Saturday, 8 April 2017

Nearly a year since my last post. This Winter and Spring have been another stark reminder of how our weather patterns and seasons are changing.  Having grown a thicker than usual winter coat it's been difficult for the pony to shed it naturally and consistently with temperatures in the high 'teens' during the day but going down to freezing and below with ground frosts and ice across some weeks in late March/early April. Considering the increasing hours of daylight has been happening since 21st December it's left him hot and sweaty and itchy. So I've been collecting an enormous bag of his more downy undercoat which hopefully will go to line some Spring nests somewhere. He's left with the longer finer outer winter coat (the waterproofing).

It's been interesting looking at the areas of the body that a horse sheds its coat from first. Legs and belly stay well insulated for longer, the head and chest seem to lose most first. I'm guessing the belly is to keep the gut warmer to produce heat through all the fibre digestion.

On our weekly hacks he's already spotted the shoots of cow parsley appearing. And all through the winter he's still been keen on the leaves of bramble we've come across.

Sycamore seedlings are in profusion this Spring again which is a worrying time for horse owners everywhere though the intricate science of determining which seedlings from some sycamores are more toxic than others is ongoing. I've been told some seedlings contain the toxins and others don't but more research will hopefully get to the bottom of this. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The thing about blogs is they take time and effort - and remembering that you have one that you write on an occasional basis in the first place.  I was astonished to see that I last wrote anything for this one in the autumn of 2014...can a year and a half have gone by so quickly?

Last year did seem to pass in a blur, all was well in the horse's world beyond each of the other 3 of his field companions departing, one went to keep another horse company, then another went to join them, and then another one left the yard altogether and I lost a nice hacking companion.  I never thought the bonds were that strong between the horses in the field but for mine it was a very unsettling time.  He was stressed and unsure for a good few weeks as he is a creature of routine and takes a while to adjust to change. A new pony arrived to join him though being younger and fitter is higher up in the pecking order and mine has to bear that in mind around him and then they were put in with 2 other horses that mine already knew so things settled down again.

The long hot summer of 2015 followed by what has seemed like constant rain since November has been a challenge. I can't remember a winter since I've had him that felt so long and tiring.  For only the second time in his 20 years the pony got heel mites. I think the damp and warmth allowed the mites to flourish as it was the same sort of winter the last time he had them. But he was spared mud fever which was something that I thought he would suffer from as the field was mud for most of the time.

But we are through and out the other side. Green is flushing the fields, hedges and trees - the pony's favourite - cow parsley - has shot up and now flowering.  This weekend we change from our winter fields to our summer ones even though the current night time temperature has been just below freezing this week so far. The one thing missing is the swallows - they have yet to return to the nest in our stable - only then can I truly believe that summer is on its way.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Schooling is a bit like school homework.  Something to be avoided at all costs yet at times has to be done.  Our return to the arena has been limited, mainly due to energy levels (mine), enthusiasm (mine) and dark nights when on arriving at the yard after work all I want to do is muck out and get home to food and the sofa.  Quite how I can turn our approach from Eeyore to Tigger I just do not know....this photo taken a few weeks ago after about 30 minutes in the school says it all....

For many horse owners throughout the country it is hopefully coming to the end of a worrying time.  With the very dry summer after such a mild winter last year, a pattern that has repeated for the last few years, our trees and shrubs have produced a surfeit of berries and leaves.  While for us it's meant beauty in the autumnal countryside of extraordinary colour and a natural bountiful harvest of seeds and berries for Nature itself, with the threat of Equine Atypical Myopathy and its impact, for some horse owners it's been a time of great worry and loss. 

It is all down to a toxin called Hypoglycin A, which is found in specific elder seeds.  In the UK it is the seeds of the sycamore that is appearing to be the cause though research is still ongoing both in Europe and America (where a similar condition is also seen - SAM) but it's thought ingestion of the helicopter seeds by horses, which in windy wet conditions get spread far and wide into grazing fields leads to their death.  The illness has a fatality rate of about 70% as its onset is quite rapid. 

Research is ongoing and as more information is gathered both here, in Europe and in other countries with similar problems, hopefully with careful land management at the risky times of year, Spring and Autumn, EAM cases can be reduced.  There is little though that can be done about the changes in our climate that is being seen seasonally with longer spells of dry, warm and wet and what it may spell for the future for grazing animals.  For someone with honeysuckle and lavender still flowering in the garden on 10th November the signs are there of these shifts, natural or otherwise. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

I always find changing from summer to winter pasture and the other way round slightly melancholic.  Particularly at the end of summer.  This evening I took out two ponies from their summer pasture, "Cobblers" as the woodland pasture there seems to be known, for the last time.  It is a gently sloping paddock, edged on one side by a small fenced off woodland that drops away to the valley for the River Frome.  I love the ancient feel that the woodland gives it as also in the field are three large trees, one must be at least a hundred years old, if not more, looking at its vast trunk and huge gnarled branches which snake high into the sky.  These three lined up down one side have provided shade, shelter and scratching posts for the three horses in the field. The other side of the field borders the corner of the lane and two former chapels, now converted into homes. It's felt a bit remote from the rest of the grazing fields and other horses on the yard as tucked away into a corner of the property.  I have often thought across the summer about its name and the history of Bury Hill where it is. 

This evening I paused by the big trees and stared up into their ageing arms and listened to the gently fading occasional sounds of birds in the wood behind me and no distance away across the paddock, the contrast of the constant rather invasive wall of sound of the thrum and hum of the motorway in full rush hour mode over the other side of the hill.

Across the six months in this paddock I have walked past carpets of bluebells in the wood beyond the fenceline, heard a tawny owl calling for a few late afternoons, discovered a song thrush's well-used stone anvil scattered with broken remnants of snail shells, seen buzzards being mobbed by corvids and seen squirrels scurrying in and out of the wood and up and down the three trees in the field preparing their winter larder, witnessed brilliant early morning summer sun and blue skies and evening sunsets. 

When we are such creatures of routine and roots and when most of us need to have somewhere that is where we call home, the horses' grazing of areas is such a transient existence - they need the routine of in and out and owners giving some structure to their domesticated lives and yet it is just space that provides them with grass and even such small paddocks are just a more reduced version of their former roaming across moorland or plains but just in much smaller parcels of land.  And that need to move and find food is seen quite clearly when the grass runs out in a paddock and horses will stretch and reach and attempt to find grazing beyond, often at the detriment to, the fencing.  'Don't fence me in' is a line that comes to mind. 

So I left the paddock and closed the gate and padlock on it behind me.  Who knows what may have happened in my and my horse's life or the world for that matter before it is returned to, if it ever is.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The gentle rising hope that the horse is finally on the mend.  I haven't been able to hack out since mid July when the pony seemed to suddenly become very short on his offside fore and was very reluctant, if not unable, to trot on the road without the movement beneath me feeling most uncomfortable.  I've missed out on one of the best summers for hacking but with so many issues with horses, things can take a long while to resolve or improve.  Horses, for such strong animals with athletic ability, have such complicated anatomy in their limbs, shoulders and back.  This turned out to hopefully be just a shoulder muscle problem caused by amongst other things the hard ground, his saddle no longer being ideal for his changing shape as he ages and I would think some messing around in the field leading to a sudden twist or tweak of that front leg.  What it makes me realise is how well I know my horse and his movement.  He never went actually lame which says something about his enduring wish in his evolutionary makeup not to be the one at the back of the herd taken out by a lynx or mountain lion due to not running fast enough!  Vet and physio both identified the same areas of discomfort so three weeks of twice daily short sessions with a bio-magnetic pad has paid dividends.  The shoulder muscle discomfort must have started to ease as his leg slowly began to strengthen again after a week of treatment, he stopped taking so much weight off it, and now it is just a case of getting him to start to stretch the shoulder muscle again over trot poles on the ground as he has built up muscle in the wrong place by gradually shortening his stride.  As an owner you feel guilty for not spotting that imperceptible difference until it eventually shows itself in discomfort for him and his way of going   The saddle has been totally reflocked and widened a bit to accommodate his slightly dipping back and so now should sit much more comfortably on him without causing any restriction of movement.  And a return to regular but very slowly building amounts of exercise should get him fit again.  He has been the most patient of patients but has still had turn out, he does push the boundaries a bit when not ridden and so it will be good to cement our horse and rider bond again.  Schooling will need to become more regular even though neither of us are fans but with the shorter days it will be only way to exercise him during the week.  Physio suggested us doing some winter dressage....the last dressage test involved a comment on the sheet of "disobedient"!   

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Having missed out on riding out for most of the summer due to being unable to hack due to him having a shortened stride on his offside fore, to be back on board for gentle exercising over poles in the school has been wonderful. And I never thought I'd hear myself say that about being in the arena! Trepidation and caution in my heart and body as I don't want to undo what has hopefully been the restorative power of three weeks of bio-magnetic massage twice a day to help heal whatever tweak he did to himself in his shoulder area and adjustments to his saddle to hopefully make it fit him better now that he's older and has changed shape (haven't we all...). Our sessions are just 10-20 minutes long but once warmed up and encouraged onwards he seems to be moving fairly freely, though as would be expected on the left rein, when that outer shoulder has to take the strain on the turn he's not quite as strong on it as he should be.  Trot poles to get him to stretch his forelegs/stride have been interesting as I realised beyond canter poles approaching jumps to help us get the correct stride for those we've not actually done much trot work.  Our first attemps he hopped, skipped, tripped and jumped over them as he didn't know how to lift his legs to get through them and then lost his nerve on his approach but when the poles were spaced out a bit more he had another go and started to get the striding right.  It may not be classed as intelligence in a horse but let this pony have the reins and his head and don't interfere and you can see on his approach that he is more than capable of working it out for himself how to get his stride right to trot through the poles without error.  Ears pricked and eyes focussed he sorts himself out.  He used to do that over canter poles too, if approaching the first one he had his stride wrong I used to feel what can only be described as fumbling adjustment going on behind and under me on his back legs and that was just him sorting himself and then he'd be foot perfect cantering over the poles towards the jump.  When I felt him adjusting his legs I would sometimes panic thinking it was all going to go wrong into the jump but the instructor on the ground could see what he was doing and would just say, "Don't interfere, just go with him, he'll get it right." And he always did.  Horses sometimes make me feel humble.