Our newest member of Team GH, #GHRisingStar Jennifer Olivier has sent in her first Global Herbs blog. It’s full of winter tips that you might find quite useful…
“So now that I have your attention, you little rebel, I like you already! In general, blogs can be quite personal about an individual and their achievements which some tend to find boring and irrelevant to anyone other than those who know the rider/person. That is why this is (and it isn’t) a ‘blog’ as such. I promise laughter, tears, tips, links and some interesting information which hopefully won’t have you yawning past paragraph 1.
Here we go:
Ok so we are all aware of the hellish conditions at the moment, frozen fingers, frozen toes, mud, frozen ground, freezing fog, frozen water and my own personal favourite frozen mud which has turned into the cliffs of Mordor! To coin Prince Phillip’s favourite word, it’s just simply ‘Ghastly’.
So apart from swanning around singing ‘Let it go’ horse owners, myself included, have been trudging through mud, bringing water buckets from home / the farmer’s house, swapping rugs more often than some catwalk models change outfits in a year and pondering the pros and cons of changing their sport to Rabbit Hopping (I kid you not this is a very serious sport!!! See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptyKSiRyQ4Y )
Anyway that aside, I can probably safely assume that it’s been a pretty miserable time for most of us, the days are short the riding is limited and the cold is….well COLD!
However there are a few things that you can do to help your horses at this time of year, especially if you are not able to turn them out. We personally don’t have a ménage and have to hack down the road to use the school at the main yard, which isn’t always safe on frozen roads with foggy conditions. We do have a small area of the field fenced off which we use when it’s not too hard or frozen and this is where we do a lot of the winter bits and pieces.
Apart from that, our feral bunch are turned out every day for as long as possible.
Grooming or massage is a great way for you to get the circulation going and pick up any lumps, bumps, hot areas, swollen legs, cuts and painful bits. It’s also great for bonding with your horse and will help produce a nice shiny coat due to increased blood circulation and lymphatic drainage as a bonus!
If you know your horse suffers from osteoarthritis (this is the chronic condition whereby the joints are generally stiff if the horse is not out and about), you can gently flex his joints while he is in the stable and take him out for short walks to get the circulation going and ‘oil the joint’ by getting the synovial fluid moving. Generally if kept in and because of the cold horses with this condition will be worse than in summer.
If your vet has diagnosed osteoarthritis in the joints, there is an advantage to keeping that joint warm on very cold days (osteoarthritis is different to ‘arthritis’, which is a sudden flare up of joint pain and is usually inflamed and will require rest and cooling down. Osteoarthritis is a long ongoing chronic condition which causes achy joints but which can sometimes have ‘acute’ flare ups), therefore it’s really important to ask your vet which type it is and if they recommend any treatment. No one is qualified to diagnose a condition other than a vet, so your ‘back person’, physio, farrier, saddle fitter, dentist or those helpful people on the yard can give advice but ultimately if you are worried about anything you really need to consult your vet. Be really careful to not over-heat tendons, as a general rule it’s helpful to keep anything below the knee and the hock cool.
Point of note: A lot of people do stretches with their horses before work, a cold muscle should never be stretched. Make sure that if you do any stretches (apart from carrot stretches where the horse itself will voluntarily do the stretch) that you ensure that it’s the right thing for your horse (ask the vet or physio/ osteo / chiro ) and always make sure that muscle you are targeting is warmed up before you stretch it. Stretching a cold muscle can lead to tearing and damage.
Ground work and liberty work is an excellent way of keeping horses mentally stimulated, physically stronger and forging a closer bond with the rider/owner when riding is out of the question due to conditions or time.
Groundwork and Liberty work: There are so many exercises you can do which will help you and your horse to work on areas that may need developing or just building up towards something like trailer or lorry loading. Liberty work is an effective way of training your horse to pay attention to you and build trust.
Polework will help your horse to improve muscle as with no saddle and rider, the back is free to build up topline muscle and improve strength, tone and bulk. Polework also helps with improving proprioception and judging distances which is great for jumping horses. Poles can also be laid out to reduce or increase the length of stride which is helpful for training dressage horses.
De-spooking: Using tarpaulin and pallets, you can introduce your horse to walking over ‘spooky’ objects but this also forms the basis of excellent pre-trailer/lorry loading.
These are the exercises we have been practising with our youngsters to and build trust and focus on our commands before training trailer loading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n6rg4Oz-Lg
And then finally introducing the babies to trailer loading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEE_VWeG0E8
I hope you have all enjoyed my first blog and next time I will be introducing you to some of my horses and what they have been getting up to.”