Variety is the spice..

…of life and this is where riding schools come into their own. Anyone who has ridden our ponies and horses know that they are all individuals. They are all unique and require different skills to achieve any riding objectives.

It’s easy to think that some are slow and others are fast but it’s not really as straightforward as this. Horse are above all else prey animals. In the wild they are far roaming herbivores that animals higher up the food chain eat. This means that they need to be ready to run away from attacking predators at any time. And this need to flee explains a lot of horse behaviour.

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Can you spot the lion in the background?

This need to flee explains why horses graze for large parts of the day so they have a trickle of food going into and out of their stomach. If you have ever tried running to catch a bus after a very filling meal you will know that when your stomach is heavy then it’s uncomfortable and hard work to run. Just imagine that as well as having to catch a bus your running away from a lion!

Obviously horse don’t run for buses, but if they did have to run away from lions having a stomach with not a lot of food in it would be an advantage. And that’s why they have evolved trickle feeding.

But this need to evade predators also explains why they can seem slow or lazy. Horses need to conserve their energy so that when a predator attacks they have plenty of energy to escape and not get eaten.

But what has this to do with riding school ponies, well they will go just as slowly as you, the rider, let them. Some are more responsive to the aids than others, but when ridden well all of them can and do canter at speed. The difference, we find, isn’t how fast they are but rather how forgiving they are. If you tap with both your legs and say trot on but aren’t too balanced and lean back on the reins a little, is our pony going to forgive the pull on the reins and trot on anyway or is it going to listen to your hands pulling on the brakes and stay in walk.

So we can use different horses and ponies to focus your learning on different skills you need to develop.

Now having your own horse or even always riding the same horse may be great because you learn to ride that specific pony and you will build up a great confidence in that horse or pony but we often find riders adapt themselves to the horse which can cause problems when you need to ride a different horse. If your horse is “off the leg” and will ride through a strong contact caused by an unbalanced seat then you won’t need to perfect you balanced seat and your hands might not become fully independent and you might not develop strong leg aids. This won’t stop you enjoying your pony at all. But if you have to ride another pony, say when on holiday and going for a holiday hack, you might find that the horse you are riding doesn’t appear as quick as your own horse.

This might not be a problem, after all, if you are out for a nice holiday hack, you might not want to go fast, but rather prefer to go slow and take in the beautiful views, sounds and smells of your holiday location. But whatever happens, don’t assume you have been put on a “plod” that can’t go faster than stroll. Look to the way you are sitting and your rein contact and the strength of your leg.

And whether, you have your own horse or not, riding lessons will enable you to get the most from your riding. Whether you have to pass riding qualifications, want to improve your competition results, want to improve your riding until you feel confident to own your own horse, or want to be the best rider you can be, a riding school is a good place to start. Riding a variety of different horses is the key to improving your riding, as is constantly evaluating your own riding and when things don’t go quite the way you want them to, look at what you are doing and not jump to blaming the horse.

And to help you out, here’s Mollie riding a variety of horses…

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Variety is the spice..

It would seem that Spring..

..is well and truly on its way. At least that’s what the daffodils think. Our drive has got them out and flowering.

We also have a crocus or two..

And whilst the weather has got a bit colder recently the nice spell of sunshine has heated up the ground and got the grass off to a good start. Some of the horses aren’t coming down to the gate to come in at night. Mouse now has a new job every afternoon. Namely she heads out to the cradle field.and herds Indie and Whitty back to the gate for us.

What’s even nicer is we have the smell of fresh grass on the horses breath. And our hay consumption appears to be dropping a little.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that summer will be long and warm.

Of course before summer we have the Easter holidays. We have planned 10 days of horse activities. Two Own a Pony Days, a 3 Day Camp, a 2 Day Showjumping Clinic, a Gymkhana with a mounted Easter Egg Hunt, a Polocrosse Day and something we haven’t done in a very long time – a Picnic ride out. We are very confident that the weather in the Easter holidays will be great. To find out all the details click this link and go to our website.

It would seem that Spring..

And we have a…

…winner. The ponies and horses all got their new rugs on on the 28th January and at the time we wondered which horse would rip their rug first and who that would be. Between us we all thought it would be Remy. And how wrong we were.

Because the prize for the first ripped.rug of 2019 goes to…

Benjie.

So it’s time to start repairing rugs. Well one rug.

The weather is picking up again, although it’s not warm enough to do without rugs. The snow and ice are melting and at the moment I am sitting in the sunshine watching 5 bales of straw, 8 bales of haylage and 12 bales of hay getting unloaded and put away in the run in. The 8 bales of haylage are being stored on pallets around the back.

The ponies are loving their rugs although it does mean that when they are getting tacked up for lessons they do like a good itch. Here’s Charm throwing some shapes whilst having a good itch.

Her back leg is off the ground and she is itching her stifle whilst balancing on 3 legs.

And we have a…

Goodnight Zimba.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to Zimba. We really can’t believe it and our hearts go out to Rob, John, Nathan, Arran, Garry and Alice who had the privilege of owning this very special little pony.

Last Tuesday he had a little colic which the vets thought was due to him not drinking as much after the change in temperature (apparently when the water gets very cold some horses and ponies reduce their drinking). They treated him and he was back to normal being ridden in the riding school happily and squealing at Muffin at night time like he usually does.

And then it happened again yesterday. Almost exactly the same. The vet came but this time the treatment didn’t work as well and so they took him into the clinic to ultrasound him just in case the compaction colic was masking something more serious.

And the vet was sadly correct. Zimba had a tumour in his intestines that was causing the blockage and giving him colic. The tumour and colic was only going to get worse and so Garry had to make the most difficult of decisions and say farewell to this very loved and lovable pony.

Zimba was a great character in the riding school. He looked after his riders and genuinely loved being ridden. He was also a fantastic jumper and, of course, an international polocrosse pony having played for Scotland in the Pony Club Home Nation polocrosse tournaments in 2015 and 2017.

John riding Zimba for Scotland in the 2015 Home Nations

Rob riding Zimba for Scotland in the 2017 Home Nations

Garry and his family bought Zimba in 2015 from the Twinberrow family as a pony for Rob to ride and play polocrosse on. Rob had a really successful polocrosse career with Zimba. They were a brilliant partnership, with Rob winning numerous best player awards and Zimba winning numerous best pony awards.

Rob finally outgrew Zimba last year and moved up to a bigger pony. This however allowed Robs younger brother, Nathan, the opportunity to start riding Zimba. This worked well as Zimba was the sort of pony that made his riders feel safe whilst still being forward going. He was an all round gentleman who will be very sadly missed by many children in the riding school. However he was above all Robs pony and we have great memories of Rob and Zimba galloping up the pitch tirelessly and fearlessly and always catching up with his opposition.

Zimba was a pony that gave his all in every thing he did and although we will all miss him terribly we can at least know that he was active right up to the end and didn’t suffer any pain or fear and his passing was all very peaceful.

Goodnight Zimba.

On foot polocrosse..

..started again last Sunday and we had 10 people practicing their raquet skills. We played the usual games and finished off with on foot chukkas. It will be on again this Sunday (tonight) at the same time.

The snow came a week last Friday night settled and then promptly thawed and went again on Saturday. A year ago the weather outside looked like this…

..it is somewhat warmer at the moment. With snowdrops already flowering…

But the temperature has dropped somewhat, with our outside thermometer showing -5°C on Tuesday night. The sun was up during the day and the temperature rose but it’s going to drop again. So isn’t it great to see what arrived today…

..lots of boxes full of new heavyweight rugs for the horses and ponies. They are all going to look so smart in their new blue, black or purple rugs. And just in time for winter proper!

We are busy fitting new rugs on all the horses and ponies. Now let’s see which is the first one to rip their rug.

On foot polocrosse..

Another very sad day..

..for the stables as we had to say goodbye to Diamond. Thank you to everyone who happily allowed us to cancel lessons yesterday and Pony Club. We really couldn’t have coped.

Old age finally came to Diamond and we took the vets advice to have her put quietly to sleep. Since Christmas she had been increasingly lying down and struggling to get up and then getting up lame in her back legs. As prey animals ponies hate not being able to get up so it’s very frightening for a pony to be unable to stand and run away if necessary. The muscles in Diamonds back legs were getting weaker and weaker and the vet felt very strongly that the kindest thing to do was to put her to sleep quietly rather than wait another day or so when there was a strong chance she would be stuck unable to get up and in pain and very distressed. We owed it to Diamond to give her the best end possible and we did.

Diamond came to us about 14 years ago to join the riding school in its very early days. She was hugely fast, loved to jump and could jump huge tracks.

Diamond enjoyed lots of different adventures whilst she was with us. Robyn had her on loan, until she outgrew her and got Tara, and had great fun jumping her. Olivia bought her when she outgrew Peppermint and she stayed with us on working livery. Olivia and Jane both have great memories and photo’s of her showjumping prowess. They did everything from lessons, camps, showjumping and polocrosse and they were a fantastic partnership. After Olivia outgrew her she stayed with us in the riding school until Holly bought her. She moved to Hollys field outside Milnathort for a while where Holly had a great time on her, playing on her and looking after her. When Holly outgrew her we were delighted to buy her and bring her back home to all her pony friends and the children who still remembered her and loved her.

Diamond came from an age when there were no passports so we don’t exactly know how old she was, but she was very old.

Because we keep our riding school ponies into their retirement it means we get the joy of knowing that they can live out their elderly years in a place they know and trust surrounded by a herd that they have a secure place in. This does mean that we have the responsibility of making sure their last days aren’t in pain and distress. It also means that there are regular bouts of heartbreak when we have to say goodbye to our friends.

So here are some of our photos of Diamond over the years..

Another very sad day..

We think we over ordered..

..horse feeds…

Partly we got the timing wrong because of the holidays. However, we also have started getting all our horse feeds from the same supplier and I didn’t realise they were selling us 25kg bags of oats and barley instead of the 20kg bags.

We make our horse feeds up in massive metal bins by mixing 100kg of oats and 100kg of barley and 25kg of soya, 25kg of maize and 25kg of peas. So normally we order 5 bags of oats and 5 bags of barley for every 1 bag of soya, maize and peas. But now we only need 4 bags of the oats and 4 bags of barley to make one of these..

The use by date on the oats and barley is the end of February so we should get to feed them to our horses before they lose their calorific value. We are quite excited about using these feeds because in the past we have used bruised oats. These are oats that have been rolled to break the outer husk. They can only be digested to the extent that the husk has been broken.

These new oats are cooked though and so the whole of the oats is digestible and therefore the ponies will get more energy from them.

However, a word of warning. Feeding horses concentrates like these cereals or a mix is an intervention. And just like we said in the last blog, all human interventions come with risks.

So what are the risks of our cereal based feeding regimen.

Well according to the animal charity Blue Cross, a killer disease is quietly spreading through the horse population of the United Kingdom and the disease is obesity.

Obesity has fatal consequences and causes severe, debilitating and painful symptoms. Next to colic it causes the most equine fatalities of any equine disease in the UK – yet it is 100% preventable.

Before domestication horses lived on extensive areas as opportunistic grazers, much as zebras still do today (not in Scotland obviously). Unlike most domesticated horses, in a wild herd a horse is either growing, pregnant and/or has a foal at foot, while stallions work very hard to mate with mares and protect the herd.

Their main protection from predators is keeping on the move and rapid flight from danger – all needing a lot of energy. As such, they evolved to become efficient converters of low energy foods; we still see this in our native breeds which survive very well in barren, desolate landscapes.

The wild horse is designed to eat large amounts of grass during the summer when forage is plentiful and convert this to fat. This is in order to survive the lean period during the winter when there is no grass growth. Normally a wild horse would start the winter fat but by the spring will have lost weight and may be quite thin, ready to start putting weight back on. The whole metabolism of the horse is designed around this annual fluctuation in weight.

Today, most horses don’t lose much weight in the winter because of our human interventions, yet the metabolic mechanisms that have developed over millions of years of evolution still operate.

Today we have fat horses entering the winter whose bodies are preparing for starvation yet the ‘lean’ period never arrives – indeed winter feeding and rugging means that in many cases horses continue putting on weight at a time when their bodies are designed to be losing it.

The confusion that results contributes to an unfortunate trilogy of undesirable events often called equine metabolic syndrome: obesity, insulin resistance and increased circulating cortisol which can, in many cases, spark off a serious bout of laminitis.

So whilst we are feeding high energy feeds to horses, their bodies are geared to breaking down fat stores and becoming lean. This means we have to carefully monitor our horses and ideally see them put on weight in spring and summer which they then lose over winter.

Our riding school horses and ponies need to have sufficient energy to be ridden in lessons and none of our clients like to see a horse that’s very skinny let alone ride one and so we have to balance a horse workload with the feed that they get and the way they look. This means we have to be very careful because we also need to make sure they don’t get overweight or at least lose some weight before Spring.

Maybe part of the problem is that we all need to change our perception of what a healthy horse actually looks like, especially depending upon the time of year. We need to learn that a horse losing weight over winter is a positive and not a negative and we need to learn to not respond by feeding it increased amounts of cereals.

Unfortunately this is a very difficult thing to do as we all want our horses to look healthy and well cared for. As long as we equate healthy and well cared for with well rounded and slightly plump then we will continue to promote the problems of equine obesity. We are all victims of the casual comments of observers worriedly asking “is your horse alright, it looks a bit skinny”.

Finally it is important to remember that if your horse is losing weight but also losing energy and looking a bit flat then this weight loss is probably not a positive natural thing and will require the attention of a vet. This is not the same thing as a natural seasonal related weight loss in a healthy horse with bags of energy and go.

We think we over ordered..