So did you know..

…that based on the latest survey (2011) 3.5 million people in the UK had ridden a horse at least once in the previous 12 months and that there are an estimated 988,000 horses in the UK.

This got me thinking that that’s an awful lot of horses and probably as many opinions on the best way to keep a horse. So how do we know what is best for our horses…

Some people anthropomorphize their horses and treat them like people. They think that the horses are best kept separate from other horses and they like tucking them up at night in their own little bedrooms.  And despite the horses often spending as much as 23 hours a day without their human owner they believe their horse somehow prefers human company to equine company.

Having 45 equines and years of experience looking after them we have no delusions about what our horses would like to be doing.  But also we use the 5 freedoms to make decisions about our horses living conditions.

So what are these 5 freedoms.  Well they are currently enacted in the animal welfare act and are summarised really well on the website http://www.healthyhorses.co.uk

Freedom from hunger and thirst

Horses have evolved as trickle feeders, designed to be chewing/occupied by feed for a large portion of their day. Their digestive systems are primarily designed to digest fibre and, therefore, forage (hay/haylage/grass) should represent the majority of their diet.

Wild horses spend about 60% of their time eating.  This compares to stabled competition horses kept in individual stables and fed rationed feed where only 15% of their time is spent eating.  Although these horses usually receive good nutrition, their eating is done over 4-5 hours; a third of the time spent by wild horses who are free to graze at will (16-18 hours per day).

Ideally domesticated horses should have free access to fibre to allow them to eat for at least 16 hours per day and clean drinking water.  So for as much of the year as possible our horses live out and are free to graze 24/7.  In winter our ponies have hay in their field in 5 hay feeders and so with one feeder to 4 ponies they can easily get access to forage.

Freedom from discomfort

Horses evolved as a social species living in open plains where running away was their primary method of escape from predators. Today, horses still possess an inherent aversion to isolation and confinement. Research has shown that horses with free access to both pasture and to box stalls with bedding, hay and water, prefer pasture even during poor weather as long as some grass is available.

While horses do need some protection from the elements – shelter, trees, barn – they do not require warm housing and have been shown to be able to comfortably tolerate low temperatures.  Horses naturally insulate themselves with their winter coats; however, horses with clipped coats may need rugs to maintain a comfortable body temperature.  Anything that a horse wears, be it a rug, headcollar, bridle or saddle, needs to fit correctly and be cleaned regularly. 

Horses that are in work should only be asked to do what they are capable of and what they enjoy.

At this time of year almost all our ponies and all our horses are rugged in order to protect them from the lowest temperatures.  The fields that they roam in have undulating ground and natural shade and shelter via tree lines and high hedges.  We don’t provide field shelters as these are often points of conflict and therefore can cause injury.  But with 400m of tree line to shelter against on both sides of the field all the ponies can get shelter from rain and wind and extreme heat and sunlight (in summer) 

Freedom from pain, injury and disease

It is important to make sure all reasonable steps are taken to prevent ill-health and to seek prompt veterinary care in the event of illness or injury.

Our vets (Loch Leven Equine) are super, come to the rescue in emergencies and are there to give sound advise to keep our herd of ponies and horses healthy.

Freedom from distress and fear

Horses evolved as a social species living in open plains where running away was their primary method of escape from predation. Movement and grazing will naturally dominate the majority of a horse’s time. Therefore, confining horses to individual stables or paddocks may be insufficient to meet their social and mental needs. Distress may result from lack of social interaction and space. 

We keep our horses and ponies in large mixed sex herds in fields with as much space as possible for the animals to roam in.  In summer we try to balance the needs of the animals to roam in as large a space as possible with the need to rest fields to allow the grass to grow.  The horses have around 15 acres to roam through and the ponies the same.  It is beautiful watching a herd of horses go for a mad gallop back and forwards across our fields.

Freedom to express natural behaviour

Chronic frustration from isolation, lack of social contact, lack of environmental enrichment and/or lack of stimulation can result in abnormal or stereotypic behaviours (‘stereotypies’).  Abnormal behaviours include pacing, licking, eating or chewing of non-food objects. Stereotypies are repetitive behaviours horses use to cope with the abundance of time that would otherwise be spent grazing and socializing. Examples of stereotypies include crib biting, weaving, wind sucking, head tossing and head nodding.  Unfortunately some stereotypies become learned behaviours that cannot be resolved, even after the horse has been removed from the environment that initially triggered the behaviour (e.g. wind sucking).

Once again we avoid isolating our horses and ponies in single animal paddocks even if this means that sometimes we have further to walk.

It is quite clear that the only way to keep equines in as natural an environment as possible and therefore give them the freedom to express natural behaviour which then keeps them free from distress and fear is to have large mixed sex herds roaming over as large a space as is available as they would in the wild

This however is what creates the clash between what humans want and what horses need.  When an owner wants the horse kept in a small paddock by itself or with one companion pony to avoid herd injuries (which happen) or are fearful of leading their horse away or through a large herd of other horses but the horse wants the stability and protection of a herd.  When the horse wants a large area to roam over but the owner doesnt have the time to walk a mile to catch their horse.

There are no easy solutions to these clashes.  The way most people keep their horses is dictated by the practicalities of what their livery yard allows.  However it is still useful for horse owners to have a very thorough knowledge of natural horse behaviour and then recognise that a horse as a prey animal will have different drivers from humans.  Because the more we can understand horses the more we can learn to give them what they genuinely need and not what we may mistakenly believe they want…

So did you know..

Happy New Year..

..from everyone at Over Dalkeith Stables.

We know that this is a little bit late (it being the 11th of January already) but better later than never.

So 2017 kicked off with a polocrosse day on the Wednesday and a working riders day on the Friday.  The polocrosse day was a huge success.  We even got out and played some arena chukkas at the end.

The work rider day had our riders trying their hand on some of our more novice ponies.  Majik was ridden very successfully as was Baby George,  who Freya pointed out is no baby as he is the same age as her (13).  Majik was so successful that we had him ridden on saturday and he is being used tonight as well.  Baby George may well be starting work on saturday this week as well.

And this week everyone is back at school and after school lessons are back to normal and pony club is back on again after a break for the holidays and we are all looking forward to our new years resolutions.

And today we had SNOW.  Not quite the snowmageddon that the papers threatened us with but enough to make us glad that the feeders were full of hay. Some of the ponies were happy to stand around and eat hay..

..And then some where equally happy to play around in the snow..

Happy New Year..

What more can we say..

..from now on the days are getting longer and the nights shorter.

We finished our last Christmas party yesterday and so with only one day to go before Christmas day we are just getting the yard ready for our christmas eve gymkhana.  We have 17 riders coming to play on ponies.  The plan is instant win chocolate games (you win a race and you get a chocolate), a top score showjumping competition for rosettes and of course chocolate pairs.

The day is due to finish at 3pm and then it’s get all ready for Christmas day.  Ru has got the bit between his teeth and is coordinating our morning.  He reckons we can get all the yard duties done by 8.30 am and then we can spend the rest of the day doing Christmas.  We will let you kwo how that goes. 

What more can we say..

Look who visited us..

..on Saturday…

..at our first day of Christmas Parties.  This year we started the parties on Saturday and will be running them all next week until Friday.  Santa could only make it to four of the parties as he was quite busy but we were very glad to see him.  Who knew Santa could ride a horse as well as fly a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

 And in other exciting news there are only 3 days until the shortest day.  Yippee!  The days are quite dark at the moment but we know that longer days are just around the corner.

So with only 3 days to the shortest day (did I mention that) we are into the final stretch before the schools break up for Christmas.  And our holiday activities are filling up fast.  The Christmas eve gymkhana is very busy and the Own a Pony Day is full (better get the pizza in for lunch).  We have a 3 day camp between Christmas and New Year and it’s very popular too.  With all this fun stuff I am going to have to get busy making rosettes this week so that we have plenty of red.rosettes for the winners (and blues, greens, yellows, purples and oranges).

Look who visited us..

Mollie has arrived..

..in New Zealand.  She has been really enjoying doing some work at the Wellington Indoor Riding Centre which is also a NZ Pony Club Member Centre just like us.

Anyway back at home we have rehoused our hens and ducks in the dairy and they will stay their for they the next 30 days.  Hopefully the Avian Influenza in Europe won’t spread over here but if it does or ducks and hens should be ok.  The ducks have got a paddling pool to swim in. Sadly they aren’t that bothered about it which is annoying ruaridh no end.

And obviously Christmas is coming and we have a packed programme of holiday activities..

..And anyone that keeps up with our Facebook page posts will be aware that we are now able to take payments by debit and credit cards.  Unfortunately only in person, we can’t take payments over the phone.

And for the feative period we have been given a lovely yard decoration.  A big thank you to Marley for her horsey wreath…

..It is lovely and anyone visiting us over the holidays will see this as they first come onto the yard.

Mollie has arrived..

So it would seem…

..that the work we have been doing on the drains has had an effect.  It poured down last night and the rain water running off the field and road didn’t run into the arena.  Yippee! 

So now we just need to replace the broken fence (thanks Snoop) and dig out the surface that has been corrupted and replace it.  Not the best time of year to do it but it will be great getting the arena back to full fitness.

We have also been working on the feed room.  We bought 7 metal feed bins.  4 enormous ones, 2 medium ones and a small one.

And we have filled two of the bins with our own mix of grains..

..And here’s an aerial view..

Now despite this.lovely new feedroom Mollie still went through with her plan to travel the world with Graham.  We can’t believe really that she turned down those lovely new feed bins in exchange for 8 months in New Zealand.  We have promised her that we will keep polishing them so that the shine isn’t off them when she returns to the riding stables.  And in the meantime she left her hat behind and so we have made a lively model of Mollie to remind us of her…

It’s Pole Mollie or Pollie..

So it would seem…

Winter is definately here..

..now as evidenced by our feedroom…

..60 bags (900kg) of hay mix to last us (hopefully) a month and today we have 400kg of bruised oats and 400kg of cooked flaked barley arriving.  The room has had a good clean out and we have just bought 6 new huge galvanised feed bins to store lots of it in.  These will be arriving next week and then the feedroom will start to look shiny.

There has been alot of machinery in our river field this year as the Rumbling Bridge Hydro scheme has been building a turbine house there and laying the water pipes to it.  The machinery is about to be pulled out and once that happens we will close off the field from the ponies, remove all the temporary fencing thats up and place 4 or 5 hay feeders alongside the new road and have Harry fill them with hay or haylage from his tractor.  This will mean that the ponies will be able to stay out in their lovely new thick rugs all winter and have plenty of forage to munch on and no need to traipse in and out of the field each day making very muddy runs.

That being said the actual temperature hasn’t dropped below 2°C in the last 24 hours and was as high as 8°C.  So the cold that we are all feeling is that dreaded “windchill”.

Pony club last night was the first of the polocrosse leagues.  We haven’t done polocrosse as a league activity for ages but everyone was keen this year.  The teams are going to change each time and every one has to ride a different pony each time so we should get a really interesting result.  We are even thinking of grading everyone and making the teams up to have similar grades.

So today is going to be a very busy day with lessons beginning at 12 and running on almost non stop until 7.30.  It’s funny but Wednesdays have always been popular and busy days.  It must be something to do with it being the middle of the week. Thursdays have historically always been quiet too. There is probably a psychology study in there somewhere.

Winter is definately here..