Monday, 27 November 2017 10:37

Keep Dreaming

When your dreams come true, sometimes they don’t look quite like you imagined. Years of yearning can mean that reality can be a little harsh, and the inevitable complications that come all too often with horses can be challenging. I spent twenty years learning to ride on riding school horses and having other people’s horses on loan, but during that time I dreamed of a horse to call my own. It wasn’t until two years ago that I was finally able to buy Archie, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing…

In the early days Archie was a scrawny 5 year old who was full of potential but also full of quirks. He refused to lead, regularly planting himself on the yard and steadfastly refusing to move. The embarrassing sweaty argument that ensued was miserable for all involved and often meant it could take ten minutes to walk the twenty metres to the arena.
A dirty, scrawny but beautifully dappled 5 year old Archie once we finally made it to the arena!

A grey who is scared of water sounds like a terrible idea right? Indeed it was! He was petrified of the stuff, and being the worst colour of all a bath could easily take up to two hours with a sponge and endless reassurance. He was also scared of the hose and spray (spray bottles being an issue we still haven’t quite cracked!) so washing off legs and summer rinse downs were challenging.

Being young and fairly inexperienced I knew I had work to do on his schooling, and our first challenge was the  left canter lead which Archie didn’t know existed. He was always  more balanced on the right and he would chose it every time no matter how many different ways I asked. I was also stronger on my right side which made everything more tricky, and it took weeks of work to get him to even think about cantering comfortably on the left.

Apart from a fear of spray bottles most of theses quirks have now been ironed out. We have had a whole host more problems since then but we have worked on our differences and we understand each other better. A lot of hard work and even more love has meant that Archie has become the horse of my dreams; my horse of a lifetime. I’m lucky because I know it doesn’t always work out that way. When I first realised this dream it didn’t look quite like I expected it to, but two years on it is everything I imagined it could be. Keep dreaming, and one day your dreams will come true!

Re-published by kind permission of Journey of an Amateur Eventer|Blog

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An 'out of control' Rottweiler is seen chasing and barking at horses in Oxford.

The incident was recorded by Tracy Smith, 40, an experienced horse rider.

She says dog owners need to be educated more on safety around bigger animals.

Dogs should be kept on leads and in ear shot of owners when a horse is nearby.

A mum in Oxford has revealed terrifying footage of an 'out of control' Rottweiler chasing her teenage daughter's horse for more than three minutes.

Tracy Smith's daughter, Ella, 14, clung on in fear when the large dog repeatedly darted at her horse, barking as it chased them in circles near their home on August, 12.

Mrs Smith, 40, who shot the film, was thankful her daughter is an experienced rider, particularly after a similar incident left a friend with broken ribs, she said... READ MORE
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What a gentleman! Realising the horses may be spooked by his trailbike, this motorbike-rider thoughtfully turned off the engine and inqured as how best to pass... he had polos in his pocket too. RESULT!

The bike rider is James Higgs and his video has gone viral with over 1,0000 views on social media.

He keeps his bikes on a livery yard so he is used to encountering horses.

“I’ve hacked out a few times as a beginner but stopped after I injured my knee in a fall, which hurt a great deal more than any fall I have had whilst riding motorcycles,” he added. “You horse riders really are some tough people.”

Thank you, James.



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Wednesday, 26 April 2017 09:24

Why do race horses love the beach?

• It's healthy for horses to have down time away from the stables

• Sand is soft underfoot and low impact on horse's joints

•Seawater soothes skin and muscles


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A petition has been started to clarify the law on animal-on-animal attacks after a horse was almost killed by a dog and its owner was injured.

Emily Bunton started the online petition which will be considered for debate in parliament if it reaches 100,000 signatures.

On the 15th of February 2017 two horses and a rider were viciously attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, causing one of the horses to undergo 6.5 hours of veterinary attention due to the severity of its wounds.

One rider was also bitten, casing deep muscle damage to her right calf.

The police informed the riders that no criminal offence had been committed, as it was deemed that the dog was not behaving dangerously before it attacked, and that there was no way of knowing if the dog intended to bite the rider - making it impossible to determine if this was an animal on animal attack or an animal on human attack.

The petition aims to bring attention to the need to tighten the laws surrounding dog attacks on horses to lessen the ambiguity surrounding animal on animal attacks.

Please sign the petiton HERE

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Thursday, 08 December 2016 15:29

Are you an Unhappy Hacker? Try this...

It always saddens me that even though there are a couple of busy livery yards very close to where I live, I hardly ever see any of the horses being hacked out. If the owners ride their horses at all, even if they are surrounded by beautiful countryside, they would rather do it in what they regard as the safer environment of the school. Unfortunately the area outside of the yard has become a forbidden zone of spooks and trolls where no rider fears to tread astride a horse!

But this is such a shame, as going out for a hack can be so beneficial to both horses and riders. So, if you're someone who is nervous about hacking out, then I'm not proposing the following is a solution to all problems, but simply suggest you give it a try….. ride out as if your horse isn't there and you're just going for a walk, on your own two legs!  I know, it sounds stupid doesn't it, but actually I propose you choose the route you're thinking of riding, and actually walk it first, either on your own or with the dog.

The problem is that as humans we often anticipate problems. For instance, when riding we think, 'there's a tractor ahead, or there's a plastic bag flapping in the hedge, my horse won't like that', and guess what, because we communicate this thought to the horse through our breath and tension in our bodies, when he gets to that tractor, no he damn well doesn't like it!  Our fear then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I'm not saying of course that some horses aren't scared of tractors or flapping bags, but I can tell you one thing for certain, if you weren't on a horse you certainly wouldn't be scared of them. So, when you go for that walk notice everything about you; the pile of logs, that pheasant that suddenly gets up out of the grass, or the squirrel running up a tree. And notice how you react. The thing is, you don't, in fact your thoughts are more likely to be, 'ooh, aren't pheasants beautiful', or 'look at that cheeky little fella!.' So pay attention to how relaxed you feel out walking and then keep hold of that feeling. Then, when you go for your hack, try and ride like you're just going for that nice relaxing walk where you don't overreact to the merest rustle or look at things as potential problems. And, if your horse does react to something he sees, then recall that feeling of how you felt as a human walking on two legs and you'll find it much easier to convince your horse that it's ok. In fact when riding past a tractor on the road, if I know the farmer I will often stop to thank him and have a chat. Just being normal, and talking to someone in a friendly manner who has a vehicle that is unsettling your horse, makes you breathe, smiling makes you relax, and then the horse thinks, oh well, it's not quite so scary after all!

Anyway, give it a go and happy hacking!!

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Thursday, 08 December 2016 11:46

Horses rhino’s new best friends

After decades horse power has been reintroduced in Kruger.

THE many South Coast nature lovers who regularly visit Kruger National Park will be interested to know that the park’s long association with horses has come a full circle.

And it is the park’s embattled rhinos and elephants who will benefit. According to SANParks Honorary Ranger Chris van Gass, horses are to be deployed in the fight against poaching.

Back in the days before Kruger was established traders and explorers used horses to travel through the area. They had to make sure only to do this during times when the tsetse flies were less active. Many horses fell victim to the deadly disease carried by the fly.

In Kruger’s early days rangers were dependent on horses as their primary means of transport to fulfil their daily duties. A good horse was invaluable, especially if it had gained immunity against horse sickness. History has recorded the legendary escapade of game warden Harry Wolhuter, who was attacked by a lion while on horseback in Kruger’s Lindanda area. Harry miraculously escaped by killing the lion with his sheath knife.

It has, however, been decades since the last horses were used in the Kruger National Park, as they have been replaced by motorised vehicles. Now this is about to change. Horses are being called back for active duty within the park and are being deployed for anti-poaching patrols. A pilot project has already been being launched to test the viability and effectiveness of mounted patrols... READ MORE 

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Unlike football, hockey or rugby, riding is not typically considered a team sport since when we are competing it is often, just us and our horse, even though, of course, this in itself is a very special kind of teamwork! However, whilst I've been away at Uni and joined the University of York Riding Team I've discovered competing in a team with other riders and their horses can be great fun and can teach you loads. For instance.....

Constructive criticism can make a huge difference…

One of the main things that riding as part of a team has taught me is how useful feedback and constructive criticism is. We train as a team each week, and as a result get to watch one another riding different horses. We have learnt that a really useful exercise is to instruct and critique one another, since this means getting a different perspective from that of our riding instructor. When we warm up at competitions, we always have another team member there coaching and encouraging us, which not only helps us to get the best out of our horses, but is also good for calming nerves too!

Watching one-another…

Similarly, over the past year I think I have learnt a great deal from watching my team-mates ride. Since we train at a riding school, we all ride the same ponies so it has been really interesting to see how different riders of a similar ability cope with a certain horse. I have learnt to watch which techniques others use to get good results, and to try to adopt these myself to improve my riding as much as possible. Also, when we are learning new movements, I find it really useful to watch my friends riding through them first so I can visualise them before trying them out myself.

Not everyone will gel with the same horse…

Watching teammates riding the same horse has also taught me the important lesson that not everyone will instantly gel with the same horse, and that’s okay! For example, there is a lovely whizzy pony at our riding school called Blossom, who I just seem to wind up and find tricky to maintain at a balanced pace, whilst some of the other riders get her to calm down straight away. Similarly, there are some ponies who I find easier to ride than other people do. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one of us is a better rider than the other, but rather we are just not as suited to the same horse due to our different riding styles. I have come to realise that this is just something to learn from rather than something to worry about, and is part of what makes the sport so fun!

Learning from mistakes…

I am embarrassed to say that in one of my first ever competitions riding for the team, I jumped the wrong course of show-jumps and got eliminated-oops! I am still kicking myself about it now, especially as I had done a good dressage test so had help put the team into a good position. However, whilst I felt like I’d let them down, it meant that the rest of the team learnt from my mistake and went that extra bit further to ensure they knew the (very complicated may I add!) course correctly. And, we have never made the same error again as a result (touch wood…) So although it was frustrating at the time, it helped us as a team to realise the importance of learning from each other's mistakes.

And of course, the importance of supporting one-another…

As with any team sport, riding as part of the University Riding Team has made me realise how big a difference a smile or word of encouragement from a team-member can make. Before I go in the arena to do a dressage test or jump my round, my team-mates are always by the side of the school cheering me on, and sometimes that’s all I need to settle those horrible butterflies! We all support each other during training, too, which just helps to make the whole atmosphere so much more positive. We have all become really good friends and feel so proud of each other when we do well which really is a lovely feeling.

I am so pleased that I joined the University Riding Team, and would encourage any other riders who are at university to do the same. I have had such a great year of competing with them, and feel that my riding has come on a huge amount as a result. My confidence in my own abilities has soared. Whilst the bond between a horse and rider is a seriously special one, the bond between riders in a team is also so important too, whether this be a local Riding Club team or team GB at the Olympics. As we have found, words of wisdom and an encouraging smile can make a whole world of difference.

Do you ride as part of a team? I would love to hear about what you’ve learnt from your team-mates!

Ellie Fells

Find University of York Riding Club on Facebook HERE @UYRidingClub

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Last week I took five year old Ruby to her first ever dressage competition and was really pleased with her attitude and also the progress that we had both made in our new relationship! Since she was such a little star at her first ever 'social' I decided to keep up the momentum by entering another local riding club competition the following week. Like last time I entered a walk, trot dressage test followed by a slightly more demanding Prelim test that includes canter work, which being quite green, Ruby still struggles with.

This time, I knew a lot more about how Ruby would cope with a competition atmosphere - well, thought I did as you can never tell with young horses! - and had learnt a lot from our previous trip. One of the main things I took on board was that I didn't need to spend a long time in the warm up arena as Ruby had been so wonderfully chilled out about the whole affair and as she isn't super fit I didn't want to make her tired, keeping a bit of 'oomph' back for the actual test. The environment this week, however, was very different; at Allen’s Hill, it hadn't been very busy and the warm up had been in a surfaced arena, whereas here there were horses and lorries all over the place and a big open field to warm up in. Although Ruby, understandably, had a little look at the other horses, I was amazed at how calm she remained.

It was soon time for our first test! One of the main problems I had encountered at our first competition was getting Ruby’s attention as we walked towards the arena, so this time around, I made sure she was really listening to me. Last time she had been a little spooky as she walked past the judge’s car, but this time she was as good as gold; she didn’t even budge when the judge opened her car door. As soon as we started our test, I could feel her listening to my every aid, which was a definite improvement to last time, proving what a quick little learner Ruby is. They do say that a calm horse learns more quickly!

Throughout our test, I focused on keeping Ruby balanced as this was her first test on grass, and the heavens opened just as we went into the arena…typical! However, we were able to maintain a lovely even steady trot, and I really felt our transitions had improved too, which I was pleased with since we had been working hard on them at home. It just goes to show how quickly short sessions of focused practice can lead to huge improvements. Also, I really felt that Ruby trusted me which was a lovely feeling.

There was a shortish break before the Prelim test so I decided to dismount to give Ruby a rest. However, she became really wound up, possibly because of the heavy traffic in the road nearby, so I thought maybe she would be better if I got back on, which definitely proved to be the case. Next time if I have a short enough gap between tests I will stay on board as she definitely seemed to feel more secure. It's interesting how just small things can unsettle a horse isn't it? Anyway, this is something else I now know about her.

Unfortunately, when it came to our second test the arena was as slippery as an ice rink thanks to the wet grass, so with Ruby still being pretty inexperienced I decided to take it really steady. Yet again Ruby was an absolute star, really trying her heart out despite the tricky conditions. In last week's Prelim test we had struggled to establish the canter in the corner, so at home we had been doing lots of canter work in open fields and on the gallop, working towards a nice steady, but forwards, canter. It seemed this practice had done Ruby a world of good, since this time the canter transitions were far easier, and she even managed to remain balanced despite the slippery ground. I did, however, bring her back to trot for the corners since I didn’t want to risk her falling, but we still managed to score a six for our canters – although that may not sound amazing, for us it was a big achievement, and I was chuffed to bits!

Yet again, Ruby had behaved incredibly and we came home with more encouraging comments and a rosette to add to our collection. I was so pleased that she seemed to have taken on board all she had seen at her first outing, and in fact seemed even more laid back (which I didn’t think was possible) and happy this time around. There was even a BBQ to finish, which was the perfect end to a lovely evening. Finishing the day with a happy horse and a burger, what more could a girl ask for!

Ellie Fells

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Finally the day of our first dressage competition came around, and I was so excited that I was sat by the front door with my boots all polished hours before we needed to leave – I seemed to turn into my ten year old self again! It was time to put to practice all that we had learnt from our lesson with Clare…

After lots of brushing and bathing, we arrived at the show and Ruby acted as if she had been doing it all her life. We got her out the lorry to allow plenty of time for her to get used to it all, but she was so laid back in the warm up area she was practically horizontal. She didn’t bat an eyelid at the other horses around us or the big yellow digger next to the school. I focused on Clare’s advice of not over-doing it, practicing simple transitions to keep her balanced and focused and making sure I gave her lots of little scratches on her wither to tell her everything was okay.

The test arena, set in a big open space with lots of white boards everywhere was obviously a bit spooky, however, I rode as positively as I could, getting Ruby trotting forwards as soon as we entered the ring, and despite a little blip at a yellow judge’s box (we scored a 3 for that movement, whoops…), she was as good as gold! Our practice at home definitely helped, as she didn’t even look at the judge’s car or mind when the bell to start sounded. She moved forward beautifully and genuinely seemed to enjoy herself which was lovely. she got lots of 7s, some nice comments from the judge, and even a 4th place rosette. The practice we had done in our lesson was so useful, particularly Clare’s advice about supporting her through the circle. As a result, our circles felt lovely and balanced, and I think we really benefitted from not over-cooking things in the warm up as our test felt very calm and relaxed.

We had also entered a Prelim test, which involved some canter. Although our canter certainly needs some work, we decided to give it a go since it is all such good experience for Ruby. This time around, she didn’t spook at the yellow judge’s box, and I felt she was listening to me even more now that she had got over the initial shock of being in a real arena. I didn’t want to get too stressed about the canter work (after all, this was only her second ever dressage test), so when we didn’t get the canter in the corner as intended, I just asked again on the circle, and she quietly popped into canter on the right leg and quite happily cantered around the arena. Although it wasn’t THE most beautiful test, she did everything I asked of her and really did try hard. The canter is certainly something to work on, but both she and I know she can do it now, so onwards and upwards!

The main thing is that Ruby seemed to enjoy herself, and had her little ears forward the whole time. It was such good experience for her, and I had a lovely evening too!

Have you got any tips for taking a horse or pony to their first show?


Ellie Fells

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