There is often confusion about what is meant by the different types of horse. It is not a complicated subject, just something that needs a little thought followed by going out and actually looking around at horses. A showing show is an ideal place, where horses are competing against others of the same type and you can develop an eye similar to the judge.
A hack’s purpose was to be seen and make his rider look stylish. As the gentry would ride through Hyde Park on a Sunday morning, they wanted to see and be seen and their hack was the horse to do it on. Think of driving a Porsche or Ferrari as the modern day version. The hack should have impeccable manners, be light and pleasurable to ride and beautiful to look at.
Hunter’s are meant to be able to cope with a day following hounds. If we think of cars again, think tough 4 x 4 Landrovers. They must be sure footed, sensible, have endless stamina and be up to carrying the weight of their riders. They are a heavier more substantial type then the hack. Working hunters must be clean (blemish / scar free), bold jumpers with courage and dependability. The diameter of the bone directly beneath the horse’s knee is measured, and that is described as the amount of bone that a horse has. A hunter will have more bone then a hack, meaning more substance and capable of carrying more weight.
Riding horses, or riding club horses are somewhere in between hacks and hunters. They’d be your typical family car. Not as flashy as the hack, lighter in bone then the hunter, they are useful general purpose horses. For the show ring they still need to be good looking, well schooled and a pleasure to ride.
Cobs are the transit vans of the horse world. Traditionally, one day your cob would be pulling the plough in the field, hunting the next and taking the family to church on a Sunday in the trap. They are often described as big horses on pony legs. They must be safe, sensible and easy to keep and ride.
Horses are also divided into hot, warm or cold bloods. This has nothing to do with temperature but type and temperament.
Originally there were hot bloods and cold bloods. Hot blooded horses were found in the warmer countries and deserts. These include Arabs, Barbs and later, Thoroughbreds. These horses are light in bone, fine skinned and dainty. They move fast, have quick reactions and are often more nervous then their cold blooded peers. Their light frames require little effort to move at speed over distances, fine coats allow heat loss and small, hard hooves are light and manoeuvrable on hard ground. Their lack of bulk makes them light on their feet to reduce concussion when there is little give in the ground.
Cold blooded horses are the other extreme. The Shire and Clydesdale would be good examples. They are heavier in their bodies with great strength and stamina. The colder climates where they developed meant thicker coats, great shaggy manes and tails and “feathers” on the lower legs. Big hooves gave a greater weight bearing surface for their heavier bodies and meant they could travel on top of mud rather then sinking into it.
The warmblood is a relatively modern cross of the two. Its purpose is to combine the quick athletic lightness of the Thoroughbred with the strength, stamina and (generally) more personable temperament of the cold blood. This type of horse is the most commonly used in high level equestrian sport.
A very long time ago – 20 years now – I was adamant that all this alternative stuff just didn’t work. If you were sick, go to the doctor and get proper pills. Homeopathy, Reiki, black box – all that stuff? Really? So. I was young, convinced that I was right and that these quacks didn’t have a clue…
Now, I had a horse, called CP. CP was a thoroughbred, had raced fairly well, and who I had wanted since a friend bought him on the yearling sales, pre racing. I had followed his career and when he was retired, put my hand up, saying yes please. Now, CP was a little ball of tension and stress. The first time I took him to a dressage competition, he held his breath for the first half of his test, took a massive gulp of air when he was at C, as far from the judges as he could be, and then did the second half of his test on that one gulp. At the end of the test, the judge gave him some nice comments, but said – please tell him to breathe? He wouldn’t put weight on. Wouldn’t really relax in his stable, wouldn’t settle and swing along in his work. Now, in racing they are deliberately kept fit and trim, not carrying any excess fat, and being young they are slight in build. Because they are always stabled and fed vast amounts of food, they tend to be on alert and ready to run, but CP didn’t let down (change) when he came to a riding yard, kept all his racing ways. He was obliging enough to do what was asked, and seemed to enjoy his jumping, but was always in a hurry. He was stabled in the middle of a block of six stables, and on coming out of his door, we could turn right or left to get out of the yard complex. Given the choice, he would always turn left. Why? Because, at the end of the block on the left side, there was a big flower bed, and in that bed were Geraniums, and CP’s biggest love in life, was stopping to smell those Geraniums. He would get there, lower his head, push the flowers around a bit so they would release more smell, close his eyes and pull in great lungful’s of Geranium aroma. If let him do that, we could cope a lot easier with our schooling sessions, being a little more calm. If I made him turn right, or didn’t give him long enough with his flowers, we were anxious. Now, when he did this, I would laugh at him, and think he was wasting time, but much, much later learned that Geranium oil is used as a calmer, natural relaxant, mood enhancer, emotion balancer – coincidence? Well I don’t believe in coincidence so I think not. The interesting thing with CP though was still to come…
The owner of the livery yard where CP was stabled believed strongly in a local Homeopath who treated horses. You carefully cut a chunk of their tail hair, letting it fall into an envelope so that it was not touched by your own delicate hand, and take it to this lady. You would say nothing about the horse, she would wave her pendulum over the envelope and tell you what magical concoctions would cure whatever ailed him. Ridiculous. Who on earth falls for that? Let’s say, I wasn’t a fan. So, she convinced me that we needed to take CP’s hair along for testing, and to get help for his issues. I reluctantly agreed – nothing to lose, but really? Duly cut his hair, took along the little envelope and watched the pendulum swing back and forth. Well…. Yes, she could give me this and that for his stress (uh, no one told you that he was stressed??? But then, you have probably seen him out and about) and this and that would help his appetite (again – seeing him at shows, she would know he was a little light…). This and that would help his brittle feet (he was chestnut with four bright white shiny socks and hooves, of course they were weak and brittle, also obvious)… And yet, she professed to have never seen him? Hmmm…. But, the underlying problem was way too much copper in his system.
Now here was her downfall…. The paddocks had been analysed to see what nutrients needed adding, and there was, if anything, a slight lack of copper. So, he wasn’t getting it in his grazing. There was no added copper in his feed. And the water pipes were PVC so no copper pipes. He lived with other horses, grazed with them, ate what they ate, drank the same water, and no one else tested positive for too much copper. She was clearly a fraud. Yay for logic. I took away my little packets of hocus pocus medicine and gave it to him – I had paid for it after all, and reluctantly admitted that he showed a slight improvement within about three days. Coincidence again. Also, after a few days (hey, I am a slow thinker and learner…) was collecting his tack from the tack room to get him ready to work. When I really looked at his bridle, and his uhhh…. Grabbed his bridle, jogged up to the house, went bursting into the office… Look, look at CP’s bridle. Yard owner looks up – uh, yes, that is a bridle, CP’s bridle in fact. Yes, but look at his bit… His lovely, shiny bit, the one that was new and bought especially for him, in a nice shape for comfort and a nice warm metal for happiness – nice shiny, new COPPER, now dull from where he had had it sitting in his mouth, slowly absorbing the copper through his gums. Yes, well.
I changed his bit, put him into stainless steel and yes, he was always a bit of an Energiser bunny and never completely relaxed, but the change in him was enormous. He started to eat up all his food, gained weight, would put his head down to graze, lost the wild eyes and started to horse – to enjoy and be content. And his hooves improved too. Now, the big thing all sceptics say about homeopathy is that it is all the placebo effect. I have two problems here – firstly, I didn’t believe it would work – in fact I believed 100% that it wouldn’t work. And secondly, he didn’t know any different, so wasn’t up to belief it would work. Now, let’s say that the only change was in him being calmer to ride. That could be placebo. If I believed strongly enough that he would be calmer, I would have ridden him very subtly differently, and they can adjust to that. But I didn’t believe it, and his appetite improved? And the quality of the horn in his hooves? Placebo? How?
OK, fast forward a couple of years, in which I didn’t really think about it again. I was still very young, and a non believer….
I had been away travelling for a good few months and had just got back home. Was pottering away, doing odd bits of work, one of which was backing a young Thoroughbred filly, before she went to the track for race training. She was very sweet and obliging, had been brought up well and was relaxed and happy and everything was swinging along…. I was on her trotting around the lunge pen just thinking about how tomorrow I would take her out to the big paddock and trot her around the edge – when she launched herself through the air. After a few circuits of rodeo, gravity took an effect… It wasn’t the falling that did the damage, but the landing onto a teak railway sleeper fencing post. What happened next is a story in itself, but to make it short, the next day I was laid up in bed with a pelvis broken in three places. Now, the orthopaedic surgeon had said there was nothing to do – no pins, no op, no traction, no cast, just go away and lie flat for 8 weeks. I was to go back for a check-up at 6 weeks, but with a long weekend stuck in the middle, it would be 5 ½ weeks, but don’t expect to be up and about sooner than 8 weeks. Well, it was a long 5 ½ weeks and I was maybe not the most well behaved, ideal patient, but I did spend the majority of my time flat. Or at least on crutches….
The day after the spectacular dismount, the filly’s owner came bearing chocolate, and…. A pendulum. Turns out she did a load of natural healing and homeopathy. Did I mind? Well, got nothing to lose right? Now any good that CP’s magically cured copper overload had done to homeopathy’s cause had long since evaporated (I did admit to being a slow learner) so, again, no preconceived placebo affect… I duly took my pillules, rice paper and drops at the appointed time on the required day. Had nothing better to do after all, and at 5 ½ weeks, hopped and wheelchaired back to my hospital bed. Slightly concerned at the dressing down I would be getting for being a slightly wayward patient (me? Never, not really…) The nurses did the x-ray, all was set for learned Dr to come and dispense doctoring. He tootled in, looked at the old x-ray, looked at the new x-ray. Looked at the old x-ray, looked at the new x-ray. Looked at the old x-ray, looked at the new x-ray. Looked at the date on his watch. Looked at the old x-ray, looked at the new x-ray. Looked at me, finally. Raise your feet off the bed – keeping your knees straight, lift from the hip. Yup, can. OK, you are fixed, you may go. Signed off, don’t come back. But, I uhhhh, have a broken pelvis? No, you don’t. Uhh, ya, fall off a horse, remember? Yes, well, you must have some magical healing ability, because all three fractures have gone. Fixed, healed. Barely a mark left. If you can raise your feet, you’re good to go. Can I ride? Of course.
I walked out (well yes, ok, I bounced, spun and tootled out) and hopped straight onto the first horse I found. Congratulating myself for my magical healing properties, and then thinking that maybe, possibly all those doses of pillules, rice paper and drops may have cut my healing down by 2 ½ weeks? Possibly? I did start to think that maybe, just maybe there was actually something in all of this hocus pocus….
A thought hit me in the shower – yes, that is where thoughts tend to wait for me – and I think I need to share. Lessons come in all sorts of places and it’s pretty cool really.
So, my thoughts – in no particular order…
We do indeed have a time clock in our brain. I have been staring blankly at my laptop for about four days, getting nothing done, and now, just after 11pm, I have to write this. Now. Tomorrow is too late. I’d love to be nocturnal. I am, pretty much, but it would work better in a more socially appropriate time / job situation. Not many people want riding lessons at midnight. But – lesson 1 – listen to your body and time clock, do things as and when it suits. If you (or your horse) work better in the evening, go for it. And if you are having a brain fog day – go for a hack, don’t stare blankly at your version of my laptop…
–If you are passionate about something you do, it will rear its head in all manner of situations… I mean really, what kind of a nerdy horse brain turns an outing to London into a teaching tool – uh, yeah, me… Be open to when a new thought will hit you…
– Take time out for play. I had an awesome day last week – met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for ages, tootled into London and just bumbled along doing whatever. A mental health day. Which helped my current brain fog. Don’t go around and around and arena – take your horse for a gallop up the track – you know you both want to – really you do! This also opens up new ideas – my friend said to me that I should write more… Now, look where she got me…
– Set up a challenge. Our challenge – go from one side of London to the other on Marathon day without seeing in men in tight lycra chasing each other down the roads… And other then one runner in the afternoon and a few trickling home through Euston late night, we achieved out goal.
– No matter how well you think you know something – you don’t. I thought I had a fair knowledge of London and you know what – I don’t. I spent most of Sunday saying I don’t know where we are right now… Even if it is a subject you thought you knew, approach it from a new angle. Think like a beginner. What have you missed – where could you explore new territory. Maybe you have been missing out on Little Venice all this time – who knew???
– Everything big and shiny has a back side… London zoo – we (well, I) think Lions and Tigers, big, flashy, ooooh…. Walking round their back-perimeter fence, there are signs saying don’t disturb our natural green land – we are looking after our hedgehogs, the second biggest colony in the region. Everyone has the little stuff they should be paying attention too…. Next time you watch that pro rider trotting up the centre line, and you are thinking about the majestic head in front, have a thought that maybe the jockey up there is thinking about what is rustling in the undergrowth… (And really, any serious rider should be far more concerned with what is happening behind and under him than the flashy head carriage out in front). We compare our day to day practice, rehearsal, behind the scenes reel with our hero riders starring moment – of course they aren’t matching. Do sweat the small stuff, that is where the magic has to begin… The hedgehogs are just as important as the tigers.
– Everything can be reinvented. We started the gastronomic aspect of our tour with good ol’ Mr Whippy ice cream, but ventured along to the Nitro stuff that the hipsters have come up with – and damn but it’s good… I grew up (way back when I was a girl…) when a pony was lucky to own a jute rug for nights and a New Zealand rug for days… Now look at how their wardrobes have exploded? And think of the plain old, standard bridle… Who, and how could that ever be changed – enter Mr Micklem. Even (or maybe especially) if you “have always done it this way”, don’t be afraid to explore and try something new. A lot of people are wary of having a different lesson, or can’t get their heads around a new thought or concept. But you know what? If the hipsters hadn’t put ice cream base into dry ice, we wouldn’t have nitro ice cream, and that wouldn’t be much good…
(we are rattling through these…) – Stuff that was considered rubbish or utilitarian can have a profound affect. Strolling the canals, the backways, the tradesman entrances through London, where the gentry wouldn’t have been seen, is the stuff that has to be there but isn’t interesting. And you know what, its stunning, useful and makes you happy. Until recently, when doctors did autopsy’s, they threw out all the connective tissue rubbish to get to the good stuff, rather like bypassing the canals to get to the interesting things. Only recently have they gone Oh My Word, the connective tissues (fascia) IS the good stuff – who knew? Don’t disregard the simple things with your horse… Groom and tack him up gently and with respect to have him enter the arena calmly. Insist on him standing still for mounting to help your ridden halts. Even better, do some ground work before you get on. Leading him into the arena is more about just getting where you are going, it’s an integral part of the journey…
– Re-purpose. So, when a public loo is no longer needed what do you do, fill it in? Dig it up? Rip it out? Or, turn it into a cocktail bar. Truly. Think outside the box – that box was only a cage all along, a self-imposed cage at that. Your horse doesn’t like jumping? So, teach him dressage instead… His saddle isn’t fitting and the saddler can’t come for a week? Do ground work, or how about riding him bareback. Use your imagination – again, if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got… What can you do differently today?
– Laughing is always the answer. My friend, who was my amazing guide on the “Avoid London Runners in an Adult Fashion Tour” has a pretty stressful job, but she can laugh about it. And you know what – sometimes I have days that it’s a case of laugh or cry… But laugh. Laughing makes you breathe, it makes your horse happy too. (Or really suspicions, which could be bad…). Don’t take it all too seriously …..
You’ve brushed and polished your horse and still can’t get that shine that you want on his coat. One tip that really works to pack more punch into your grooming session is Hot Clothing. This is really wonderful for clipped horses but can be of some help with longer coats to.
Hot Clothing lifts grease ands scurf from the coat. It helps to remove sweat marks, opens the pores, leaves the horse warm and comfortable after exercise and gets a great shine. Most horses seem to see it as a massage and drift off to sleep. It helps reduce the amount of heavy brushing needed to keep the hard working horse clean.
Get a bucket of very hot water. Not boiling but think really hot bath water. Pop two clothes in the bucket to heat up – tea towels or hand towels work well. Wring one of the clothes out well and start rubbing the horse over with it. Rub back and forth against the coat, and up and down the grain, ending with the last stroke along the lie of the hair. Move over the whole of the horse’s body, alternating the two clothes so one is in the bucket warming up as the other one is working over the horse. Have a jug of hot water on standby so that you can top up the bucket as it cools. Work from behind the horse’s ears, down the neck, across the body, under the belly, across the quarters and down the legs. Most horses also love to have their face gently wiped. Untie the end of the headcollar lead rope so that if the horse pulls back there is slack in it and the horse won’t panic.
In very cold weather, hot cloth the horse in quarters so that he isn’t left standing uncovered and cold. Fold his rug in half so it is covering his quarters. Hot cloth the left shoulder, then the right. Fold the rug over the shoulders and hot cloth either side of the quarters. Make sure most of the water is wrung out of the towel so that the horse doesn’t get overly wet.
You can use plain water but this doesn’t get as good as a result as adding something to it. Opinions vary as to what is best to add. Whatever you use, test it out on a small patch of your horse to check for any adverse reaction. The most common addition is Dettol or Savlon. This helps with any unseen nicks or scrapes, can ease irritations and most people are happy with the smell. Other ideas are vinegar; Mark Todd’s Relax and Rewind Competition Wash, soda crystals, surgical spirit, baby oil, lavender wash, a spot of no rinse shampoo, and Hibiscrub. They all have their advantages and it really depends on what you and your horse prefer.
Once you have finished using the hot water on the body, use a water brush to “lay” the mane. This is simply wetting the top line of mane hair down the whole length of the neck to encourage it to lie flat. Dampen the top of the tail and if it is pulled, put a tail bandage on for a couple of hours. Finally scrub each hoof, both underneath and around the wall. Keep your thumb in the bulb of the heel to protect this sensitive area from over keen brushing and becoming to water-logged.
Something that has been on my mind recently – what are you prepared to pay? Not quite the question you may think. Often, we ask people, what are your goals? For me, in the teaching industry, what are the goals you have for your riding and your horse? I’m thinking a better question would be, what are you prepared to go through? Let me explain what I mean…
A friend wanted to be a dancer. She liked the idea of performing on stage – of taking lead roles and strutting her stuff. The accolades, the feel of achievement after performing a difficult routine, the nicely aching muscles of a hard work out. She was pretty good, but she would chat about what it would be like when she was at the top of her game. Maybe she got flu – she would miss a few practices. Then, she was invited away for a weekend, so she would miss a few more. Being on point in her ballet shoes rubbed her toes, so she’d skip a couple of days. Then, she really wanted that dessert that she knew would make her costume tight, but hey, what is one dessert, right? She wanted the outcome, but she really didn’t want the cost, and when it came to the crunch, she wasn’t prepared to pay the bill of hours, blood, sweat and tears. She’d be stressed about missing a class, but the temptation of that morning lie in was just too great. Nothing wrong with that – just the cost of her imagined goal was too expensive. When she finally passed on that goal – when her dancing became a hobby and other goals grew bigger, she became happier, more relaxed and actually a better dancer, even though she was now sticking at a lower level. The cost, for her, was simply too high.
Another of my friends is a fantastic singer. Really, she gives you goosebumps. But, she was sitting back saying she wasn’t sure it would be something to follow – the hours of practicing, the no smoking, no drinking or partying, the days of no speaking if you need to rest your voice. The long hours of restriction, working, travel, commitment. She, hesitatingly, applied to music schools, got accepted, trained and is now getting great roles as a professional opera singer – and she is quite phenomenal. She wanted her goals so much that she is prepared to pay the costs in her time, effort and sometimes discomfort. For her, following her dreams is worth the cost, she is willing to pay whatever it takes. But, she really understood the cost, which is why she hesitated – she went into it with her eyes very definitely wide open.
The difference between these two – the dancer wanted the outcome, the singer has learnt to cope with (and even relish) the journey. The same is with everything – the people who only have the end goal in sight often struggle, the people who embrace the cost of the journey – those are the ones who get to their dream.
So, to riders. I often hear riders say – I want to….. (Insert dream here – ride grand prix dressage or jumping, event 3 star, train piaffe, win an endurance race etc). Sadly, those are often the very riders who don’t get there. When they are asked to ride the tricky horse, they baulk. When told to take away their stirrups they sigh. When the alarm clock goes off, they hit the snooze button. And when those really cute shoes are on sale, the extra training session gets cancelled. The riders I get excited about are the ones who say – I want to feel my horse’s back lift, I want my lateral work to improve, I want to feel how getting myself fitter will help my endurance horse cover greater distances quicker. These riders are the ones ready to embrace the challenge. It is the rider who enjoys the 5am alarm clock (or least, doesn’t hit snooze) and roll out of bed to chase the dawn with their horse, and (reasonably) cheerfully mucks out the stables, who enjoys the process, the drilling, the blisters, falls and tears, who is more likely to get there. The road to top level equestrian pursuits is not an easy one, and the person who doesn’t enjoy, or least accept each and every step is going to be very hard pushed to stick to it. Often they are the ones who come up with excuses – yes, but, my knee hurts…. There is nothing wrong in riding your horse to the best that you can, and enjoying it at every level without hitting top grade. Happy hackers often apologise when they come for lessons, saying I am sorry, I only hack…. And I ask, why apologise? You are riding for pleasure, to enjoy your horse, to enjoy the challenge of having a non-human friend, I salute those riders who are not saying – I have to get to top level…. Each person has a slightly different goal and slightly different acceptance of the cost to get there. If we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.
So, again, my question to you as a rider – not what is your end goal. But how much are you willing to pay?