Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

When I’m sitting in front of my laptop, there are three absolutes – coffee to hand, warm cosy blankets or jerseys, and music.  These three things have to be set and ordered, in straight lines and predictable…  Add a cat into the mix and we’re even better.  And it’s the music buzzing along that has led me to a different train of thought today.

Yup, coffee, laptop, YouTube will be all go, looks familiar…

A few days ago, back to back, two of my favourite songs played – Chris Rea, “Tell me there’s a Heaven” and Christina Aguilera / A Great Big World, “Say Something”.  They’re awesome, but they are both jump off the roof material.

Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

The world is full of suffering, and people and animals hurting and being hurt.   Chris Rea talks of empathy and compassion – that those who hurt are taking a journey to where they will grow their wings.

This little kitten crept straight into my heart. Did it help to have a friend in her last few hours? I like to think that it did.

Christina sings of loss –

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I will swallow my pride
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbye

OK, so why would I start a blog like this?  Well, there is another song which really bothers me, but first…  Several people who I know have suffered loss recently, either friends, family, partners, horses, pets, and they are all going through a lot of emotions, which they should, and will, and although we can be empathetic and sympathetic, we can’t do it for them.  And at times like this, I’m always reminded by a vet who used to treat my horses.

Pippa Pony certainly taught us all a huge lesson in how much you need to invest in a pony who has given up on themselves. And yes, she didn’t have any ears…

Many years ago, I lost a horse, under pretty traumatic circumstances, and several days later when my vet and I were chatting, I said I was giving up horses, I’d had enough, and they were too important to have die on me.  What he said has stuck with me all these years.

Horses are not bicycles.  What you give them, they give back.  My horses all came to me as issues – they were rescues, the unwanted and the untrained or untrainable.  The horses who had been given up on, and who managed to find their way to me.  I only bought a couple of them, most were given, with their owners saying please just try…  And those horses generally came right, but not by being treated as bikes.  To “fix” a horse, you need to input a huge amount of resources – not just feed, money and training, but time, patience, understanding, empathy, respect and love.  Without those elements, the horse might regain his body weight, but he’s not going to become a happy, healthy, trusting horse.  If a horse is treated as a bicycle, that is a means to an ends, a way to hack out, or keep fit, or win medals, that is all he takes with him when he dies.  But, if a horse is your friend, when he dies, he takes a chunk of you with him.  You cannot invest a part of yourself in a horse and not expect to lose a part of yourself when he leaves.

Over the years, I’ve rescued many, many horses, and lost a lot of them over time, believe me, they all stay in a special place within you, and take a part of you away too.

So, what song is bothering me?  What made me think all this today, when I am indeed cuddling one of my favourite cats?

PINK is always good, right?  Uplifting, shouty, sweary, awesomeness.  So, after the slit your wrist songs, let’s pick up some Pink.  But, one of her songs bothers me, and I have just worked out why…  “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken”.  And yes, she is talking about revolution, taking on a cause, about having an indomitable spirit.  But…  Wild hearts can and should be broken, or else you aren’t really taking anything on.  If your wild heart isn’t broken when you lose a horse, were you ever invested in him in the first place?   Maybe it’s just not as easy to write into a song, but how about, hearts can and should be broken, but wild ones will pick themselves up, dust themselves off and live to fight another day…

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/125-animals-die-dartmoor-roads-775756 – Yes, this is a distressing image – but it’s also what got me thinking here.  These are wild ponies, with wild hearts, and this pony’s heart is broken…

Please, please, let your horse break your heart!

One of the most beautiful songs, but one of the most depressing too – Chris Rea, Tell me there’s a Heaven

And another – I can have this on repeat all day, but only on certain days – Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World

Pink – Wild Hearts can’t be Broken – please don’t believe her!

Use More Leg.

You know the quickest, easiest way to push my buttons?  Overhear an instructor standing in an arena yelling, use more leg, add leg, MORE LEG.  Tear my hair out.  Please, please, don’t add more leg.

A horse is standing quietly, when suddenly he starts to stomp his feet, wave his tail about and get really agitated.  Why?  Because a fly, midge or mosquito is biting him.  He gets quite rattled, because it nips, releases, nips, releases, nips.  How much weight, power LEG does a fly have?  And yet, magic that, it gets a reaction.   The fly gets more reaction than you do, and yet, he uses less leg.

The grumpy old pony mare who is queen in the paddock marches up to the great big dopey cob, with a scowl on her face and he speedily moves away from the hay pile.  Did she use any leg?  Add leg?  MORE LEG?  No, she pinned her ears back and marched with purpose, and he believed her.  (Probably because the first time she demanded the hay and he didn’t move fast enough, she turned around and kicked him, fast, in and out…  She certainly didn’t slowly add more leg.

A pony tells you all that you need to know, just by looking at you. Cherry here, is clearly saying, “Hello Friend”. She wouldn’t need to add leg if she wanted me to move…

Something goes bang of the road, and your horse shoots forwards.  Did the bang USE MORE LEG?  Ummm, no.  It got a reaction, it held his attention – it wasn’t an irritating kick, kick, kick on his ribs.

A horse is more than capable of moving off the slightest possible signal, even just the change of your breath, so what possible reason could you ever have of using more leg?  Make the signal louder?

Someone walks up to me and asks me to take a seat….  But, they are speaking French.  I don’t speak French.  They see that I am not reacting in the correct way, I’m still standing.  So, they yell louder that I should sit.  They yell louder and louder, but I’m still standing.  Shouting at me louder, won’t help me understand French.  The challenge is that I don’t understand, not that I don’t want to respond.  And me yelling back in English that I don’t understand won’t help either.  If the French speaker pulled the chair out and swept his hand across it, inviting me to sit in a manner that I could understand then we’d both be happy.

Keep your leg quiet, in a good place, ear, shoulder, hip to heel. You can use it as a light touch when needed, but please don’t add more leg!

I was teaching a lesson recently, where the rider was flap, flap, flapping their legs on the poor horse’s sides.  The horse was busy ignoring her and she was busy nagging.  “Why are you flapping so much with your leg?” I asked?  Because her instructor was always yelling, use more leg, more leg.  There were other elements involved – the rider was not balanced and so was blocking the forward movement, and the horse was an elderly schoolmaster who was great at tuning out the rider.  Watch, I said, as I stood by the horse for a few moments.  I pushed my hands firmly against the horse’s shoulder, and after a second, he pushed back.  He was happy leaning into a constant, non-demanding pressure.  After a minute of me trying to push him over, of leaning more and more heavily against him and him not moving, (of me “adding more leg”, and him leaning into it) I gave up.  And instead I started to tap his shoulder, just a niggle, like a fly landing on him, and look at that, he moved.  I had his attention, and it was that pressure that had him moving his feet.  It wasn’t adding more pressure at all (using more leg) – he weighs 5 or 6 times what I do, no human could physically move a horse in a way that he doesn’t agree to be moved to.  It was in getting more reaction, that he moved.

So, what is the answer?

We humans all have a finite amount of leg to use.  If you go into the gym with a child and a bodybuilding man to do some weightlifting with your legs, you’d all reach a limit.  Maybe the child could lift 10kg.  Maybe you could do 30.  Maybe the weightlifter could do 50.  But we all have a limit.  “Using more leg” is going to hit a limit somewhere, and pretty much means that only big hefty men could ride horses, because how would the small legged child get her pony to move?  And, your horse can feel a fly, why, oh why, would he need a 20kg thump in the ribs to get him going?

As one of my lovely pupils puts it, “if you want your horse to respond like a ballerina, why would you treat him like a rugby player?”

What do you need?  You need MORE reaction from LESS leg.  Think of your leg as an irritating fly – you whisper a leg aid, quiet the leg, whisper it again.  And if you don’t get a reaction, then you give a sharper leg aid or a flick with a stick to say HELLO, reaction, then you make your leg quiet again.  But please, please don’t use more leg…

There is a lesson on leg aids and the use of legs on the www.kudaguru.com for members.

 

 

 

 

Unicorns and Lions …

It’s slightly odd, Scotland has a Unicorn as their national emblem – what country has a mythical creature as their animal of choice?  Well, there is a rational reason behind it…

Let’s start with a little history lesson shall we – are you all sitting comfortably?  Then we can begin….  Scotland and England hated each other and were always at odds.  Edinburgh was built, a walled city with Nor Loch on its northern boundary, largely to keep the pesky English at bay.  Now, around about 1200 odd, England and Scotland were really heating things up, with The First War of Scottish independence.  (Scottish history is awesome to read – lots of bloody battles, heroes and villains, brave acts and treachery….  One of my favorite things is the word Caledonia – what the Romans called the Scots.  Literally meaning calluses – the Scots were called the Land of people with Callused feet).

The Flodden Wall – part of Edinburgh’s defences against the English.
The Flodden Wall – part of Edinburgh’s defences against the English.

England had their lion – their all-powerful, brave and noble national animal to lead them into battle.  But Scotland had a guy called William Wallace, a fierce and fearless warrior.  And he (as I remember it, I stand to be corrected by an actual historian) said (I’m paraphrasing here…) Hey, guys – I have a unicorn.  Hmmm…..  Pretty in pink, with a flowing rainbow mane?  Taking me into battle?  Uh, no.  I have a unicorn – a fearless and fierce creature, who eats…?  What do unicorns eat?  Lions.  He rallied the troops and defeated England (they went back and forth for a few hundred years), all following their flags of unicorns or lions.

There are still Unicorn’s in Edinburgh – the people are very proud of their lion eating hero.
There are still Unicorn’s in Edinburgh – the people are very proud of their lion eating hero.

And why am I writing this?  Wallace gave the people something to believe in.  He gave them a touch stone, a symbol, a cause to get behind.  By giving them a unicorn to believe in, he gave them a power to overcome the lion.  When a belief is strong enough, it can overcome almost anything.

Abuse in the horse world is rife at the moment.  There are such big issues – rollkur of dressage horses, tight nosebands, blue tongues, draw reins, soring of saddlebreds, Premarin, donkey skinning, the C6 / C7 malformation in (largely) competition bred horse, neglect of working animals, and and and, the list grows and grows.  It’s easy to believe that we cannot ever win.  The lions are overrunning us.  I admit, there are times when I think, bugger it, I’m giving up horses and taking up knitting instead.  The mountain is too high to climb and there are not enough of us shouting out from the rooftops.

But you know what?  There are people with unicorns.  More and more people are coming to the foreground and speaking up.  To name a few – Sharon May Davis is doing astonishing research and training on the C6 / C7 malformation which is huge.  Temple Grandin is an American professor of animal sciences, who is changing how many farmed animal practices are approached.  Animal Aid Abroad is a huge veterinary based charity who steps into poverty-stricken areas.  Prince Fluffy Kareem in Egypt, Horses of Gili in Indonesia, Hole in the Wall horse project in South Africa, are all on the ground, hands on, welfare groups making big changes.  People like Stride Free and Balance saddlery are changing the whole idea behind saddle fit.  Bomber making horse friendly bits.  Mary Wanless with her Ride with Your Mind is shifting rider’s perspectives.  Dr Sue Dyson and the Animal Heath Trust is showing us more and more about lameness issues.  Dr Hilary Clayton, teaching about equine biomechanics among other things.  The list is long, and it’s growing.

Before…
Before…
After…. – things can change if we believe that we are all fighting for the same cause.
After…. – things can change if we believe that we are all fighting for the same cause.

There are people out there with unicorns.  They have found something to believe in and are using their belief to make things better.  I have friends who own a UK tack shop, called Seriously Tacky.  They provide a service called Whole Horse Happiness, but their tag line is, “Changing the World One Horse at a Time”.  I like that, it’s something I can back.  We will probably, sadly, never unite behind a unicorn and run into battle (Now that is a challenge, please invite me if anyone does this) but, we can change the world for one horse, if we believe we can…

Have you found your unicorn?  If you have, or know about an awesome cause doing good work, let me know!

Sharon May Davis               https://www.equinestudies.nl/en/team-members/sharon-may-davis/

Temple Grandin                                    https://www.templegrandin.com/

Animal aid abroad             https://www.animalaidabroad.org/

Prince Fluffy Kareem        https://www.princefluffykareem.co.uk/

Horses of Gili                         http://www.horsesofgili.com/

Hole in the Wall                                    https://www.facebook.com/groups/253275734741303/?multi_permalinks=2297091837026339&notif_id=1559486776335614&notif_t=group_activity

Stride free                               https://www.kmeliteproducts.co.uk/stride-free

Balance Saddles                   http://www.balanceinternational.com/The-BALANCE-Saddles_B226BDD.aspx

Bomber bits                           http://www.bombers.co.za/

Mary Wanless                       http://www.mary-wanless.com/

Dr Sue Dyson                         https://www.aht.org.uk/

Dr Hilary Clayton                https://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/whos-who/clayton-dr-hilary/

Seriously Tacky                    https://www.seriouslytacky.co.uk/

 

Discombobulation

A little while ago, I was at a horse show, helping some pupils with their horses and classes.  On one particular day, we had walked up to the main arena to watch some of the big class of the morning.  They were jumping 1.30m, which although not huge, is big enough.  As we arrived, a rider who is one of the leading jumpers in the country was just beginning his round.  He jumped the first couple a little scrappily – missed his stride coming in, got in too deep then stood a bit far off.  He got it together and had a few better fences, and then missed a couple again.  The horse, usually very careful, had a fence down, then another, then another.  Right in front of where we were standing was a pretty big triple combination.  He cleared the first but had come in too fast and hit the second.  In hitting the second, they were in a muddle and the final distance just wasn’t happening.  They took off for the last, ploughed head long through it, getting tangled up in poles, and both came down hard, the horse crashing over the rider and both skidding across the sand.  The horse, luckily, did all he could to avoid falling on his rider, and was up and walking away in a moment.  Grooms, vets, officials, all rushed in, the horse was caught, the ambulance crew ran in with a back board and the rider was carried out.  Minutes later, fortunately, the rider walked away from the ambulance, having been only winded and shocked.  Accidents happen, right?  And horse and rider both walked away unscathed.  So, why am I writing about this?

Jumping is a higher risk sport, shouldn’t you make sure you are 100% fit and focused to protect your horse?
Jumping is a higher risk sport, shouldn’t you make sure you are 100% fit and focused to protect your horse?

As we were watching him ride, my first thought was, what’s wrong.  He can ride, his horse can jump and normally they are good to watch together.  But, on this occasion they were discombobulated and all over the place.  He was missing strides, the horse was missing cues and leaving legs behind, it was starting to look desperate and scrappy, the rider chasing strides and the horse backing off.  I had just been saying this round isn’t happening, when crash.

We heard afterwards that they had just had a bad fall in the warm up arena.  The horse had fallen, and the rider had injured his leg.  The ambulance crew had already been called in, strapped his ankle and administered a pain killer.  The horse was checked, deemed sound and fit to continue, and the rider had remounted, jumped another fence and come into the main competition arena.

We talk about riding being a high-risk sport, and about the rider being correctly prepared, with good instruction and careful matching of horse to rider.  Riders must wear hats, body protectors, boots, gloves.  They must focus, not be over horsed, over faced and have as much competence as confidence.  I have said often that a rider is literally placing their life in my hands when I’m teaching them, and it’s my responsibility to be careful, but their responsibility to listen.  We shouldn’t be riding dangerous horses.  But what about the rider’s responsibility to the horse?

A horse doesn’t ask to be ridden.  He doesn’t ask to jump, to be in a competition, to be put in a horse box.  He is there because we choose to put him there, and he is there because he is obliging enough to agree.  He could easily say no (well, hopefully he could – in some instances a horse will say no but sadly won’t be heard).  And so, we should be thinking about his well-being.

We mock footballers when they fall over, chip a nail and act as if they are dying.  We all know those prima donna riders who take a light little tumble and act as if it’s the end of the world.  And, we generally congratulate and cheer on the rider who has taken a fall and, Well Done, gets back up and carries on.  But, are we doing the right thing?

I think it’s great that the fall and out rule applies – if you are in a competition and have a fall, you are automatically eliminated from the class and can only carry on in the entire competition once you have passed a medical exam.  And, if its just nerves and pride that are dented, getting up and getting on is great.  But, if the fall is bad enough to require treatment or pain killers, should we as the rider put our horses at risk to carry on?  In this case, the horse wasn’t injured in the first fall and was sound to carry on.  His confidence was dented though.  And the fall in the main arena could have resulted in serious injury or even been fatal.

Would you load you horse in a horse box, and drive him if you were drunk?  No.  If I have afternoon lessons and go out for lunch, I won’t have even one glass of wine, as I think I need to be 100% focused if I’m going to be teaching.  But if we are a bit sore, a bit hungover, a bit stressed and distracted, should we be getting on a horse?  Do we put our horses at risk?  I think we do, and it’s a rider and an instructor’s duty to safe guard the horse and say no if there is an issue.

Where do you draw the line?  What is a minimal risk you would take, and where would you draw the line?

Pushing the elephants up a hill

I’m writing this in a state of disillusionment.  For a while, something has been bothering me, and only during a recent online workshop that I worked out exactly what.  The thing that floated back into my mind was the real sadness of teaching a lesson a little while ago.  Let me explain…

The lady I was teaching was a new pupil, never before met, and quite new to riding itself, only having had about 15 lessons.  She was riding a horse who I know reasonably well – I have taught quite a few riders on him, and in his youth, he was a real high flyer, competing at a reasonably high level.  The gradual decline of a horse – from young and talented, in much demand, to becoming a schoolmaster for a junior, to riding school horse for the advanced weekly rider, to beginner’s quiet plod.  Sad enough for a starting point.  Anyway, he seems happy enough in his little world, to plod along.  This rider was keen and sweet, but was very unbalanced and wobbly, leaning back, getting left behind and pulling the poor old boy in the mouth at regular intervals.  Every time she accidentally socked him in the teeth, he’d stop, sigh, wait for her to get organised and plod off on his way again.  We spent much time in walk, re-arranging how she was sitting; getting her legs under her in a more effective way; explaining that his mouth is at the other end of her reins and every time she pulls, he feels it and stops.  She was lovely, very teachable, keen to learn and implemented the changes well.  When we got into trot, we worked on the correct leg aids and how to keep her balance – and our gentle soul of a schoolmaster picked up some speed, put himself in a beautiful rhythm and started to carry himself.  Oooh, she said in excitement, this is so different.  Wonderful, I replied, why?  Well, it’s so springy, she said, and he is going fast, forwards and easily…  I don’t have to whip him.  After the lesson, as we were closing up, she said she was so happy, she doesn’t like whipping her horse.  I asked her, do you whip him often?  Oh yes, came the reply, my instructor (who I also, sadly, know) sits in the corner and yells, whip him, whip him, whip him harder, to try to keep him going.  He tells me the horse is slow, stubborn and old, and will only go if I make him, by whipping him.

Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.)
Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.

Minute by minute, my heart fell a little more.  This sweet, kind, gentle horse, doing his best to listen to his rider when she pulled on his mouth and keep her safe, was being whipped, whipped, whipped to make him go.  Would this happen in a dog training class?  Your dog won’t sit?  Whip him harder.  And yet, it’s ok in a riding lesson.  Your parrot won’t talk?  Whip him.  Your cat won’t stay off the table?  Whip him.  Your horse is stopping when you accidentally ask?  Whip him.  Logic, right?

So, this is an isolated incident?  No.  I see this again and again.  Lazy teaching, “instructors” simply directing traffic to pass the time.  Riders who, instead of being helped and taught, are put on tied down, miserable, shut down horses.  Buyers being given bad advice by advisors who will get back hander from horse sellers.  Greedy yard owners overworking horses (and instructors).  Lame horses being sold or used for riding.  Horses, and novices, being taken for a ride, literally.

It’s a global issue.  The governing powers that be, are turning a blind eye to much abuse in the competition world, and that seems to trickle down through the ranks.  Whats the fix?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Better teacher training?  Better pay so that instructors don’t work the long hours and become stale?  Better vetting of instructors and yards?  Really, I don’t know where the change is going to come.  More novices being asked to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them?

I do what I do because I actually like horses – something that seems to be in short supply in the horse industry at the moment.  I want to make a difference, to improve that horse’s life, but also to educate the human with them, to improve the lives of all of the future horses that human will come into contact with.  But sometimes, like now, I get tired.  Disillusioned.  Fed up with swimming against what seems a tidal wave of cruelty and misunderstanding.  I know it’s not only in my industry – school teachers are giving up teaching due to spoilt brats who are over entitled and not disciplined by their doting (or lazy) parents.  Animal charity workers committing suicide over the never-ending deluge of unwanted, over bred, abused or mistreated lost souls.  Environmental activists who simply give up and vanish.  Many, many of us are in the same boat and wonder how (and why) to proceed.

 

Windows

I’m currently staying in a hotel in Malaysia.  It’s a bit of an odd one – I think the building started life as an office block, before becoming a hotel.  It’s very square, which means one issue – if you pay top dollar and book a room on the outside of the building, you get a window.  But if you get a standard room that is in the middle – there are no windows.

The first time I stayed here, I didn’t realise.  I checked in at night, went up to my room, opened the door, wheeled luggage inside, close door – bed, check.  Bathroom, check.  Hanging rail / shelf, check.  TV, check.  Aircon unit, check.  What’s missing?  Something is not right…  Ah, there is no curtain, there is no window.  Never mind, I thought, it’s only three nights, and I’ll only be in here at night, I don’t need a room with a view, the curtains will be closed anyway…  Do you know how awful those nights were?

It wasn’t a bad room – except for the fact that there was… Ummm, no window
It wasn’t a bad room – except for the fact that there was… Ummm, no window

Now, I’m not claustrophobic.  I’ve been down mines, stuck in lift, scuba dive through shipwrecks.  It takes a lot to rattle my cage.  But, sleep in a room with no windows?  Hmmm.  And, I love (NEED) my time alone to recharge, especially when I’m busy teaching, and with people all day, and talking, and explaining and interacting – I love what I do, but it’s blissful and essential that I can close my door and the world out in the evening.  I need a good 12 hours of time without seeing another soul.  And yet – sleeping in a room with no windows….  Hmmm.

We humans need some form of interaction.  We need light, movement, to see things, or sights, or at least whether or not it’s raining, sunny, day or night.

This trip I’m very, very happy, I have a window.  Not only that, I have a minute little balcony.  It’s hot and humid out there, and I’m really only here at night, but having a door and access to outside, excellent.

Recently there was a video going around Facebook.  This one actually

And, it really upset me.

There are loads of comments about hahaha, there is always a “special” horse around.  Horses, even more than humans, need social interaction.  They are “designed”, – hardwired – to be outdoors, walking, walking, walking.  They should be grazing 16 hours a day, and much of that time is spent wandering along, nose on the ground, following the best trails of grass.  They need to be interacting with other horses, or at least other animals.  They groom each other, they form close bonds.  If spending three nights without a window bothered me, imagine what living in a closed in box does to a horse.  I suspect that the rails that these two horses are talking through enclose the stables on all four sides, and that these horses have no time to actually interact with another horse in any other way.  If you turned these two out together, they’d probably be grooming each other.  And, if they can’t be turned out together, how about at least creating a window for them?  If they could stick their heads through a gap and “talk” without bars, I bet you this “funny” behaviour would disappear.  I don’t see this as cute, funny or entertaining.  I see it as a horse who is desperate to interact, having to have made a plan…  If you see a tiger pacing up and down the front of his zoo cage, is it cute?  If you see a horse windsucking, is it funny?  If you see a person pacing and pulling at their hair, is it entertaining?  Not really.  So, why is this horse’s stress being seen as anything other than the stress behaviour that it is?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Socks for the Gili Ponies

My “holiday” a couple of months ago, was a quick flip back to Gili, which many people know holds a special place in my world.  I have written several times in the past about the Gili Cart Ponies, and some of those blogs and articles can be found here….

Last year, the Gili islands and Lombok suffered from a series of devasting earthquakes and I wanted to see for myself how the island was recovering.  Lombok, the biggest island in the area was hardest hit, with over 500 people dying, many more injured and still there are thousands of people living homeless in tents.

Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…
Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…

The staff on the three Gili islands are mostly from Lombok, they either commute daily (it’s only 10 minutes by boat) or have moved onto the smaller islands, but their families often remain at home in Lombok.  Because of this, when the earthquake hit Lombok in such a devasting way, most staff returned home immediately.  This included drivers and caregivers of the cart ponies.  Fortunately, some people remained on the Gili islands, such as

Chaos ensued for many months – a shortage of food and water, looting, local crime, the total ban of all tourists, devasting losses of human and animal life.  When the drivers fled Gili, most of them opened the pony’s stables and left them free to fend for themselves.  The majority of the cart ponies are stallions, so a couple of hundred loose stallions running wild on the island.  And, those still in their stables had to be found and fed and watered.

The islands are only now, really coming back to life.  Tourism is picking up and life is beginning to return to normal.  As I wandered around the island, there is still a lot of damage, deserted restaurants and hotels, piles of rubble and rebuilding, but there is definitely a feel of hope and a new start.  Luckily, the reefs seem relatively unharmed, and the stunning marine life is healthy and doing well.  (Yes, my holiday had to include a few dives, of course…)

There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island
There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island

And, part of my reason to visit, was to see the new Horses of Gili stable yard and vet clinic.  There has been no full-time vet on the islands, but now, through the dedication of Tori Taylor, (of Horses of Gili, and Lutwala dive) a new 8 horse barn is being built, along with a small vet surgery, housing for a vet, a farrier workshop and a charity shop.  Interviews are being held for a full-time vet, whose wages will be covered through donations.  The stables will be occupied by rescues who need some TLC while recovering from injury or illness.  This is a massive undertaking, and Tori desperately needs help with funding the project.  As ever, donations of tack and equipment are also most welcome…

Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home

Two other things that I was so excited about – one, the condition of the rubbish / garbage collecting ponies.  In the past, these ponies have suffered the hardest life, really being the bottom of the pecking order.  Now, thanks to www.animalaidabroad.com and www.giliecotrucst.co.id these ponies are fat, well, bright and living in clean, solid, well ventilated stables.  They are being shod with good quality shoes, have new harness, and the governing bodies of the island have allowed a few motorised golf carts to assist in the collection of recycling, so making the ponies jobs a lot easier.

The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
That snaps far too easily
That snaps far too easily
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…

The other thing was something I was carrying – socks!  A fabulous supporter, Michelle Harrison, together with Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com organised the donation of 6 sets of their amazing socks!  These Silver Whinny socks are fabric that is treated with silver and allow legs to breathe while helping to heal some really nasty diseases and injuries.     For those who have been following Horses of Gili for a while, you will remember Miracle, the little chidoma mare who had her entire leg degloved due to an accident.  It took well over a year to heal, but she is 100% now, and that is certainly thanks in part to her Silver Whinny socks as well as all of the TLC that she received.

Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…

It’s awesome when people such as Michelle, Raymond and companies like Socks for Horses get involved in projects like this, thank you!

 

It Happens After Every Grand National

It happens after every Grand National, doesn’t it?  Ban horse racing.  And, I’m pro horses, so I should be pro the ban, right?  Well, not really.    Let me explain my view – it’s a complicated, emotional subject with so many shades of grey.

Swelegent, a much loved, happy healthy Thoroughbred who led a long happy life after racing for many years
Swelegent, a much loved, happy healthy Thoroughbred who led a long happy life after racing for many years

Many years ago, I went for a week long interview to become a work rider at a very big name yard.  Oooh, I thought, the chance to ride some amazing horses, some of them have values into the millions, and the trainer – famous name.  How exciting.  Off I trotted….  The first day, a rider was cantering a young filly.  She was tied down in running reins and was obviously not very balanced.  And, out of the blue – the rider punched her over the head.  And again.  And again.  A watching young rider asked a senior rider, “why is he doing that?”.  The older rider’s reply?  “I don’t know, because he can?  Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend.  Maybe the filly pulled.  Maybe she lifted her head.  Just concentrate on your own horse”.  A couple of days later, a horse who wasn’t being careful enough while jump schooling was pinned in a corner and beaten by two trainers on the ground with lunge whips and the rider on his back, until he was literally wetting himself in terror, before being released from the corner and tearing around the jumps again in panic.  The horses lived in squalor, small dark, cramped, damp stables with leaking rooves and disgusting bedding.  The grooms were short-handed, grumpy, over worked and had a job, no connection to these horses, so the horses were shoved around with no thought.  And, as a work rider, I was given my own bridle and saddle that must be used on every horse I rode, fit or not.  As you can imagine, I didn’t even last the week, and when I said I’m leaving NOW, they said oh, really?  We were preparing your contract, to stay for a year.  Hmmm…  So, this must have been a racing yard, since this is about racing?  No, it was an elite horse dealing and producing competition yard.  I was riding mainly dressage horses, but the other barn was all jumpers.  And the price tag on these horses started at 30,000 Euro.  Of course, the prospective buyers didn’t see behind the scenes, but oh, what went on.  This must have happened in China, or one of the remote, possibly dodgy countries I travel to, yes?  No, it is in a highly respected, mainland European country.

Where do the slow racing rejects go? Melody Fair, a lovely lady who was bred for racing and didn’t get there, because a fabulous all rounder who evented, show jumped and did dressage
Where do the slow racing rejects go? Melody Fair, a lovely lady who was bred for racing and didn’t get there, because a fabulous all rounder who evented, show jumped and did dressage

Another yard where I went to visit, I was warned that people there had had to sign a confidentiality contract as to what was happening on site.  Hmm, I thought, that’s odd.  Oh yes, I could see why those contracts were in place.  Wires, chains, whips.  I ran away very fast.  So, this must have been racing?  No, it was the slightly removed section of the yard for a team of stunt horse trainers, training the ponies for a film company, who were filming an international blockbuster, out of sight, out of mind, in a country where they could get away with cutting corners.  Why train a horse to fake fall, when you can just gallop it at a trip wire?  It doesn’t matter if it breaks it’s neck, we have spares. And yes, a lot of horse people watch this series because its an epic horse production.  But that’s ok, right?  It must have been a more minor film company from a bad country?  No, it was one of Britain’s biggest name film studios, filming in a far-off land, so they wouldn’t be tied down by welfare issues.

Cardiff Park – a Thoroughbred who raced for a couple of years before becoming a happy, healthy, sound riding horse and show jumper
Cardiff Park – a Thoroughbred who raced for a couple of years before becoming a happy, healthy, sound riding horse and show jumper

Any industry involving animals can be wonderful.  And can be appalling.  I’ve been in riding schools where the happy ponies are treated like royalty with 24/7 turnout in herds, awesome feeding and care, body work, experts in for hoof care, dental care, vet care.  And, I’ve been in elite yards that made me want to cry.  I’ve spent time in racing yards where the lads and lasses who take care of the horses obviously adore them, the care is again fit for royalty, with careful, science based nutrition, fittening, blood work ups, in house vets, where the horses are happy and relaxed.  In many, the one thing lacking is turn out, but this is changing in many places, and more and more good trainers are letting their horses live out in herds and taking on the mental aspect.  I’ve seen working horses who are fit, shiny, well, happy in their work, and I’ve seen paddock ponies, who are in theory in bliss because they are not expected to work for a living, and are living out in herds, all natural – in horrendous states because of laminitis from unrestricted grass, or skin and bone and on death’s door.

Well, happy working donkey enjoying the early morning, warming sunshine
Well, happy working donkey enjoying the early morning, warming  sunshine

“I adore my horse, he is my life, and we do dressage in pink matchy matchy saddle pads…”  As I plonk on a badly fitting dressage saddle (because I like riding in it), tighten my flash noseband so he can’t breath, slap on the draw reins and take selfies in the mirror.  And when he’s naughty, he’s disposed of, or sent to bootcamp with the trainer who will ”fix him”.  And when he’s not good enough, he’ll get passed onto a junior rider, who’ll add lethal spurs because the horse is tired and shut down and the new rider’s legs aren’t long enough to keep kicking everytime the trainer yells, “legs, legs, more leg, more leg, legs, kick”.  And being a dressage horse, he can live this happy life for 20 years, because it’s dressage, which is good, right?

“He’s a racehorse in training, here to provide sport and entertainment and hopefully some financial reward”.  And he has a lad looking after him who adores him, and who is a light weight with good hands who walks him up the heath track where he gallops with his head up, not being held down in rolkur.  Professional riders, professional care.  Yes, he must work, but we understand the science of good nutrition, and he has the best of health and dental care.  And, if he’s unlucky, he’ll break a leg and won’t know anything a few minutes later.  Or be sold on.  But he’ll only be a race horse for a short time.  Yes, it’s in the “he’s sold on” that the biggest issues arise.

In 2018, Deathwatch (coalition for the protection of race horses) says 119 race horses died on training or race tracks in Australia, mostly from front leg fractures.

https://horseracingkills.com/issues/deathwatch/

And, internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually.

100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year for human consumption, but internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually, which is worse, right?

https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/horses-slaughtered-for-human-consumption/

More than 30,000 horses were exported live from Canada to Japan between 2013 and 2017, so that they could be slaughtered fresh for a speciality sashimi called basashi.  But, internationally, approximately 10,000 Thoroughbreds are slaughtered annually, which is the bigger issue?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-online-petition-to-stop-exporting-live-horses-lawrence-macaulay-1.4623230

Premarin is produced as a hormone replacement for menopausal woman.  Take this, says the doctor, it’ll make you feel so much better…  Who knew that PRE  MAR  IN  is short hand for PREgnant MARe  urINe?  But that’s ok, it’s medicine.  And we just slaughter the waste product foals.

If we “use” horses for entertainment (and yes, ALL of us are using horses for entertainment, even if it is just watching them mow the lawn in the paddock), we can do it well, or badly.  We can promote metal and physical well being or we can harm them.  The outcry about racing?  We SEE a horse die in front of us.  We can’t pretend we don’t know.

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”

― Paul McCartney

Luckily for most competition riders, only racing has glass windows, the rest are safely hidden behind brick walls of ignorance and pretending that it isn’t there…

Punishment Chair

Last summer, I was exploring a new town and handed over a vast amount of cash to explore their famous palace.  It was well worth it, after my bank balance had recovered.  (And yes, I do know why all these places charge a small fortune – it costs a massive amount to maintain these ancient buildings, but it’s still always an internal debate for me – do I pay that much, or just enjoy from the outside?)

As I was wandering through the rooms, there in the children’s nursery stood a very tall, very narrow, very rickety looking small chair, a tiny child’s high chair, with exceptionally long legs.  I was just thinking the legs looked as if they had had some uneven wear and tear – all four legs seemed to be slightly different heights, leading to the rickety appearance.   As I was looking, one of the castle guides came up, and asked if I knew what I was looking at.  A child’s chair?  Well, yes.

But this is different – this is a punishment chair.  Huh?  This chair dated back to 1700 or 1800 ish.  The royal nannies who looked after the young princes and princesses were not allowed to physically raise a hand to a child or punish them in any way.  Which meant that these young royals were running riot.  So, they developed the punishment chair.  Because of its height, with it’s extremely narrow base, it was already not terribly stable.  Add to that the legs all being at different heights, and the whole thing was liable to topple over.

https://www.scotiana.com/scottish-castles-series-falkland-palace-part-2/

Sadly, photographs are not allowed within the palace, and the only image I can find of the chair, is this one that isn’t terribly clear…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/46352902201/in/album-72157668431082618/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/32480811208/in/album-72157668431082618/

And this was the first naughty chair.  If a young prince or princess was being naughty, they were put in the chair for a while.  And while in the chair, they had to sit absolutely still, otherwise it would topple over.  Quick fix for temper tantrums, right?  The staff didn’t inflict any actual punishment, but the child very soon learnt to be still and quiet.  Hmmm…. And what does that have to do with you, and why I’m writing this?

How often have you heard instructors yelling across arenas, just sit still, stop fidgeting, and relax, just sit there.  There is nothing relaxing about sitting still – it takes a fair amount of physical effort to “just sit still”.  Hello, it was a method of punishment…  It takes physical and mental effort to be still.   I bet those young royals learnt about using their core and stabilizing themselves in a hurry.  It shouldn’t be torturous to sit still, but it certainly isn’t something to “just relax” about either.

(In a totally unrelated thought – follow me here – just think about normal school kids. They have to sit still in class, not get distracted, not move about, not make a noise, and if they don’t – straight onto Ritalin….  Hello, sitting still is torture!)

But, it also made me think about horses, and what we inflict upon them.   Get your horse’s head down – put him in one position and keep him there….  How is this not a torturous punishment?  Every living being, be it human, horse, cat, dog, any animal, needs to MOVE.  You cannot tell a rider or a horse to sit still in one position and hold it.  And yet, what do we spend much of our time doing?

Priorities

Every situation will bring about a different priority.  In Singapore, all cars must be parked by reversing in, nose facing out.  Because? The car parks there are so small that it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle getting in.  In the event of fire, they want to evacuate fast, which is much easier if everyone is going forwards.  In Germany, they all park nose first.  Why?  Because, reverse parking means exhaust pipes against walls which leave dirty marks.  Evacuation isn’t a priority.  They do, however, have a lot of spaces painted pink, which are for single women.  These are closest to the lifts and security, well-lit and bright, because their priority is stopping the attacks on lone women leaving work late.  And now, here I am, thinking of this in Kenya.  Again, they reverse park for the bulk of the time, and yet there is space, and the majority of parking is outside, where there is less fire risk.  So why?  Terrorism.  Kenya has been victim of few terror attacks, and again, evacuation is faster if you’re pointing the right way.  

So, what’s the relevance to you?  

Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.
Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.

In every country, every community, every culture, we deal with what is the most urgent.  In Nordic countries in winter, snow control is vital.  This wouldn’t be much of an issue on the Middle East.  In Africa, we worry about Malaria and tick bite fever, not really an issue in Europe.

In the UK in particular, things seem to be becoming more and more pedantic.  Yes, a horse must be comfortable and well cared for.  But where it gets me is if it clouds people’s judgement. 

When I am in foreign countries, I often get asked to help people with their tack fitting, shoeing or feeding issues.  Two feeding issues made me think recently.  The first has a big, strong, exuberant young warmblood.  He forgot to stop growing and is a VERY big and strong young lad.  He is, if anything, rather too prosperous…  He is a little too round and well covered and has a little too much boing in his step.  His owner asked me to check out her feeding schedule since she had been reprimanded by her vet for not feeding him enough.  Ummm, I said…  On the back of her hard feed bag is the feeding guide.  For a horse of his size, he should be getting 5kg.  He is currently getting 3.5kg.  But he is also on 15kg of very good quality hay, as well as chaff, extra sugar beet, vits and mins etc.  He is VERY well fed, and looks as if he is VERY well fed.  Did your vet ask about what else he is getting I asked?  No, she replied, only about how much hard feed he is on.  Maybe, particularly a vet, should trust his eyes instead of sticking to the letter of what the feed bag says? 

The other was about an adviser who lives in a country that has excellent feed, hay and grazing, telling a questioning owner in a country with bad feed, bad hay and no grass, that they should dramatically reduce what they feed their horse out of a bucket.  Yes, if the horse in question was getting a few hours of high-quality grass grazing they could be eating less, or even if they had a lot more access to better hay, but with no grass, limited bad hay, they wanted to reduce his food?  Well, no, how can you advise from a different country without asking for enough information? 

Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag
Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag

Both the vet and the feed advisor are qualified professions and I am sure they are good at their jobs, however, they both have a different country priority.   

The thing that affects me most though, is probably tack.  In developed countries, if a saddle is 99% ok, it’s considered a problem for some people.  A good while ago now, I walked into a riding school and several of the horses had bad saddle sores, some openly bleeding.  When I questioned the manager, I was told that was part and parcel of a riding school horse’s lot.  Did I agree?  Absolutely not.  My first priority was to fit all the saddles, allocate each horse their own saddle, the best possible option, adding pads when they could be useful, and labelling the saddles, the pads and the racks, so making sure that it could be maintained.  By European standard, where they ideal?  No.  Were the horses an awful lot more comfortable, and open wound and blood free?  Yes.  We have an obligation to do the best by our horses, but we do, realistically have to accept that we must have priorities, and often we have to offer the best we can, instead of being paralysed by the knowledge that it can’t be perfect in everyone’s eyes…. 

What compromise would you accept, where are your priorities?