out of you and your horse, it’s not a horse training programme but a people training one! Horses already know how to behave Parelli teaches us to read this behaviour and understand it.

We recommend you go and see a Parelli demo and just see if it’s for you. Being able to read a horse’s body language will open up a whole new world for you and your horse.

5. Try Trec

Fancy a fresh perspective on your schooling routine? Trec may be a fast-growing sport in itself, but the principles of this obstacle and orienteering-based activity can be applied to any discipline. “It’s all about basic equitation, If you’d like your horse to be polite, listening and moving off the leg, Trec can help.

It’s easy to try a taste of Trec at home. Make a corridor on the ground with a pair of poles placed end to end for competition it would be a mere 50cm wide, but start yours at 80cm. Riding through the corridor is a good way of making sure your horse is going forwards and straight. Try it at walk before progressing to trot and then canter. Look ahead, without focusing on the poles, and keep your bodyweight even. If dressage judges have been commenting that your horse canters ‘quarters-in’, this will highlight the problem. If you ride through anything other than dead straight, you’ll clatter those poles.

6. Go Western

Relax your riding style by going Western! You’ll soon discover it’s not just for the cowboys.

Western can be enjoyed by anyone with any horse, from Highlands to cobs and Arabs to Haflingers, and with a range of classes to choose from, including in-hand showing and reining, there’s something for everyone. The laid-back style of Western riding is mirrored in the discipline’s community, so if you’re looking for something to try where you’ll feel welcome and accepted this is the discipline for you.

7. Hit The Trail

What better way to blow away the cobwebs than with an exhilarating hack? But be adventurous by boxing up and riding somewhere totally new. The whole benefit of riding is being able to go out and enjoy the countryside. A change of scenery is so good for stuffy horses who don’t want to go forwards.

Ask horsey friends if they’d be willing to share transport with you to a new location. But before you strike out in a different direction, Annette suggests a few safety considerations.

First, make sure you’ve got full control in an enclosed arena, and go with suitable brakes, not your dressage tack, and keep the group small.

If your horse tends to be nervy or nappy, find a friend with a rock-steady horse to join you. You’ll both enjoy some time in the great outdoors, whether it’s at the beach, over farmland (with the permission of the owner), along new bridleways or just exploring somewhere you haven’t been before nearer home.