Denman’s diary: bit changes and beating mud fever

  • Denman has been settling into his hunting. We’ve been out with the Duke of Beaufort’s as much as possible — usually once a week, sometimes twice — although the frozen ground stopped any plans we had this week.

    I’ve started introducing more jumping now he is calmer and doesn’t find it so exciting. He’s jumped a few more little walls (see photo below, courtesy of TTL videos), and the other day we jumped three hedges in a row and I could pull up with no problems at the end. I was particularly impressed when Denman jumped a single strand of white tape. He popped it like a showjump and I was so excited — little things like that are very encouraging.

    He still finds queuing for gateways slightly frustrating and can have the odd rear, but people are so kind, giving him space and letting him through if he gets too hot. He gets treated like royalty!

    His mud fever is so much better now, which is a great relief. It has probably been the worst season for introducing a horse to hunting in the mud, as there is so much of it.

    I was told about a brilliant cream that my vets (Bourton Vale) supply — it knocked the mud fever on the head. I now just use aloe vera gel. He no longer hunts in boots — except for knee boots in case he hits a wall — as the water and mud went down them and rubbed his legs.

    Before hunting I smother his fetlocks and pasterns in zinc and castor oil and his tummy in pig oil. The recent cold snap has also helped, as the fields aren’t muddy when they’re turned out.

    In terms of bitting, I’ve been hunting Den in an American gag with two reins and a combination noseband. I think it’s now a little too strong for him, so I’m going to downgrade to a Dutch (three-ring) gag with two reins.

    The reason I had him well bitted was so he didn’t learn to get away from me. Once they’ve run through the bridle, they have little or no respect for you and I wanted to make sure we got off to a good start. He had to learn to stop when I asked him to and not to mow down children on their ponies. I can now ride him with a softer contact, but will keep him in the combination noseband because he does cross his jaw.

    My mother saw Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton at Taunton racecourse yesterday (13 December). They are always delighted to hear about Den’s progress.

    We were pleased to see Roger and Catherine Penny in the winner’s enclosure with their horse Buck’s Bond, who is related to Big Buck’s and trained by Paul. They owned my horse Earthmover, who died earlier this year (see H&H’s review of the year, 6 December issue), and, like Den’s owners the Barbers, were hugely supportive.

    I’ve exercised Denman this morning and he is now keeping nice and dry in his stable before hunting again tomorrow.


    See more pictures of Denman out hunting with the Duke of Beaufort’s

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