We are once again reaching that point where a lot of our in-patient horses are ready to go home after their stay with us. Despite the fact every horse is on an individually tailored programme and the length of their residencies vary greatly, waves of horses leaving and new ones coming in at the same time is quite common.
For the most part it is usually fairly straight-forward keeping them settled and happy in their work whilst they’re here. I firmly believe that maintaining a routine is a big part of this. In-patient horses will work 7 days a week and we try to keep their environment as consistent as possible, which seems to help them relax.
The difficult bit is often when you have to change something, be that introducing lunge work (pictured left), starting ridden exercise or turning them out in the field for the first time. A really important part of our job is the aftercare we provide to our clients and primarily this means giving them a back a horse that they can work with.
Some horses won’t be ridden before they leave and some will. Some will be turned out in a pen as they need to be ready to go straight out in the field following discharge, others won’t be ready for this by the time they go home.
Keeping horse and rider safe
The most important consideration for us during any of these things is to keep the horse safe. The worst case scenario would be them either injuring or re-injuring themselves during this process. For this reason the vets will often instruct us to use oral sedation, and gradually wean them off of this as they settle in their new routine.
Of course, anyone involved with horses knows full well that they can still do things to themselves, however hard we try to protect them. The benefit of a programme of controlled exercise is that we know exactly what work that each horse has done, and so we can prepare its body as far as possible to sustain the trials of just being a horse again, doing all the things that horses do.
Some of the trickiest cases are those which we are asked to ride straight off the back of walking exercise. In any normal situation you would probably lunge a horse that hasn’t been sat on for 6 months prior to riding it, but in the case of a tendon injury, for example, this is generally not an option. Again this is where oral sedatives can be really useful.
For the most part we treat them as if they were breakers again when we first get on board — they will be leant over, and either Meaghan or I will be led round on them before going solo. It’s a belt and braces approach, but we’d far rather avoid any issues rather than have to deal with them after they’ve occurred.
Our situation allows us to expose the horses to what is often a much busier outside environment than they’ve come in from. There is always a lot going on here at Hartpury and so when the horse is ready we can re-introduce them to all the things they’ll have to encounter when they go home.
To most horses, being ridden outside the confines of an indoor school wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal, but to one that’s been on treadmill exercise for 8 weeks it can be rather an exciting adventure. I did even have one owner who requested we school her horse in both of the international indoor and outdoor arenas prior to him leaving as she was planning on coming to the Festival of Dressage that summer and he was a spooky devil the last time she’d been here… touché!
After all of the buzz of Charlotte and Valegro’s amazing performance at the World Cup Finals in Lyon last week, we have shifted our attentions and anticipation to the Badminton Horse Trials. It seems to have come around so quickly this year, I can’t even imagine what it must be heading into it as a competitor.
We’re only about an hour away and so there will be the traditionally massive contingent of Team Hartpury heading off to enjoy all that the competition has to offer. No matter how old I get, I still get the same motivational kick I used to as a little girl going to places like Thirlestane, Floors Castle and Scone back up in Scotland when watching the big events like Badminton and Burghley.
To all those competing, you have my ultimate admiration; very best of luck for a great run and come home safe.