Opinion

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At the end of the year, it’s all change on our yard. All the ponies who competed at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) have their annual holiday, whether that be out in the fields or doing something completely different work-wise.

Changing their routine and letting their minds and bodies relax allows them to wind down after all the craziness and become animals again. While they are chilling, they live solely off good-quality roughage.

I am fastidious about the need to strip weight off during the winter. This mirrors how they would have lived in the wild and has proven health benefits, in particular helping to minimise the risk of insulin resistance and, in association, laminitis.

Stripping weight off at this stage ensures that come the spring, you can put fresh condition on in a healthy way and the result is an animal who looks like it has blossomed. It’s simply not natural nor healthy for them to be in “show condition” all year round, even though we are careful not to let them become overweight.

Learning the ropes

While the established animals are having their holidays, we get the youngsters in and start their education. Most are completely raw and have just come straight off the fields from the breeder, so it’s a considerable task to get them acclimatised to the yard routine and adapting to work.

This year, we just got them settled in their work, turnout, feed and yard routines when the weather spoiled everything. In one freak week, we were snowed in for four days and Shropshire was the coldest place in the UK, with a temperature of -13°C. Our yard looked like a scene from a Christmas card, but working in it has been anything but joyful.

With the automatic waterers and yard taps frozen, we had to skate back and forth from the house, carrying buckets. We couldn’t turn out or work anything and had to adjust all the feed plans accordingly — so the lovely routine in which we had established all the youngsters was turned upside down.

Now we are finally thawing out and have exploding water bowls and flooding from the melting snow to contend with. The joys of working with horses!

Rules for rules

I have also been involved in the arduous task of rewriting the Ponies (UK) rule book. Some people may call me sad, but I keep back copies of all the old rule books and one thing that is noticeable is that year on year they are getting fatter. There are now rules for rules, which is a sad reflection of how showing has changed.

My Christmas wish is that while we all abide by the many rules put in by the showing societies, in 2018 we should also try to embrace the slightly more old-fashioned values of showing — enjoying the sportsmanship, valuing our fellow competitors and respecting our judges. Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and successful year to come.

Ref Horse & Hound; 28 December 2017