In July 2017 my Cob mare had a fall whilst out on a hack. A friend was riding her, thankfully she wasn’t seriously hurt, bruised and sore, but nothing broken.
My horse, Hannah, fell on slippery cobbles, and the poor girl landed mostly head first. She sustained a nasty cut above her eye, and had quite a bump on her nose, also a graze on her knee.
A lovely lady who lived near by gave us some salted water and cotton wool to clean her up, and we set off home. she wasn’t in the least bit lame, and was most eager to go home.
On arrival at the yard, I again cleaned her wounds and creamed them to prevent flies causing problems, and gave her some bute.

Her eye and knee healed quickly, her nose took a little while to go down, but she showed no sensitivity at all. All was looking well.

BUT…….. a few weeks after the fall, I noticed that the she  was scratching a lot on her mane and tail, ears and face.
This deteriorated to the point where her neck was hot and showed quite a lot of hair loss.
It looked very much like sweet-itch, Hannah was 25 years old, and had never shown any sign of it previously.
Due to the heat and condition of the skin, I decided to call the vet.
The diagnosis was Sweet-itch, and the vet agreed it was possibly due to the stress from the fall, and / or an infected midge bite.
As the skin was clean and the heat subsiding, the vet took no action, but recommended the use of an effective fly / midge spray.
I purchased this, and used sudocream  to prevent the midges getting to her sensitive skin. I also gave her antihistamine tablets to help with allergic reactions.
I purchased fly rugs, to further help prevent the midges getting to her. Sadly she really disliked the rugs, she is not rugged at all, even during the winter, and she would walk away when she saw me approaching rug in hand.

As autumn approached and the weather turned cooler and windier, the midge problem subsided, and things returned to normal.

Then of course spring arrives followed by the onset of summer, and those pesky midges…… I started the cream and spray and antihistamine regime, but left off the rugs, hoping she wouldn’t need them.
The vet had said she may or may not have sweet-itch problems in the future.

I really do hope that the initial reaction  was a one off, and she will not suffer another episode like that again. Sweet-itch is a dreadful condition, and to get it at her age seems particularly cruel.


Hannah has now gone through another summer, this time I made sure to start with the antihistamine tablets as soon as the midges appeared and have gone for a more natural treatment using cream and spray twice a day. No fly sheet, for which I’m sure she was very relieved as the heat this summer has been extreme, especially for my two hot girls.  She hasn’t rubbed her mane as much as previously and on the whole seemed more comfortable.

It looks like this will be something we will have to manage every year now, but the routine isn’t difficult and as long as no rugs appear, Hannah is happy with the treatments.

I hope that as time progresses she will keep improving, and it will be interesting to monitor her reaction each spring / summer.

Hannah is 27 this year, and apart from some arthritis, is still fit and healthy. She loves going out hacking and gives the other, younger horses a run for their money, she is amazing.

Has anyone else had a similar reaction to a stressful accident or situation with their horse?
I would be very interested to hear about it if you have.

I heard about a new book by a BHSA1 instructor, ‘Horse Riding, Choose Your WEAPONS’,   by Avis Senior.

I was very impressed by the candor and thoughtfulness expressed. I hope those who read this, think hard about what they do with / to the horses in their care, and pass on the information to others.

Lets make the life of the horses less stressful. It is our responsibility to ensure that we understand the needs of the horse, and put those above the wants of the humans. for example, horses do not need stables, they are born to roam, they do not need bits, their mouths are tremendously sensitive.
they do not need metal shoes, their hooves are amazing structures, they need to move, expand, feel.

You may think ‘feel’ is an odd thing to say, as hooves are solid. My horses are unshod, sometimes they wear hoof boots. When one of my horses trod on her lead rope with boots on, she was unaware, when she did the same thing with her barefoot, she felt the rope and stepped off it !!

Horses are sensitive creatures, who need to be handled with respect, and sensitivity, not brute force. This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when you have to be dominant, but it is your body language that is most important, watch how the horses higher in the pecking order move the others, watch for the confidence, the way the horses interact, watch and learn………………..

I really suggest every rider read this book………….it will make you think…..

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Horses misbehaving !!!!

So often I hear about horses ‘misbehaving’, especially whilst being groomed, tacked up or ridden.
It has been my experience that these horses are not really ‘misbehaving’, they are trying to tell us that something is wrong, that they are feeling pain. Ignore this at your peril, because sooner or later the horse will reach that stage when he can no longer tolerate the pain, and he will let you know.
The problem is, by the time the horse reaches this stage, he is beyond reason, he will have reached the flight or fight stage, and either of these reactions can result in a visit to A&E for the human involved. If your horse reacts in a negative manner whilst being groomed, tacked or ridden, ask yourself why? Check to see if he has any sore areas, better still get a qualified experienced Equine Physiotherapist to check him over. Get his tack checked, take care here, I have seen many saddles that have been ok’d by saddle fitters that so obviously DID NOT fit horse and/or rider.

I always recommend a treeless saddle, there are many excellent ones out there, research it and find the one that is best for you and your horse; I have found that most reputable saddlers will  allow you to try before you buy. I personally now only use the ‘Total Contact’ saddle on my horses.

Ensure also that the bridle fits correctly, NO severe or tight nosebands, and a loose browband, one of my horses has a very broad brow, and she has no browband at all; I can’t tell the difference when riding her, and the bridle stays in place perfectly.
Some mares are more sensitive when coming into season, with good reason!!

A  friend had a mare who began to show very unusual behaviour; the vet found she had a large growth which was successfully removed and she is back to her delightful self.
There are many problems that may cause a horse to be unhappy when tacked, backed or ridden, from a sore shoulder, to kissing spines; but rather than say your horse is naughty, nasty or being difficult, ask WHY, and take action to find out and make your horses, and your life a lot more pleasant.

Sometimes of course, unacceptable  behaviour can result from our ‘programming’ our horses to behave in a certain way. Our horses may start to nip or kick out at certain times, for example when the girth is being tightened or when we are mounting.

An example of this is a lady who contacted me because she thought her horse was in pain, and was not allowing her to mount. When I went to visit, it was quite obvious that the horse had learnt if he turned around and tried to nip when being mounted, the rider gave him a titbit;  he started to nip every time the rider went to mount. The rider had reinforced this behaviour by rewarding it.

It is most important to ask WHY a horse behaves in a particular manner, do not automatically blame him, do not automatically assume he is in the wrong.  Always ask WHY?

Mutual TRUST and RESPECT …………… Leads to the perfect relationship …………………….

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I have always had brow bands on my horses bridles, I have never questioned the reason for them, Till now!! so I researched, It is interesting, on the whole the brow-band doesn’t appear to do very much.
Now, why the sudden interest in brow-bands?
I recently broke my glasses, and had to resort to my spare pair, I found these to be particularly uncomfortable behind my ears. there was not a lot of pressure to be truthful, but over the time I wore the glasses I became very tender around my ears, and suffered from headaches which I am sure was a direct consequence of the pressure.
this got me thinking about my horses, particularly Martha, who has a VERY broad brow, making it very difficult to ensure the head-piece does not press into the base of her ears, even with the extra-large brow-bands.
I decided to try the bridle without the brow-band. I use the Dr Cooks bitless bridle, and ride without a contact for the majority of the time, I just couldn’t see a reason for there to be any problems.
The outcome…………..I don’t intend to ever put Martha’s brow-band back on her bridle. There was no difference whatsoever, and I feel much happier about pressure behind her ears, I can just reach forward and pull the head-piece back a little if I feel the need, and there is no brow-band pulling the headpiece into the back of her lovely ears. Another benefit, less bridle to clean!!
You just never stop learning 🙂

Interesting point:  whilst I was researching the use (or not) or brow -bands, I came across  an item about a horse that was head shaking, the rider removed the brow band and head shaking stopped, put it back on, and head shaking started again, so she also now rides minus brow-band, and has a happy horse.

I dont have any pictures of my Brow-band less pony yet, but will add some asap.


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MUZZLES !!!!!!!

Muzzles ……how many ways can people come up with to torture their horses. horses should not have to endure the discomfort of wearing muzzles. It should surely be the responsibility of the horse owner to ensure that they have the knowledge and wherewithal to look after their horses/ponies in an appropriate and empathetic manner. This includes not anthropomorphising. Horses are not people, they do not need to be indoors, they do not need coats (rugs) in winter, they do not need corn feeds.
Imagine on a hot summers day how unpleasant it must be for the horses to be wearing a muzzle, constantly breathing in warm air; being unable to open their mouths wide to yawn, as horses love to do.
I have seen horses wearing muzzles whilst on short grass, therefore, they will be unable to eat the grass through the muzzle.
Owners should ensure that the grazing is suitable for their horses, for example, little or no rye grass. and no fertiliser, They should ensure that their horses have enough exercise.
If your horse / pony is a good doer, DO NOT RUG , especially through the winter, keeping warm uses up a great deal of energy, and so your equine will use up stored energy (fat) to do so . DO NOT stable your horse, so your horse keeps moving , and is not living in a dusty stable environment.
Horses that wear muzzles part of the day will simply gorge when they have the muzzle taken off, and of course NO horse should wear a muzzle all the time

Horses are very sociable creatures, they love to mutually groom, this is important for forming bonds and also to help when changing coat and those itchy fly times !! Can you imagine how a difficult it is for the horse to partake in this social activity when wearing a muzzle?
The use of muzzles is a direct result of poor management on the part of the horse owner, if this offends anyone, I make no apology, please do not give me all the reasons your horse/pony needs a muzzle, instead tell me why you have a horse when you cannot give them the time and life style a horse NEEDS . So often I see horses standing in stables day in day out in the winter, this is CRUELTY to horses.

Imagine how you would feel if you were only allowed to stay in one room for days on end. limited company, limited food;  where your toilet area is in the same small space as your eating and sleeping area…………Oh………..I believe it is called a. prison cell………… this is what happens to so many of our horses…………how can you do this to a creature that is born to roam………………..and then, because of the lifestyle you have imposed on him, you place a muzzle on him when the opportunity for your horse  to go and graze on open pasture arrives. Please, consider your horse, they are not machines, they are wonderful sentient creatures who deserve much better than this ……………………..



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Our ‘herd’ has been quite static for a while now, and has settled into a most interesting ‘pecking order’.

Hannah,the matriarch and Turbo, the  patriarch are the two dominant horses.

Turbo, the now 29-year-old gelding  is the ‘boss’, the interaction between the other horses is varied to say the least, for example :-

Hannah only defers to Turbo, she  adores Martha, but when out hacking and I am riding  Martha, Hannah defers to Martha.

Erin is the boss of Martha, Marnie, Sol, Shoop and Alby, she defers to Turbo and Hannah.

Martha is the boss of Marnie, Shoop, Alby and on occasion Sol, but defers to Turbo, Hannah, Erin  and most times to Sol

Sol is the boss of Marnie, Alby and mostly Martha, but defers to Shoop ,Turbo, Hannah and sometimes Martha ………………..

Are you getting the picture here ? the herd hierarchy is quite complex.

When Erin came to us as a 6-year-old, she had been kept mostly stabled, after all she is well-bred!!!   She had become very difficult to catch with her previous owner and so had not often been turned out, catch 22,( pardon the pun !!)

She was a very nervous horse, and was terrified of so many things. She had experienced very little , if any, herd interaction, and therefore took quite a while to settle into the herd. Poor Hannah was almost run ragged chasing Erin around the fields trying to put her in  her place .

Erin obviously took note of Hanna’s behavioural teachings, and finally worked her way up to 3rd place in the pecking order.

Over time Erin has developed into a lovely horse, with a very endearing character;  she has become a very confident and sociable horse.

Erin had not had a particular equine ‘friend’ or companion as far as we could discern, however, when our newby, Shoop arrived, Erin amazed us with her behaviour.

I love the fact that our horses never cease to amaze us .

Erin went to meet Shoop, and very quickly took her under her wing.

She even stood up to Turbo to protect Shoop, something none of the horses would normally do, and Erin has not made a habit of this since.

Erin and Shoop have remained very close, sharing haynets and even, FEED !!!

What has amazed us with Erin, is that she has shown this protective behaviour to Shoop, even though we are pretty sure she has no experience of it  from other horses when she was young.

It may be that I am anthropomorphizing, but it is almost as if she saw that Shoop was in a similar position to her own when she was a newcomer in the herd, and decided to step in to help her.

We take great pleasure in just spending time ‘watching’ the horses interactions and how their relationships evolve.

We hear horse folk telling saying  that horses have no characters;  how mistaken are they, if they took the time and trouble to really watch their horses, they would see the different and complex characters, and perhaps, they would be fortunate enough to be accepted and respected by the horses in their care.

The pictures below show the horses when Shoop first arrived. The black horse is Erin, the skewbald is Shoop.   There are also pictures of Shoop sharing haynets with Erin .

The horses have free access to the yard and field .

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I rode in treed saddles for many, many years, and I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to get  a well-fitting treed saddle.

Once you have taken the time, trouble and expense of getting said saddle, you can bet your bottom dollar that your horse will put weight on, lose weight, lose muscle tone, gain muscle tone, in other words, the saddle will no longer fit. Again, another personal and costly experience.

I have gone to see so many horses and ponies with treed saddles ( and sometimes, though not as often,  treeless saddles too ) that DO NOT FIT .

I may have been asked to go to see the horse for a variety of reasons, to  try a bitless bridle; to help the owner with some groundwork or riding issues, or to explain about barefoot / booted horses , but if the horse’s saddle doesn’t fit, and is causing discomfort, pain or causing the horse to alter his way of going, for example due to the saddle  impeding the  shoulder, then this issue obviously has to be addressed before we can realistically expect the horse to improve in any way, or to work to his optimum ability in the bitless bridle.

Riders may consider that their horse is just being lazy, whereas they are not able to move more freely forward due to the restrictions caused by the pressure points from the saddle.

other horses may rush and hollow in an attempt to get away from the discomfort. I have even seen horses who become very crooked due to twisted trees, or saddles with the ‘air fill systems’ that have become  uneven. One horse had a very sore back as the air bags in the saddle had completely deflated, and the rider had not noticed.

It is never easy to tell an owner that their horse’s saddle does not fit. I know how much the treed saddles cost; but I cannot in all conscience  not explain the problems, and the possible outcomes if the saddle is left as it is.

The saddles have usually been fitted by a ‘saddler’, even made to measure.  I have seen brand new saddles, made to measure,  that simply do not fit the horse or the rider.

Now, I AM NOT  a saddler, but if these problems are so obvious to me, WHY can these saddler’s not see them to?

My advice to riders these days is to go treeless, there are some poor treeless saddles out there, but there are many very good and excellent ones. My preference is, as you will know if you have read my other blogs, the ‘Total contact’ treeless saddle.  But there are many on the market, to suit most riders, horses and disciplines.

Always trial the saddle before you buy one, and if they wont let you try, don’t buy. If the manufacturer is sure of their saddle, they should be glad to allow a trial.

If you choose to use a treed saddle, please learn all there is to learn regarding the fit of the saddle on both the horse and rider, so you can be sure the saddler is fitting correctly, and if you have any misgivings, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns, after all the health and wellbeing of your horse is at stake, and a possible large vet bill if your horse suffers muscle damage or worse.

I was asked by a client to be at her yard when a saddle fitter came to try some saddles on her horse. I was shocked by the poor fit of the saddles she was offering, when I politely pointed out the areas in which  the saddle didn’t fit the horse or the rider, the saddler completely ignored me, as if I wasnt even there. So rude ! needless to say , she didn’t make a sale that day. So please do beware.

Happy Riding

horses below are all wearing treeless saddles

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An  investigation by Sophie Keepax with supervision by Jessica Berry is posted below , GP  ‘V’  TC   saddles  :-
An excellent investigation, and proof for all of us who adore this saddle, that we are right to do so , my thanks to Jessica for her hard work culminating in this study.

  • “An investigation into the effect of general purpose saddles and the Total Contact saddle on the temperature of the horse’s back and freedom of movement”
    Sophie Keepax with supervision by Jessica Berry
    Evidence of riding horses with some sort of seat covering used as a saddle dates back to 4000BC with the development of a ‘treeless’ saddle occurring around 500BC. These saddles improved the stability of the rider and performance of the horse. This was later improved further with the development of a treed saddle (Singer, 1978 cited in Belock et al, 2012)The objective of this study was to compare gait variations (shoulder angles and stride length) in two different saddles (general purpose and Total Contact – a treeless saddle). The study also sought to determine the impacts, if any, on the horse’s back regarding heat production – a possible marker of pain.A random selection of six horses was made from a population of riding school horses. Each horse was ridden by the same rider for a total of ten minutes in walk and trot. A temperature reading was taken every minute from under the saddle and beneath the seat bones of the rider in order for a surface temperature reading to be obtained. The horse was then ridden past a video motion analysis system, in walk and in trot (three times for each horse), allowing the shoulder angles and stride length to be determined from markers placed on the horse. Finally, thermo graphic images were obtained from each side of the untacked horse to allow any ‘hot spots’ to be displayed.Analysis of the footage showed that mean stride length and shoulder angle range was greater in the Total Contact saddle . The range of stride length differences for all horses was 1 cm to 15 cm and the range of shoulder angle differences was 0.7 degrees to 2.7 degrees in walk and a stride length difference in trot of between 1 cm and 23 cm. The statistical analysis of these values indicated p = 0.04 for stride length differences in walk in favour of the TC saddle and p=0.046 when looking at the shoulder angle. Analysis of the surface temperature of the back indicates that the temperature was higher when the horse was worked in the general purpose saddle (mean temp of 35.3 deg C versus 33.5 deg C in walk and 35.9 deg C versus 32.4 deg C in trot). The thermo graphic images show that ‘hot spots’ are greatest following data collection with general purpose saddles. These are mainly located where the knee roll was situated compared to those of the treeless saddles which are in varying locations. The statistical significance of the values for heat production were all in favour of the TC saddle where p=0.04 in walk and p=0.026 in trot.In conclusion the Total Contact Saddle has a smaller impact on heat production in the horses back in comparison to working in a general purpose saddle. It also allows for greater freedom of movement (indicated by the shoulder angle and stride length).

Rugless horses !!!

Well, my horses have completed their first year living out completely rugless.  Before I finally decided to go down this  route,  I  read all the research out there that I could find regarding how horses keep themselves warm in the winters freezing conditions , and cool in the summers heat.

When I was young, our horses never had rugs, and lived out all year; in fact I can’t remember seeing a horse in a rug when I was young !! and few lived in stables. Yet they all survived and were healthy, happy equines.

I can’t say that I didn’t have the odd twinge of guilt during some of the nastier weather  that we had, but I reminded myself that the horses have some wonderful shelter in the fields, and were free to use it whenever they wished. They are also healthy, and had a good weight on, to enable them to keep warm; and of course the freedom to move around to aid circulation, and hence keep warm. So they really should have been ok.

As the winter progressed and spring arrived, the horses were coping very well, they had not lost much weight at all, and had never appeared to shiver or look miserable and cold.

There were also added benefits that I had not counted on, when the days started to warm up, but the nights were still cold, I didn’t have to worry about changing rugs here there and everywhere, a definite bonus, and the stranger one, the horses didn’t seem to get as hot and sweaty when they were being ridden.

I found this very odd at first, but a super benefit. Martha used to get so hot when the warm spring days arrived, she would lather up on long rides, even when we didn’t go very fast. Since being rugless however, she may have got warm, but has not lathered up as she used to.

I have put this down to the fact that she can now regulate her temperature much better herself, now I may be wrong, and would welcome any other ideas you may have.

As I said, the  horses have not lost much weight through the winter, this is a mixed blessing, I think a little more loss coming into the spring may have been nice, but generally , I am pleased with their condition.

I was concerned that the horses may get so muddy that I would not be able to ride, but this never happened, and with our tack I was not worried about tacking them up whilst damp; their coats were so good that a quick rub with a towel took the worst off and under the top coat was dry. The sheepskin numnahs we use caused no problems.

So to sum up, quite simply, my horses will not wear rugs again; well, lets never say never; of course when they become geriatric and need a little extra help in the keeping warm department, they will of course have rugs, but until that day, I have lovely naked horses, by the way, some  of these horses are  already in their 20’s !! Although you wouldn’t think it !!!

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Abscess and winter muddy fields

As those who have read other articles in this blog will know, our horses live out 24 / 7  all year round.

Our horses are also barefoot , all but one having transitioned from shod.

Last winter both my mares went lame . I couldn’t find anything to cause the amount of lameness, but due to the way the horses were ‘guarding’ a particular foot,  thought that maybe there was an abscess to blame.

I didn’t ask a vet to visit, as I knew that they would want to dig away at the horses feet , causing more , and in my opinion, unnecessary damage ,  would probably want to put a poultice on and often prefer to have the horse on box rest .

If you have  had a horse with an abscess you will know how  awful it is  to watch your poor horses in such pain, yet all you can do it give some painkiller and wait for the abscess to find an exit route.

This took 3 – 4 days on this occasion;  then I noticed that the girls were moving easier, on inspection, I found that Hannah had an exit hole on her bulb, and Martha on her heel.

The fields were muddy to say the least, and there really was no way to escape this and to keep the horses living out with the herd. The horses live out all year, and they most certainly would not now appreciate being kept stabled, they don’t even like going into the stable to be groomed and tacked up when the weather is very wet.

Constantly moving around also helps circulation, hence recovery, and could help the puss from the abscess to be expelled.

I didn’t believe it would be beneficial to apply a dressing for  protection,  the mud in the field would most likely pull the dressing off, and it would hold the wet  against the foot anyway, not allowing for drying when the horses are standing out of the mud .

I eventually decided to leave the  whole thing to nature, surely she knew best !!!!! Worry! Worry! Worry!

I gently cleaned the abscess exit area each day and applied an aerosol purple spray that had antifungal and antibacterial properties. The aerosol is better than the pump spray as it gets much deeper into wounds cracks etc.

The ‘girls’ were not lame once the abscess had found an exit area, but each had some time off work due to the area of the exit holes.

Even though the ground was very muddy in areas, both horses healed very quickly, with no sign of infection .

So many things we do with our horses now are rather ‘experimental’ , we go a lot on our ‘gut instinct’ , and learn from our horses more and more.

One of  the things the horses have shown us is that the best place for a horse is outside.

Several years ago, whilst still on a livery yard, one of our horses almost died due to a breathing problem,  another could not be ridden for the same reason. Both these horses have lived out for several years now, on no medication, they  have been back in work for years, and have had no problems whatever with their breathing .

I find it most frustrating when horse owners tell you about their horses breathing problems , that  they are on ventipulmin ( as one of ours was ) they  can’t be ridden, have to soak their  hay etc;  yet they will not put their horses on  total turn out;  apparently they believe their horses  couldn’t cope being out all year!!!! Really ?  But they can be put to death far too soon instead ?

Having constant turnout keeps the horses fitter and stronger, being kept as a constant herd keeps them calmer and the herd hierarchies ensures minimum injuries due to a stable pecking order.

when our horses have had tendon or muscle strain injuries, we have given appropriate pain relief and left them turned out. The horses regulate their movement according to what they are able to do, and the other horses seem to be aware that there is a problem and are more than usually tolerant.

The horses definitely heal quicker than those horses put on box rest, and because they are constantly moving around any scar tissue is kept to the minimum. The horses return to fitness quicker and are less stressed .

So to summarize, the best way forward for our horses seems to be  keeping it simple and allowing enough TIME for healing .

Time appears to be  one  of the things  that so often seems to be in short supply .


Since writing the above we have completely stoned our ‘yard area’ , we allow the horses free access to this stoned area from which ever field they are in,  we also hay them in this area, allowing the horses dry standing for a portion of the day, whatever the weather.

Doing this had definitely helped the condition of the horses hooves during the wet muddy winter, and has also helped to keep the fields in much better order, thus prolonging the grazing, and preventing poaching.

The stone we have used is small, and the horses love to stretch out and  roll on it .

We have also found poop picking on the yard is so easy, as we can use the shaving forks, knew it was a good idea to hold onto them.

A great success all round. Each year we find ways to improve our horses lives and make yard maintenance a little easier for us humans !!

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