The Queen has very tech-savvy way of keeping in the loop with how her beloved horses are being cared for, it's been revealed. During Sunday's episode of BBC1's Countryfile, the programme shared how Her Majesty uses an iPad hooked up to the CCTV in her Sandringham stables - so she can check on their wellbeing, and even watch her horses give birth to new foals! According to the show, the Queen is very involved in the care of her animals, even when she cannot be with them.
I learnt the hard way that you can never be too careful when on the ground around horses. One day when I was at the yard on my own, I crouched down next to Chief, my very cute 2 year old Shetland, scratching his chest. Suddenly, something spooked him, and before I knew it he had cantered right over the top of me, leaving me in a dazed heap. I was incredibly lucky that it wasn’t any worse, especially since I had a hoof shaped bruise right on my head! However, this was a hoof shaped reminder that horses and ponies, however laid back or small and cute, are unpredictable, strong animals and issues such as barging and pushing on the ground can become very dangerous.
So, if we want to stay safe on the ground with our horses, we must first understand why they might do things like pushing, shoving and nudging us. To find out I got in touch with Grahame Frank, also known as ‘The Horse Mind Doctor’. For years he has studied horses and their natural behaviours, working to find solutions to behaviour issues. He stresses that horses are ultimately herd animals, and that so many of their actions result from how they would behave in the wild around each other. He said, “In the herd, each horse is constantly trying to improve its social position, usually by force”, and this suggests that a horse barging a human mirrors this attempt to climb the ‘hierarchy’. It is therefore linked to a lack of respect, and represents the horse trying to have power over you.
I also spoke to Felicity George, a Horse Behaviour Consultant who works to solve problems between horses and their owners. She believes that poor behaviour on the ground can also result from a horse being in pain. She told me, “I once worked with a horse who was very bargey on the ground. He was very dull in his outlook and did not respond to any kind of punishment or reward, making it difficult to teach him that what he was doing was wrong. However, it turned out that he was actually suffering from Cushing’s disease, so his behaviour stemmed from him being ill!” She added that changes in a horse’s management can also be a factor leading to pushing and shoving on the ground. She said, “I worked with a horse who’s owner had recently started at college, meaning his turnout was reduced to just two hours a day which wasn’t enough. As a result, he started to push humans around on the ground, but this was because his needs weren’t being met.”
So whilst barging and pushing might often be a result of testing boundaries and lack of respect, the possibility of a horse actually being ill or distressed should not be ruled out either.
How can we manage this behaviour?
As my experience with Chief showed me, we need to teach our horses to respect us on the ground to prevent things from becoming dangerous and to ensure that everyone is kept happy. Renowned horseman and foundation trainer Jason Webb refers to the idea of ‘personal space’ between horse and human. He labels this so-called personal space as “an area in which the horse can’t influence you”, and suggests that we should always maintain a distance of an arm’s length between us and the horse. Jason believes that seemingly harmless behaviours like sniffing and nudging can actually lead to far more serious issues, and in order to prevent them, the horse must learn to act independently. To create this independence and respect for personal space, we must maintain a kind of ‘bubble’ around us, never allowing the horse to enter this bubble unless it is on our terms. Jason says that a simple way to do this is to create energy by moving the horse around you – this will teach the horse to focus on you, and to realise the appropriate distance to maintain between them and you.
Felicity George also stresses the importance of personal space, although for her it isn’t necessarily about maintaining a certain distance. She said, “I was once told that I should keep a space of about 3 feet between my horse and I, but for me this didn’t work. I personally see having personal space as just not allowing my horse to push me, but really it comes down to each individual.” However, for Felicity one of the most important training principles is to be consistent in what you ask for. She said, “Horses are like children, so in the same way that a parent might teach a toddler the difference between right and wrong, we must be consistent with our instructions and really mean what we say.” She pointed out that if for half the time we allow our horse to gently nudge us and then suddenly tell them off for doing so, they won’t understand what you want from them. She said, “Make it clear how you want the horse to behave around you, and then stick to it.” If you don’t want your horse to push you around, then make sure that you never let him – this is the only way they will learn.
The Horse Mind Doctor also warns against giving horses too many treats, “People tend to spoil horses in behaviour and treats – don’t, because the horse will simply take advantage. A low, calm but firm voice and posture will soon teach the horse which one of you is in charge (you) and this goes for all movements around the horse”. He suggests that the over-use of treats can also be a cause of pushing and bargey behaviour, and that other reinforcement methods should instead be opted for. You as the human must assert yourself as leader of the ‘herd’, and giving treats isn’t always the best way to do this.
Staying safe in the stable
One of the areas in which bargey horses can really become a problem is in the stable. The last thing anyone wants is a horse who tries to shove past you out of the stable, or even a horse who behaves threateningly by pinning you against the stable wall. In order to prevent such behaviours from developing, Felicity suggests that you should avoid doing jobs like mucking out when your horse is in the stable too, and instead recommends turning them out or moving them to another stable. Felicity explains, “When we are doing jobs like mucking out, we aren’t giving the horse our full attention. As a result, the horse might nudge you without getting any kind of response, leading them to think that it is okay to do so. Keep the stable as a place for training, and make sure that when you are in there with your horse, you make it clear how you want them to behave.”
It is often suggested that we should tie our horses up at all times when we are in the stable with them, but is this really the solution to our problems? The Horse Mind Doctor suggests that actually, it is not always necessary for your horse to be tied up in the stable. He says that it can be beneficial to leave your horse loose, explaining that “It might lead to a better relationship if your horse could walk around you and feel more relaxed in your company.” Similarly, Felicity suggests that in the long term, it is better if your horse stands in the stable without being tied up. She says that when a horse is tied up, they aren’t free to show something is worrying them by moving away which can consequently lead to behaviours such as kicking out. By leaving them loose they are able to move around and relax more easily, preventing them from becoming panicked and lashing out.
Leading our horses
Another potentially problematic area is leading horses – we do it every single day, but are we really doing it safely? What if your horse suddenly shies into you or decides to gallop off?
Felicity advises that we always lead a horse at the shoulder to avoid such disasters. She says, “The shoulder is definitely the safest place to be. Never pull the horse along from the front, since here you are at far greater risk of being run over. Also, think back to the horse in the herd: they herd others from behind, so if you are walking in front of your horse he might actually think he’s herding you which would put him in charge!” The Horse Mind Doctor also suggests leading with as slack a rope as possible can be a good idea, since this encourages the horse to relax and follow you willingly.
Both Felicity and The Horse Mind Doctor stress the importance of leading with a hat and gloves on – although it might seem over the top, your horse could kick out at any time, so it is far better to be safe than sorry.
Felicity also adds that leading our horses should be treated with exactly the same importance as riding them. When we ride our horses, we wouldn’t let them get away with not listening to us, so why shouldn’t the same apply for leading? She recommends doing exercises like transitions, and bending and neck flexions with our horses when we lead them – this way, we can ensure that we have their full attention and that they’re actually concentrating on where they’re putting their feet! “Heavier horses in particular will often barge into you simply because they are unbalanced. They’re on the forehand and are paying you no attention, meaning that when you ask them to stop they find it really tricky. Lead them out to the field as if you are riding an advanced dressage test – keep everything engaged and balanced, and lead your transitions as if you would ride them."
So, behaviours such as pushing and shoving are ones we shouldn't ignore and should work hard to prevent for not only our safety but the horses as well.
Horses Rule Okay?
I treat my horses better than I treat myself.
In fact they have me pegged as their domestic servant, and I think they’ve nailed it.
They have a regular pedicure, performed by a professional. The closest I get to beauty treatment is discussing the possibility with the farrier.
"I don't think your tools are up to the job!"
Years ago I painted one of my horses feet with Stokholm Tar. He was bare-foot (like ours are now), as he was terrified of being shod. Horses have nail varnish after pedicure. I’m lucky if my nails see a nailbrush once a week.
The horses have all the food they need roaming 70 acres. Their menu consists of many different types of grass to fulfil all their dietary needs. They drink spring water from the creek.
We drink plastic tasting rain water from the new tank, which is sometimes smokey-flavoured when we've had the fire on and the smoke has 'flavoured' the roof (we catch all our own water).
As far as food is concerned, sometimes we find time to stuff two-minute noodles down our throats.
More Beauty Treatment
The horses are groomed, mane and tails are combed, we scratch their itchy spots and they’ve even received a soft massage from Noel (he’s a trained masseur).
It’s pretty rare for me to brush my hair more than once a week. That’s all I’ll say on that topic!
Carrots are a big favourite here. They are regulated and only given after schooling as a reward. Our treat is a big Saturday where we may just manage to stay up to 8:30pm
The horses receive pats, rub downs, plenty of praise and a lot of love. They are told they are good – (particularly hard to do when Charlie takes twenty minutes to catch sometimes). Noel’s endearments to me are in the form of “pesky” or “nutcase”. And occasionally we’ll get to have a cuddle.
I check their teeth and they are rasped when necessary.
There is no dentist for us unless we are in screaming agony and about to die of pain.
The boys receive appropriate jabs to maintain their health and well-being. The closest we’ve come to this is injecting coffee.
At the moment the horses are living a life of riley. Fortunately, our land is hilly and they enjoy a few good gallops each day. They walk many kilometres, up and down, selecting the best grazing each day.
When Noel is chopping wood for the fire, they stand in the sun and watch. When I’m using the Trimmer-on-Steroids (the Trimmer, not me!) to kill the bracken, they wander off to another part of grazing, quite put out that I am working where they want to eat.
Endearments and Encouragement
The boys are encouraged to try something new (I’ve just started in-hand schooling) – with lots of ‘good-boys’ and pats and 'you're so handsome!'
I can’t remember when I’ve said to Noel he looks nice, although I did tell him his hair needed a cut the other day.
Yup, they’ve got it all – health, care, food, love, fun – regularly and top-notch stuff. Whereas I seem to stumble from one disaster to the next, with hunger pangs.
But their hoof-beats are my heart-beats, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Read more about our boys... A Standard Journey: 5 horses, 2 people, and 1 tent, take a look HERE.
At least 50% of profits from this story are donated to horse charities, see HERE for more information.
If you have any questions about trail riding, or anything else please do contact me, Jackie Parry here on Trot On.
Facebook: For the love of horses
The competitive season for numerous disciplines is well underway and I thought I’d share my favourite/most needed products to get my horses gleaming and catching everyone’s eyes.
I love using the solocomb to pull my horse’s mane, it’s very simple to use and is totally pain and hassle free for the horses. It produces an equal length although is pretty time consuming!
If you are in need of a brush for cleaning EVERYTHING this is the one… it is such good quality and is much bigger than most body brushes. It is also great at creating quarter marks.
Everyone loves a bit of shine… right?! I love keeping my horses coats in a healthy condition and for the added shine on show days I rely on NAF shiny coat spray or the Carr, Day&Martin coat shine conditioner.
This is a game changer in terms of cleaning greys! I have never seen shampoo more effective at removing every possible stain and leaving your horse glowing. They also do a lavender shampoo which can work on any colour coat with added insect repellent due to the lavender scent.
Definitely the way to get extra heads turning and the judges loving you is with sparkly clean tack. My personal go to favourites for softening the tack and keeping it moisturised is the NAF sheer luxe leather balsam and the Carr, Day&Martin Neatsfoot compound oil, which makes my tack gleam!
Hoof oil is not only a really important conditioner for horses hooves to stop them getting dry and cracked especially in the summer months but it also creates a polished look in competition. I love the Effol black hoof oil it applies well and lasts and even works on white hooves.
My absolute favourite for wash downs or simply cleaning. The added advantage of the brush around the sponge means sweat and dirt can easily be wiped away without endlessly scrubbing. A MUST buy for everyone, I guarantee you’ll love it!
This is also a pulling comb however I don’t pull my horses mane, but this comb is gives the perfect amount of hair to plait a mane. It’s a must for any travel bag or home grooming kit and retails at £1.65 – bargain!
There’s nothing worse than having a perfectly cleaned tail but it being ruined on the journey ending up a lovely shade of brown… but Premier Equine have produced the perfect must have solution. I love how easy these are, honestly a must buy.
The Rapa Das Bestas, or 'shearing of the beasts', is held in Sebucedo in Galicia on the first weekend of July.
The Fiesta sees hundreds of wild horses herded down from the mountains by Aloitadores, or fighters.
They work in teams of three to overpower the horses and trim their manes and tails while the foals are marked.
There were dramatic scenes this weekend as revellers wrestled with hundreds of wild horses in Spain at the annual Rapa Das Bestas, or 'shearing of the beasts'.
Held in Sebucedo, in the north-western region of Galicia, the 400-year-old Fiesta brings together horses living free in the mountains and mostly men who measure their strength by trimming the animals' manes... READ MORE
Around this time of year I begin to dread the arrival of spring grass. For my ponies, this is the season of sugary madness!
Having owned a pony for 12 years and two shetland ponies for the past seven years has meant constant and prolonged dieting (similar to their owner!) Like balloons, they get fat on thin air. The two shetland ponies in particular only have to look at grass to put on weight (I'm like that with chocolate). So as spring turns to summer and the grass grows tall and luscious my patience gets it’s big annual test, because nothing tests my patience more than putting two miniature shetland ponies on a diet. I have had the pleasure of owning these two little critters since they were rescued as foals. George (aka King George) and Dotty (aka Mrs Dotty) are both seven years old, but a month apart in date of birth. George is by far the naughtiest and cheekiest with the ability to escape any form of enclosure. I’m not over exaggerating here…he is Houdini in equine form. I should have it officially announced that he is the best escape artist in Cheshire. No scrap that. The best escape artist in the world!
Every year I slave away for hours constructing an electric fencing track around the paddock in order to keep their weight under control and stave off laminitis. And, every year I watch George escape.
Every. Single. Year!
He will be happily munching on the grass in the track enclosure with Dotty by his side whilst I muck out the field and give them all a brush on one of my trips to the yard. He looks so innocent, his small little ears poking through his fly rug. Yet a few hours later, when I’m out giving the dog his lunchtime walk, for instance, I find George half way across a nearby field stuffing his face with the longest, most sugary grass he can find. This grass in the other paddocks is meant for silaging…so it hides him well and it can sometimes be tricky to find him at all unless you stand on the fencing and look from above. I then spend a further hour or two chasing him around three acres of land. Neither Dotty or my other pony (14.2hh) escape with him, so how does he do it? How does he manage to escape? Believe me I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to figure it out for years.
After much running, sweating and swearing, when I finally catch the piggy pony he is just as out of breath as I am thanks to his growing grass belly. Once I've tied him up I usually put on my Sherlock Holmes cap to inspect the crime scene hoping I will find out how and where he has managed to escape.. But I can't find anything. The electric fencing is always working correctly. It hasn’t been disconnected and the battery is still working well…I check the gaps (I make sure to use five yes FIVE rows of the electric fencing so that the munchkins can’t sneak through, and they are all intact as well. I was convinced that he couldn’t be jumping it…it was well over 4 ft in height. Confused and tired from all of the running about I always give it one more go and put George back into the track with Dotty and hope he doesn’t escape again.
Days go by of the same. At lunchtime every day I have to repeat the caper of running after a fat shetland pony to get him back into his diet paddock. The only plus side to this is that it keeps me really well exercised. Never mind putting the shetlands on a diet, this is my very own fat camp. In fact this could be a great business opportunity, I will create my own fat camp where customers are tasked with catching my shetland pony every day. - Don’t be fooled by their tiny legs, they can really shift when they want to! Anyway, in the end I decided there was only one thing left to do - to set up a watch station inside my horse box and to sit there, waiting. I sat there for hours watching that sneaky pony quietly munching away in the track paddock alongside Dotty. He didn’t do anything. He never left the paddock all day.
I sat there for FOUR HOURS….FOUR long hours. He didn’t put a hoof wrong.
But, guess what - when I left my station for a couple of hours to have lunch and do some work I came back to find him OUTSIDE of the track paddock AGAIN.
It’s official. Putting a shetland pony on a diet is the hardest task I have ever done. The only theory I have come up with to explain how he escapes is that he must be jumping over the fence. Has George been hiding a secret talent? Watch out John Whitaker I think I’ve found your next show jumper…I expect your phone call with an offer to purchase this high quality jumper, soon!
I would love to hear your conspiracy theories…maybe you've experienced something similar. How does my shetland pony escape?
Katy's novel, Forever Amber, is available to buy now. It is the true story about her mare, who she's owned for 10 years, who broke her leg followed by several life threatening illnesses. It was a huge journey... Amber is truly inspirational, she never stopped fighting.
An agreed percentage of the proceeds from each sale of both the e-book and printed edition is being donated to the British Horse Society in aid of protecting, expanding and maintaining bridle paths across the UK.