The diary of the home-made (locked down) livery yard: a quick way to get Facebook likes

Last Friday started like any other. I stumbled out of bed after setting my alarm on snooze for the fourth time. I always have grand plans of waking up even earlier the following day in the hope that I will get more done. Sometimes my morning body and my evening brain just don’t see eye-to-eye.

It was my pre-schooler that truly woke me up in the end, by waving a tin of half opened dog food under my nose (I am still under the covers at this point), asking for help to get the lid off.

Kids packed off to school with my husband, I went out to the yard and started feeding the horses. My phone started pinging and I got a couple of messages from liveries that reminded me I wanted to speak to our vets that morning about the current equine influenza outbreaks and whether I should organise the six-month booster vaccinations for some of our horses.

A quick chat with one of our lovely regular vets in the Penbode office about the general health of the yard leads to me confess that a couple of our horses have been coughing and had nasal discharge for the past two or three weeks, one of them with slightly swollen glands in the jaw/neck.

Signage at the yard

We had already called another of our super veterinary team, Allan from Tamar Vets, (I allow owners at my yard to use any vet they like) out to see one of the coughing horses, a week or so ago. This was before all the equine flu media stories had come out and, as the horse was fully vaccinated, didn’t have a temperature and was generally bright and perky, both vet, owner and I were satisfied that the horse simply had a cough. She was given an anti-inflammatory injection, I promised to give Allan an update and we thought no more of it.

On Friday morning, however, both vets and I agreed that, with the information that vaccinated horses are catching equine flu and showing mild symptoms, we should get the horses tested. What surprised me (although I am not sure why — it is standard procedure) is that Penbode advised me to put my yard on full lock down. No movement of horses in or out of the yard and no visitors in to the yard. Oh dear God — the liveries!

I rushed into the house to message the liveries en masse and tell them what was going on and explain that I would be able to tell them more after the Penbode’s visit, but essentially, that they should not come to the yard that afternoon.

Me creosoting the arena

Penbode sent out the head honcho of the equine department, David Rowlands. He is a brilliant vet who officiated at the London Olympics, is an FEI veterinary delegate for eventing and is an all-round nice chap. We were in a big rush to get the blood samples and nasal swabs done (along with several flu vaccine boosters for those not done in the past six months) in time for the last post.

David was simply mortified that he did not have time to pat and console each horse after sampling or vaccinating them, gentle as he was.

“I’ll do the patting, you get the samples packaged up,” I joked.

While waiting on the results of the tests, the advice was to quarantine any horses showing symptoms and maintain full lock down until the results came through.

Always one to see the bright side of life, after an initial slightly shell-shocked feeling, I cheered.

“Hooray! A holiday!”

I envisioned restful lie-ins, leisurely mucking out and gentle grooming for a couple of days while liveries were not permitted onto the yard. By all means, if I wanted to do my job naked, I could have done!

I look back at myself in that moment in time, now, and I laugh, and I laugh, and I laugh.

Incidentally, if you want advice on how to increase your social media presence, I would wholeheartedly suggest some sort of public biosecurity threat to up your popularity.

Jerome jet washing

After a straightforward, honest post, warning our local community that we were under testing and on lock down, I received scores of new ‘likes’ on the South Woolley Facebook page and it was undoubtedly the most ‘liked’ and shared post I have written in ages.

The following day, Saturday, I was painfully aware that this was peak pony play time for my liveries. I was forbidding them from partaking in one of their greatest pleasures and keeping them away from their beloved pets. I knew we were doing this for all the right reasons, by I could not have felt more Simon Cowell (mean) if I tried.

By way of commiserations, I offered complimentary grooming and exercising for all our non-quarantined horses. This made me feel slightly less mean. A half way house. Perhaps more Paul Hollywood from The Great British Bake Off?

The quarantined horses were also receiving five-star care, so everyone was happy.

Livery care package

My husband, Jerome, and I realised at this point that not having liveries to the yard was a huge opportunity to crack on with some of the maintenance jobs we have been wanting to do for a while, but would, usually, disturb owners trying to enjoy their horses.

Very high on our list, was jet washing our stables.

This would kill two birds with one stone, as sterilising the stables would be an excellent pre-emptive measure if the test results for flu were to come back positive, as well as generally making the place look more ‘five-star livery‘ and less ‘run down poo palace’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — borrowing equipment is exhausting. We scrounged an industrial dairy jet wash from a friend and completely sterilised the stable block. It was a 14-hour day, along with caring for the 11 horses and exercising only one of them. We had to get the lot done in time to hand the machine back in the morning. I never want to move another rubber mat again!

The stables looked fabulous and I considered serving Sunday dinner off the floor of them. Then I remembered who I am, and that we are lucky if I have enough energy left at the end of the day to put a frozen pizza in the oven. I’m on fire if you get a salad on the side.

Once you get started on maintenance jobs, you see a thousand more that need doing and you suddenly feel that they must be done immediately. Once the stables were jet washed, the paint on the metal work looked tired. The arena fence wanted creosoting and the cobwebs needed to come down from the barn roof and lights.

Me riding Lila

Despite having all 11 of ‘my’ horses all weekend, I felt I had a lot more time to get things done. Presumably, that is because you get a clear run at finishing a job without interruptions.

And not having to put your clothes on in the morning saves a lot of time (I am kidding. Of course, I am kidding!)

My liveries have all, as always, been incredible. They are so understanding and supportive. Literally every day of our lock down, I have had a different livery drop off a ‘care package’ (wine and chocolate seems to be a theme?) along with treats for the horses. I could not wish for a better bunch of people.

It was a huge relief for me that all competitions in the south west were eventually cancelled this weekend. When I initially announced our lock down, Emily (livery, para dressage rider and friend of mine) looked set to lose out on hundreds of pounds in entry fees and travel etc. for a competition at Bicton. Now she will will be refunded.

This weekend and the proceeding week, while we await our test results (which I have every hope and expectation will prove negative), have been and shall be exhausting.

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However, I am tasked with the not-so-terrible job of keeping half of the horses on the yard exercised.

That means several days of playing with my favourites (such as Chunky and Indie) and an opportunity to get to know some of the others a bit better.

Sadly (and I really don’t know how I will cope), Emily will need Lila competition ready at the end of this flu saga. So, I shall, heroically, ride her beautiful KWPN uphill mare, Lila, and endeavour to keep her at advanced medium level training for Emily’s return.

No pressure, then!

Katy x

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