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.

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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..

Snug as a bug..

..in a straw filled pen.

..the rugs are coming later. But more of that further down.

We took delivery of more hay on Tuesday and David, who delivered it, brought 6 bales of lovely dry clean straw. We had the front and back pens mucked out..

..and the new straw placed in there along with fresh hay. The ponies loved it. Louise almost dissappeared in it, it was so deep and all of them are lying down in the bedding.

At late check last night Sally was lying in the straw whilst eating hay from the ring feeder. She was very in horsey heaven.

So most of our horses and ponies aren’t rugged yet. The weather has been so mild we have kept them rug free. Also they are only going out during the day for turn out so they are protected from the weather at night time when it’s colder. Obviously we are expecting the weather to get colder and the horses will need rugs when the temperature drops.

Horses are extremely good at regulating their own temperature and are perfectly happy when the environmental temperature is between 5°c and 25°c.

It’s much easier for a horse to warm up than cool down and this is where the danger lies with rugs. A horse that can’t cool down sufficiently will potentially get heat stress. The first signs of a horse which has heat stress are

  • Loss of appetite
  • Restless/Colic like symptoms
  • Rapid heart and breathing rate
  • Lethargic
  • Dehydrated

All our horses and ponies are unclipped and so they have their own layer of insulation and they all have plenty of forage (hay) and the bacteria in a horses guts generate a huge amount of heat when they break down the fibre in the forage. Our vets once described the horses intestines like a huge hot water bottle that keeps the horse warm.

So at the moment they all seem really happy to be rug free and rugs, like all human interventions, carry risks for horses and ponies. Not only the risk of overheating but also risk of injury if the rugs gets caught on something or slips and traps the horses causing it to get cast. It would be great if we could get through the whole winter without needing to rug our horses and ponies but we do live in Scotland.

Snug as a bug..

We had a very sad..

…weekend at the stables as we had to say goodbye to our darling Lucy.

Lucy was Mollie’s first pony and we have had her living with us for 18 years and she was the original ODS pony. She had been semi-retired for about a year only doing lead rein lessons and very light work. She was after all in her mid 30’s.

We bought Lucy when Mollie was 7 from our neighbours when we lived outside Perth and before we started the riding school. Our neighbours had bought her fresh off the Angus hills and so she was a lucky pony who had only lived with 2 families in her life. We all loved her dearly and so we didn’t take the decision to have her put to sleep lightly but there was nothing the vet could do to help her. Despite being fit and healthy in all respects she had bladder stones which were not causing her any pain but we’re causing her to bleed internally.

Her last day was full of love. Mollie groomed her, fed her bucket after bucket of fast fibre and food, gave her apples and a bag full of horse treats. We even took her out to eat grass. So the last thing she experienced was a full tummy and being surrounded by the people that loved her.

Its always sad when we lose horses and ponies, especially ones that have been with us from the start. We will always remember Lucy and she will forever have a place in our hearts. We thought that as a tribute to her we would post as many photos of her that we could find. So here goes…

A 7 year old Mollie galloping Lucy behind Katie riding Bella

Lucy having a rest in the pens

Mollie resting bareback on Lucy (with Kirsty and Pete)

Lucy being plaited at an Own a Pony Day

Hamish at Blair Atholl horse trials being bucked off

Lucy jumping

Here’s Lucy standing on top of hay bales in the front pen supervising a lesson!

Lucy jumping at our Exmoor challenge

Hamish on Lucy playing mounted games at Blair Atholl horse trials

We had a very sad..