Pammy Hutton: Cost saving and the feed minefield [H&H VIP]

  • Brrr, winter has arrived. I’ve yet to master heating one’s house for 8p a day with tealights and tin foil, as seen on YouTube, but we have plenty of cost-saving measures on the yard.

    Rug up and up and up… the warmer the horse, the less hard feed is required. We pile on old duvets. Down filled and often deserted in the bottom of the airing cupboard, they’re beautifully warm and just the right size. Nor do they rub as much as some expensive rugs.

    In days gone by, an old trick was to put plastic under the rug against the skin to help horses sweat over the top line in the belief it aided muscle development. In fact, any benefit was probably from the warmth, rather than the sweating, because only correct work and good feeding — strictly in that order — puts on muscle.

    With daylight hours at a premium, exercising horses is not easy for those in 9-5 jobs. Several of mine live out at night — more cost-saving — and so keep themselves moving. Some even remain unclipped, though we often remove hair from the neck and tummy, which barely shows.

    Seeing a pregnant friend knocking back a Guinness (“for medicinal purposes”) recently reminded me of another archaic idea favoured by the showing and racing worlds — a pint of the black stuff in the evening feed.

    Well, I’m not sure what a pint of Guinness costs these days, but it might well prove cheaper than the sum total of supplements and additives heaped into some horses’ buckets. Do the maths!

    So often I wish for a return to traditional feeds such as oats and broad bran; the chaff cutter in the feed room, barley and linseed boiling on the stove. But is that to miss out on the science that’s gone into modern, ready-made formulations? And which are safer for competition horses?

    But with so many dope scares this year, insecurity abounds. I’m led to believe that even Polos fly in the face of FEI rules, although I’m unsure how many packets equal a positive test.

    I hear that the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) is to publish a yard guide to help us all manage the risk of contamination and accidental doping. Sadly these days, it’s not as simple as remembering not to drink coffee when mixing feeds…

    Let’s hope 2014 can be free from dope test fears and failures.

    Diary date dilemmas

    One of the joys of the Christmas break is planning the coming season. With next year being our family’s last in young riders, I’m ahead of the game.

    Addington’s CDI has moved from Easter to 20-23 March. Fab — this will be the barometer for British team selection. Though the venue’s Premier League (7-11 May) clashing with Badminton [where I’m busy helping riders] is not such great news for us.

    Wanting so much to do a small tour international, as the stepping stone to my first big one in ages, my heart was set on Hartpury. But this clashes with the young rider Europeans (9-13 July) in Italy, which is our priority.

    To add to the dilemma, Hickstead’s CDI (29 July-3 August) clashes with a summer regional final that our lorry is keen to go to. Discussions loom!

    Winter time is learning time. But here’s a conundrum. During the first 5min of a lesson, should the trainer give input from the off, or quietly observe?

    Constant instruction too early can disable the pupil as he or she endeavours to do all they’re asked at once. Riding round and hearing a pin drop can be equally disarming.

    But is it right to expect people to pay for silence while they’re being assessed? There’s no easy answer…

    And talking of paying: “It won’t happen to me”, we all say of internet fraud. It did to us, to the tune of thousands. The money will come back, but I didn’t find it funny when the bank decided to allow a further £15,000 to move to enable them to trace the first lot… then all our accounts were frozen for a month.

    Safe shopping and happy Christmas!

    Pammy’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (12 December, 2013 edition)