Winter is coming…whether we like it or not. For the traditional horse keepers amongst you, this means months of mucking out in the dark, clipping, changing sodden rugs, riding for fitness in the dark or paying for indoor arenas.
Winter is coming, and the winter preparation for track kept horses is slightly different. Our field is about 6 acres. We have a summer track around the edge, a hard standing area for giant hay feeders and the middle is split into 3 paddocks. This summer, one paddock has been grazed by Gary’s TB, who needed extra weight and needed to be segregated from the others because they bullied him horribly. It turns out he has had Kissing Spines, and now his back has been injected, and he is moving better, he is allowed into the herd; presumable he doesn’t look like the weakest link anymore. That’s another story for another day though.
Winter is coming, which means the grass will finally be safe for the grass sensitive Cal to eat without going footsore. The other two paddocks have been left long to act as standing hay for winter. Our grass doesn’t really turn onto foggage as our weather generally is not cold or dry enough, but we had great success last year introducing them to the long grass one paddock at a time, until they had access to the whole 6 acres for the worst part of winter. Allowing wider access reduced the footfall in any one area, and thereby reduced the mud damage. A couple of the gateway gaps were trashed by spring but they have recovered really well over the summer. And the gravelled feed area proved a life saver last year: the feeders were easy to fill, the horses didn’t get mud fever, their feet were brilliant from standing and loafing on pea gravel. I’ve made a road from haylage store to feed area from old stable mats, eventually this will be stoned too.
The horses made their own gateways last year. This year the electric tape is staying up and electrified for now, but if they start barging through willy-nilly again, it will get unstrung and put away for winter. I’m not sure how well the solar energiser will work over winter!
Winter is coming, and it’s a good time to take stock.
Gary and I have had the most excellent year. We have continued the brilliant monthly clinic lessons with Patrice- Cal is getting stronger and more established in his work, Rocky got through his teenage tantrums, although we had a bit of outside help with that, and Beat settled in lovely and will be the most fabulous event horse if his KS come right. Cal and I have been to 2 British Riding Club Championships, both team trips with friends from the Exceptionally Cool Riding Club. The East Clwyd Riding Club is most excellent, and has been rightly shortlisted for the NAF Riding Club of the Year Award- Please vote here
The Horse Trials Championships were obviously the most fun; bonus was we had a season best dressage and a lovely double clear.
Previously known as sicknote, Cal managed to remain sound for a whole summer. I got really brave and took him down to the Dovecote Stables for 2 ridden lessons with the legendary Charles de Kunffy. Now I will admit, in my dreams I wanted it to be a breakthrough clinic where we got to clean changes. However, Charles is a genius at getting to THE thing; and the breakthrough turned out to be that there is no point doing all the funky stuff until his body submission issues are completely sorted. Many people who know him think Cal is an angel; he’s not hot, he doesn’t dance or jig or bronc, but he does just do this tiny brace in his neck, and fractionally lock his jaw, and he doesn’t ever yield his brain. So the Charles lessons turned out to be all about ensuring we get a good topline, with a lifted back, swinging shoulders and a soft lumbar back. And that’s OK, because when I take that horse to the harder work, that works much better too! Except for trot/canter transitions…if Cal can’t brace we can’t yet do them on demand…..more practise.
We have done 6 ODEs, including an unaffiliated 90 at Eland. Not bad for a full time surgeon! And finally we finished our summer season with the FOTH qualifier at Berriewood- first out on course for individual 3rd and a team win. It was at 80 level again, rather than the planned 90, but this last month has been mad busy so I didn’t feel ready to step up.
For those of you who haven’t noticed, this was all done without shoes. With 24/7 turnout on a track system.
Naughty turned out leg in the showjumping photo- much winter homework required!
Winter is coming, and the horses are getting furry. The working horses will get a shallow trace clip when they get really furry, just to enable us to ride them. I think the TB will need a rug, depending on how much coat he grows, but based on last year’s experience, the others won’t need a rug.
Winter is coming. I was musing the other day that we need to work out how much of what we traditionally do over winter is done for our human convenience, and how much is done for the horse’s benefit. Shoes exist for human convenience. Horses don’t need shoes, they need good feet. And good feet don’t come easily once they are brought into the sphere of human influence. Stables exist only for human convenience. Stables don’t make good feet. Clips are for humans really- people want to use their horses over winter and are taught they can’t do so unless the horse is clipped. Clips lead to rugs, and lead to stables being required. Horses can easily deal with temperatures from -5 to 25 degrees Celsius, if they have adequate forage, shelter and hair. As well as friends. Friends are crucial. When it rains, our horses huddle behind the hedge, or in the dip, taking it in turns to be on the outside. When it stops, they go for a mad 10 minutes play, get warmed up and then get back to eating. Forage ferments in the equine caecum, providing their own central heating system. They eat for about 16 hours a day, to trickle feed their caecum. Their fur can stand up, fluff out, the dense layers of unclipped fur resist rain beautifully and they are often completely dry underneath the herringbone pattern the rain forms in the long top hair. Mud is a great insulator, as is snow and ice if we get a proper cold spell. Our horses only really use the field shelters if it’s wet and windy, or nights like tonight, persistently wet with their full winter coat not quite through yet.
So our choice is to let them deal with winter as naturally as possible. We still ride regularly, with fluffy numnahs to prevent damp hair rubbing. We hack and school and jump and drag-hunt and do farm rides. I’m careful not to work them so hard that they overheat on warmer winter days. The horses cool themselves off perfectly mooching around the field after being worked. We feed ad lib unlimited haylage and grass, along with one hard feed a day. They have ample shelter and they have each other. And the natural lifestyle keeps them fit, in mind and body. It’s not always easy. It’s certainly not always convenient. But it is a valid choice, and our horses are the better for it.
And all we have to do is pooh pick and knock off the odd bit of mud.
Winter is coming. So what? Horses have been doing winter for millions of years, without us as well as with us. Here’s to winter training!