Friday, 22 August 2008

These boots are made for walking

This evening Red had his first outing in his new hoof boots. He was pretty good as we put them on and didn’t seem at all perturbed. I let him have a good look at them first and let him hear the click click noise that the dial makes as you tighten them. They were easy to put on, though he was not too keen on keeping his left foot still while I tightened the boot up.

We set off down the lane. As we reached the end of the tarmac part and moved onto the rough, stony track he became reluctant and started to move more gingerly, but then he gradually relaxed and started to stride out more purposefully once he realised that his feet were not going to feel every stone. He hesitated in the same way at the entrance to the horse trail, and once again at the stony track on the way home. But he realised he was comfortable more quickly each time. He was definitely much happier and more sure footed throughout the ride, and I don’t think it will take many outings before he starts to look forward to having his boots put on.

Dee seems to have made a friend of J’s new mare. When ’รถ-Dzin turned her out Indi whinnied and trotted straight down to Dee. Dee was happy to share the same patch of grass with her and they even engaged in some mutual grooming. This is so delightful and such a change from the mare who would not allow other horses near her.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Hoof boots

I have taken the plunge today and bought Red a pair of hoof boots. His feet felt very hot on Monday after our long ride on Sunday, and although he did not seem uncomfortable and was not lame, I was a little concerned. It is so wet at the moment that his feet are softer than usual. His hooves are almost round and quite large, so after a long night of research on the web I chose Boa boots. I liked the look of the Old Mac boots, but they do not make them big enough for Red. The other option was an Easyboot, but they are reported as a little more tricky to put on. I’m hoping they’ll arrive tomorrow or the next day on express delivery.

The arena was unusually clear today, with all the jumps stacked away. I took advantage of this – dodging showers as well – to take Red in there for some join up and halting groundwork. I find him intimidating on the ground because he pushes me around, so I need to work with him to build up respect and a relationship. I worked with him at liberty walking around together and halting periodically. Whenever he stepped ahead of me when we halted I made him back up. Gradually he improved, stopping by me instead of pushing ahead of me. He wandered off only twice. When he did, I drove him on round the arena until he stopped and looked at me, and then I turned to allow him to join up again. It was a good session and a good start. I wish I had access to a round pen. Although it is a fairly small arena, it is still a little too large for some groundwork and not really any good at all when it has several jumps dotted around it – so I was lucky today.

There was no way I could give Dee her feed – as I went up there on my own today – without Red being aware that I had done so. So Dee had to wait for her feed until I had worked with Red. She was not impressed with this and was very moody with me even after I had fed her, and also kept sticking her head out of the stall to pull a face at Red. When Sally took him out to the field for me, Dee settled down and decided to appreciate my full attention, a groom and a chat as we wandered down to her field. I also checked her over thoroughly yesterday and today after our long ride on Sunday – especially as it was the first time she had hacked out for four weeks. Her back was fine - no sign of any return of the swelling or pain that she had experienced 18 months ago that led to the vet warning we may have to retire her. Far from harming her back, the treeeless saddle seems to have contributed to curing it.

PS The photo shows my friend on Red who came with us on the ride on Sunday. Also good news – the horse that had strangles has returned three negative swabs and will be back in his stall tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunday hack

Today Red became our horse fully again, so to celebrate we went out on a long ride. We rode the first part of the Wenallt trail, through the Ganol, into Fforest Fawr, and then back through the Ganol and the Wenallt – nearly 3 hours riding. We have a friend staying with us so she rode Red for the first half of the ride and ’ö-Dzin rode him for the second half. Red was a little stubborn with our friend – seeing if he could get away with turning for home a few times – but eventually settled down. I think his feet may be a little softer than usual as well, because of all the wet weather, so we shall definitely be buying some boots to help him out during this rainy time. Thank you Victoria for the suggestion of Old Mac boots. I had heard that they were good and will probably try this type.

It may be a little anthropomorphic of me, but I felt Red was glad to be back with us. When I was adjusting his bridle he was really affectionate, nuzzling into me, resting his head. I stroked his lovely soft muzzle and he almost closed his eyes with contentment – it was a special, gentle moment. His bridle needed a lot of adjusting – it looked as though it had been used with the chin strap done up over the top of the cross-under pieces. This is a big mistake because it means that the cross-under straps cannot release and loosen after you have applied pressure on the reins. Cross-under bridles do need to be adjusted correctly and do not function if put on or used incorrectly – perhaps this is why some people do not get on well with them.

If I had had any doubts about my treeless saddles after reading recent negative comments about them on other blogs, they were allayed today. After a ride of this length that included some steep hills and awkward horse access points to the trails, Dee and Red would have had very sweaty backs and noticeable saddle pressure marks from their treed saddles. When we took the saddles off them both today, the only sweat marks were under their bellies from the girths, and there were absolutely no pressure marks on their backs – in fact you wouldn't have been able to tell that they had had saddles on their backs. I believe these treeless saddles distribute the weight of the rider so effectively, that as long as a sufficiently well padded numnah is used to avoid direct contact of the saddle with the line of the spine, they actually apply less pressure to a horse’s back. With a treed saddle, the weight is inevitably focused on the outline of the tree, and in particular the prongs that go down onto the shoulder.

It has been a magical day. Amazingly it didn’t rain at all while we were riding, although it rained in the morning and is raining again now. We are so glad we have decided to keep Red. Dee was friendly with him and they seemed glad to be riding out together again. All feels well with the world – happy horses and happy riders. I am experiencing that delightful, mellow, warm glow of being a little tired after exercise, but relaxing into the pleasure of a successful and enjoyable day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Bitless, treeless, barefoot

At last I have been able to ride Dee this week. We had a session in the arena and she was very well behaved and responsive. I am looking forward to riding regularly again now, and also to having more contact with Red again.

I have been interested in reading White Horse Pilgrim’s comments about bitless bridles and treeless saddles. I enjoy his blog and respect and value his expertise gained from long experience (much longer experience than mine I must say). However we do differ in our opinions about these two issues. I have had good results with both my horses with bitless bridles. Dee was a riding school horse and so probably suffered at the hands of inexperienced and inept riders, hence it is perhaps not surprising that she responded well to being free of the bit. She is a strong personality however and rather spooky, so it is worth comment that she is easier to control without a bit and no longer tries to take control. I think she is just so much more relaxed without a bit, that she listens more to me and doesn't panic so easily.

Red is a different personality – quite docile and very safe, but stubborn and willful at times. He will try it on with inexperienced riders – he once took ’ö-Dzin into a hedge – but we have not found there to be less possibility of taking control with the cross-under style bitless bridle than there was when he was in a bit. The cross-under (Dr Cook style) bridle does need a slightly different approach. Firstly it is necessary to ride with less contact than is usually taught in English style riding, and if the rider needs to assert control with the reins, a pull on alternate reins is more effective than on both at the same time. It is also essential that the bridle is correctly fitted fairly low on the face,

I have a friend who happily rides her excitable part Arab mare in one of these bridles – in fact it was she who first introduced me to the Dr Cook style bridle. I was using an English hackamore before then.

With regard to treeless saddles, I cannot pretend to have any expertise in this area. I love my treeless saddles and my horses are comfortable and well in them. But they are not working a great deal or being ridden long and hard, so I am not a good sample by which to judge the saddles’ performance. When I was researching treeless saddles prior to trying one, I discovered an account that said trees were first introduced into saddles in order to have somewhere to hang stirrups. Stirrups enabled less-than-expert riders to become effective warriors in the saddle so that the Mongolians could increase the size of their armies for mounted combat. This would suggest that the introduction of a tree was for the benefit of the rider, not the horse. I have no idea whether this is true or not. However I have a friend in Finland who runs a riding stables of 30 horses. Their horses are ridden in felt pads – what we might call bareback pads in the UK. They have always been worked in these soft felt saddles with no ill effect – and these are small horses carrying adults of all sizes.

On a different subject, I finding it interesting that although White Horse Pilgrim clearly is not convinced about bitless and treeless, he is an advocate of barefoot horses. At my yard I have received no negative feedback about my horses being in treeless saddles and bitless bridles, but quite a lot about Red being barefoot. A number of people do not think I will be able to continue with this indefinitely and keep Red sound. He has been barefoot now for 10 months and has never been lame. His feet are tough and in good shape. One thing that is most noticeable about bare feet (Dee is barefoot also on her hind feet) is that the hooves stay clean – mud and stones do not get stuck in the feet so that they hardly need picking out, whereas Dee often has quite clogged front shod feet with stones wedged in that can be difficult to remove. I'm sure the fact that barefoot hooves naturally stay cleaner must be to the horse’s benefit.

I expect the debate about these different approaches will continue ad infinitum. I would be delighted to hear other people’s comments or experience of the bitless, treeless and barefoot approaches.

Friday, 8 August 2008


I have been away on retreat for a week and so have been unavailable to write any posts. Thank you to everybody who has sent supportive comments about Dee. She has returned a second negative swab result so we are pretty much in the clear with her now. We have spent an enjoyable couple of hours with the horses this afternoon, and also met Jayne’s new mare. Her loan agreement expires in a week, so we shall be spending more time with Red again soon. Life is starting to return to normal at the yard after the strangles scare, except for the one horse that was infected who will have to remain in quarantine for a little longer.

Our retreat was wonderful. We have been learning practices connected with Ling Gésar – the legendary warrior king of Tibet; and also gar’cham – ritual dance. When we tell people that we shall be on retreat for a week they often go a little starry eyed and say how lucky we are to have such a relaxing spiritual experience. We are indeed lucky, but people don’t seem to realise that retreats are in fact quite demanding and not ‘relaxing’ in the usual sense of the word – it is not like being on holiday. We rise early and have two hours of meditation practice before breakfast; we spend many hours concentrating listening to teachings; we engage in physical yogic practices; and we also have to look after ourselves including cooking all our meals and cleaning up. Relaxation is certainly the ultimate result of such intensive spiritual practice – and interacting with one’s Lamas and spiritual brothers and sisters – but this is the relaxation of mastery gained through long-term commitment. It is the ease and comfort in the saddle after years of riding experience … or the apparently magical communication between horse and handler through a deep understanding of natural horsemanship. Years of experience of meditation practice and recognition of the nature of mind produces the capacity to relax totally into the natural state – but arriving at this point requires concentrated effort.

Dee seemed glad to see us, and was a little mischievous as we took her out to her field. She has not been ridden for a month now, so I think she needs to work a little. I am looking forward to working with her again next week.