Winter has definitely arrived, and with it a number of owners have recently asked me: “Why has my horse turned into a monster since the clocks have gone back?”
I do a monthly webinar for Your Horsemanship members, and this month’s topic was on how to keep your horse sane and reliable through the winter months. When the clocks go back, it usually means there is less time to ride and less turnout for your horse, and as owners, we need to recognise this and change their feed and routine accordingly, as the majority of problems are caused by horses being over-fed and under-worked. Horses evolved having times of plenty and times of hardship, and they developed strategies such as growing thick, water resistant coats to combat the winter months. With our domesticated horses, we are now so quick to rug them, stable them and increase their feed, because we tend to put our human reactions to the winter on to our horses! Of course, you have to treat all horses as individuals, but unless your horse is kept in work, the majority are perfectly fine with ad-lib roughage and a decent mineral block in their stable or field.
I had a great time as always at Your Horse Live. I did a talk on desensitising horses to clippers, which is also a very apt topic of conversation at this time of year. I follow a four-step process to convince your horse that the clippers aren’t going to eat him!
1. Show the clippers aren’t a predator by leading your horse behind you with the portable clippers (or an electric toothbrush!) in your hand. This has the effect of making the horse feel like he is moving the clippers away from him, and will create curiosity rather than fear.
2. Removal of the fear that they will be pounced on. If you keep your clippers still, your horse may think they are a predator that is about to pounce. Therefore, hold them still, away from your horse, and ask them to step forward towards them.
3. Teaching your horse to stand still with the clippers running, with the horse in-hand rather than tied up.
4. Making contact with the clippers, firstly with them turned off, then with them turned on, all the while your free hand should also be in contact with the horse (again the horse should be in-hand, rather than tied up).
As the event took place over Remembrance Sunday, I thought you’d like to see this stunning clip done by the Clippersharp team.
I also did three “spook-busting” demonstrations over the weekend with different horses, including dressage rider, Anna Miller’s stunning Ares. I went through the initial methods you need to adopt in order to control a horse that is spooking, before elaborating on the processes I use to actually fix the problem.
There are different forms of spooking, and horses have varying levels of education, so you need to have a number of strategies to deal with each situation.
If a horse is young or uneducated, my first aim is to keep the horse’s head going in the direction you want to go in, and not worry about what the rest of their body is doing! If my horse spooks, I use one rein to turn him back, which controls the spook, and then the opposite rein to re-establish them on the original track. These two one-rein turns combine to form an “S” shape. Using the S turns correctly will also encourage your horse to gravitate to the outside track. Over time, your horse will want to stay on the outside track, and therefore will be less likely to spook at something on the outside of an arena, which is where most of the “scary monsters” are lurking!
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I finished each of my demonstrations with Diesel, who captured the hearts of the crowd by picking up pairs of Toggi socks and caps in his teeth and delivering them to members of the audience! He was so beautifully behaved, I started to wonder what was wrong with him, as he usually makes me look stupid at least a couple of times over the course of the event. I have my Christmas coffee morning on 14 December, so maybe he’ll take out his revenge on me then… Everyone is welcome to come along to see me working with some special guests, and who knows, you may even get a present from Diesel!
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