• Paige Hazell

Hope everyone's staying safe in this heat!

I know I particularly worry with two dark horses (one of of which that quite enjoys sunbathing in the middle of the day!) But there's lots we can do to help our horses stay cool!

~ Rocksalt or tablesalt water buckets (for the potassium lost sweating) ~ Being bought in to the shade, or cool stables. I hay in the shade mid day to encourage them to stay there during the worst hours, as I don't have access to stables. ~ Hose off! Lots of cool water to make your horse sopping wet! And leaving it that way. I soak bath towels as well and leave them laying over their back for a little while too. ~ Frozen treat blocks! Freeze a container with bits of apple and carrots for your horse to chew through! ~ Cool fruit! Who knew horses love watermelon? Not me! I half a whole melon and leave it in the field to chow down on! Pears, cucumbers and apple bobbing work well too!

Do you have any tips and tricks? Leave them in the comments?

(Please be aware this information does not replace advice from vets - if your horse is showing signs of heatstroke contact your veterinary straight away)

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  • Paige Hazell

It’s regularly said that you need annual checks for your saddle. But is this enough? Does everyone do this or are we only calling out our saddle fitters regularly when it’s too late and there’s a problem?

I understand with the current issue that most people have had to leave their fittings for a lot longer than they anticipated, and most fitters are probably booked up at the moment.

But why do our fitters (me included!) recommend a 3 month period in between saddle checks?

It’s not a money driven motive – it’s because a lot can happen in those 3 months! I’ve attached a picture of a regular client of mines template. Red 6 months ago, black recently, templated at the withers. Because of the pandemic, said client has had to leave it 6 months between saddle checks, rather than me coming out in March as planned.

In those 6 months, she’d moved yards, finished winter and gone through the spring grass flurry, and had to give her horse 6 weeks off. Nothing particularly extreme had happened to this horse, just a simple “that’s life” situation.

What you can clearly see is the size difference in these templates. This horse, in these 6 months, has gone from an extra wide saddle, to a medium wide. That’s two whole gullet sizes.

And while the owner had recently bought her horse a lovely new HM FlexEe, I had also found from my initial fit of the saddle, that some of the flocking had congregated into (not a particularly large, but said horse is very sensitive) clump in the back right side of the panel.

Now, what would have happened if I had not been called out? This horse would have developed muscle injuries from having a 2 sizes too large saddle on his back. He could have developed a bucking habit from the hard point (which is likely for him.) And most importantly, the riders safety would have been compromised!

I can never stress enough that your horse, much like your farrier or chiro, needs to see a saddle fitter regularly! 3 months is enough time to check over your horse and saddle and make sure it’s a good fit. During these 3 months, muscle can be lost or gained, or flocking moved. You need, and should, have a plan in place with your saddler in regards to your goals, as these will affect your saddle. Shimming can be so useful for saddle fitting when you have a horse with atrophy that needs muscle build up. Or if you have a horse with some balance issues in the back, or with their movement, shimming can massively help with a horse that’s typically a “saddle fitters worst nightmare”

Make sure you have your saddle checked after horse/rider injuries. Any time off. Any gain or loss of weight. Any increase or decrease of work. You really can be surprised how much change can happen.

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  • Paige Hazell

So the time has come. Time to figuratively and literally get back on the horse. But how do you go about bringing your horse back into work?

(Please note before you continue this advice is based on your horse being off due for reasons other than ill health. If your horse has been ill, please ask for advice from your vet before you proceed)

Firstly, before you can even consider getting on, you need to go through a checklist of assessments of your horses health and equipment.

  • Is your horse physically ready? A chiropractic session to work through any kinks or muscle tension your horse may have developed will aid in the correct training moving forward. A good chiro will recognise these weaknesses and will be able to advice of exercises to build strength in them. It’s advisable to get your chiropractor out on a regular basis to ease muscle tension and pains as they possibly develop.

  • How’s your tack? Before putting tack back on your horse, please consider that over even a small amount of time, your horse will have lost some muscle and condition. Call a qualified fitter for their advice, make sure your tack is in good condition and that it is suitable to go back on your horse. As with your chiro, its advisable to get them back out in 6 weeks, or 2 months, as your horse will change shape again and said saddle might not fit. Remember that it is advisable to have your saddle checked every 3 months.

  • Clean your bridle. If your bridle has been out of action and put into storage, it may be a good time to take it apart and give it a good clean and oil. Taking the time to check for any cracks that could have appeared especially if it’s dried out. Do the same with your stirrup leathers and girth if they are also made of leather.

  • Weight. Please be mindful that if your horse has gained weight during their time off, that this extra weight combined with new exercises will inevitably put extra strain on their joints. Consult your vet if you feel they may need an extra supplement to aid this.

Getting to the physical side. Lets treat your horses return to work as you would yourself getting into running, we’ll do these stage on weekly increments on the idea you’re riding 4-5 times a week.

You start with a long, brisk walk to raise your heart rate, and you’d do this several times. Take your horse out for a hack, keep a good forward thinking walk, with some hill work if able.

After a week or so, introduce light lunging work. If your horse is likely to be “fresh” before you first get on them, you may want to do this step first. Walk and trot on a large circle on a level surface. Try not to keep in the same place though, move around as a continuous circle can add strain to the joints. After a week add some small canter work.

Back on! In the school if you prefer, start working in walk and trot on loose reins, asking for stretches and long movement. Don’t be expecting your horse to pick themselves up yet nor will they be able to hold a working contact. Work them long so they can stretch over the back and loosen those muscles. Keep on going large, or work on larger 20 metre circles. Keep your turns open and large too, to change your rein, go across the diagonal.

Again, after a week, start asking for small offerings of canter. Look for a clean transition, and focus on quality over quantity. If you can get a good upwards transition, with a good 4 strides of canter, perfect, leave it at that. You can slowly build up the length you hold your canter after this.

Next you want to start adding smaller circles in walk, and reintroduce your lateral work. You want to be working on stretching and balancing your horses muscles at this point, without rushing them.

Finally you can add some collection. If your horse has been consistently able to stretch and work long, they should be flexible in their back enough to be able to lift themselves into self carriage. Add some more collection work into your paces, but as before, quality over quantity. If your horse can’t maintain contact in walk, they won’t in trot. Work on it in a slower pace before adding into a faster pace, and only ask for as much as the horse would be able to do. If you are inclined to do so, add some pole work to help with collection and elevation.

Remember during these times to listen to your horse. We don’t all make the same achievements in the same amount of time, and there is absolutely no shame in listening to your horse and taking it back a step. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all!

Happy riding,

Your friends, Paige and the boys

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