Keeping Our Horses Happy

I’ve already discussed the dangers of anthropomorphising our animals.

 

 

It doesn’t matter how many Disney movies you’ve seen or touching animal-led Dramas, the fact remains that your animals are not capable of the kind of emotional resonance that you’ll see on the big screen.

 

I may have been induced into my passion for Equine Behaviour through such films, but I’m under no illusion that Jackson, or any of my other horses for that matter, has the capacity for the same kind of emotional resonance that a person has.

 

With that being said, there can be some tell tale signs that might suggest your four-legged friend isn’t as happy as he could be. If you happen to spot any of these signs – don’t despair! You have plenty of options, it’s just a matter of troubleshooting and getting some advice from a trainer/vet:

 

Not as social with other horses

 

 

Take a look at how your horse behaves with his stable mates. If he’s grooming other horses and being groomed himself, then this means that he’s feeling sociable and comfortable in his surroundings. However, if he’s standing at a distance from the other horses and not engaging with others, then this might be a sign that he needs cheering up.

 

What to do: Try spending more time with him. Whether it’s an extra half hour of grooming or a long hack out, the extra hour could be the difference in lifting his spirits.

 

Long bouts of sensory inattention

 

 

This is another signal that you might be only see if you spend a long time with your animal. A keen eyed stable hand has also got a better chance of this, as they’ll be around your horse more frequently. Prolonged staring at a wall and a lack of reaction to audio or visual stimuli can signs that your horse has began to tune out his environments.

 

What to do: Sometimes what your horse might need is a change of routine. Visit him at an odd hour, or try exercising him on different days – if he remains the same way, contact your vet. 

 

Bed in disarray

 

 

When you come to turn out your horse in the morning his bed should remain largely in place. A relaxed horse will be content with their bed, whereas a stressed or unhappy horse may well pace around his stable, causing his bed to become pulled apart – this is a tell-tale sign of stress in racing horses, but could also suggest that your horse isn’t happy with his environment.

 

What to do: Try and make his stable more comfortable. In winter you could invest in affordable, environmentally heating in the form of a burner that uses wood pellets and briquettes. In summer, try improving ventilation to allow the air to flow more freely. 

 

Leaving food – losing weight

 

 

If the livery hands are reporting that your horse isn’t touching his feed, or if you notice that he might be losing weight, then you should consider contacting a vet. This can often be a sign that he might not be happy, but it could also related to his physical health.

 

What to do: If in doubt, it’s always best to seek the advice of a trained vet; they’ll be able to examine your horse, as well as it’s lifestyle and be able to determine what the matter is.

Leaving Jumping Behind

Since I bought back Jackson, the style of riding that I’m interested in has changed significantly.

 

 

Being of a more senior age than some of the other girls who use the stables, I’ve often felt a pang of guilt (or is it jealousy?) whenever I’ve seen them take their horses over the jumps.

 

Back when we were both starting out on our riding journeys, when he was a three year old gelding that I had part-ownership of and I was an eager seventeen year old, hungry for a challenge, we would have had no problem with clearing heights of 1.2 metres, sometimes even more. So what’s changed?

 

I’ve already discussed how proud I am of my old Arab. Although many stable owners would be considering putting him out to pasture at his age, after riding him for a couple of weeks now I know for certain that not only does he want to keep working, but he also wants to perform.

 

Anyone who has owned multiple horses, or has trained at an Equestrian centre, will know that all horses are different. Although we’re often warned against anthropomorphising our creatures – it’s an inevitability when you spend so much time with them.

 

 

I’d initially planned on taking on Jackson as a secondary ride for purely nostalgic reasons. I’d kept in touch with Lizzy, my friend from home, and had called her regularly to check up on them both. She’d always be as surprised as I was to report that he was remaining so spritely, despite his advancing years. Still, I knew that by the time I took full ownership of him, both of us would be getting a bit too long in the tooth to be attempting anything near the kind of jumping that we used to do.

 

Up until his move from Lizzy’s farm to my stables, I knew that he was mainly being used as a training horse. It might be a general rule to keep inexperienced riders off of older horses, due to their tendency to grow somewhat particular in their later years, but she had clearly trusted him enough to disregard this. Lizzy had used him for jumping shows whilst they were both a lot younger, but since she’d moved into the working world and had put her competition days firmly behind her, Jackson had been relegated to the position of a starter horse – a role that he had performed admirably – but, perhaps he was put into this role a little too early.

 

Each time I take him out hacking, I can tell that he wants to be pushed that bit faster. When we ride past a jump in the arena, I can sense him pulling towards them. My instincts tell me to calm him down and hold him back, but that’s where the guilt kicks in. If I continue restricting him to the safe types of activity that he can easily do, then soon he will lose the impetus to attempt anything else. Soon, he’ll simply be content with mild trots around the yard and he’ll no longer be the Jackson that I knew; the Jackson who loved nothing more than to gallop through the trails of the New Forest, tearing up the tracks and spraying mud on the hedges.

 

I’ve decided to stop protecting him from himself. He may be a little older in years (comparatively) to me, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to condescend to him. So now, from time to time, when I feel him pull towards a jump (as long as I know that the landing won’t damage him) we’re both going to take it and maybe we’ll take a trip back down to the New Forest on a quiet weekday afternoon.

 

Who knows, we might even recapture the same dizzying speeds of our youth…

Jackson Returns Home

The Summer months are a great time for bringing old horses back in to the fold…

 

 

That’s exactly what I did this week with my 28 year old Arab gelding, Jackson.

 

Jackson was quite literally the first horse that I ever rode and it feels so good to have him back with me again. When I was a teenager, about 17, I’d spent a gruelling year earning money washing dishes in the local pub. At this age most of my friends were busy dolling themselves up and trying their luck getting served in the pub – or out partying. Not me though. In my seventeenth year, I was scrubbing pots and picking baked-on cheese off ramekins – all so I could pool money together with a local girl for our first horse.

 

Horse sharing is still a great option for anyone looking to take their riding skills to the next level. For me, owning a horse (or at least in part) was always going to be the way towards improving my skills as a rider and fulfilling my lifelong dream of having a horse as a companion. At that age it was probably best for me to just have part ownership of him anyway. People often look back nostalgically at their youth, seeing it as a time when they had all the time in the world. But, in truth, there were just as many hours in the day back then as there are today.

 

I remember my teenage years being incredibly hectic. On top of the responsibilities that I had around the house, I had my college work to stay on top of and then there were extracurricular activities and all the social events that came along with them. The 12 hours a week that I spent caring for and riding Jackson never felt like just another activity that I had to dedicate my time to. When I cleaned out his stable, made his bed, scrubbed out out his hooves or took him out hacking, I never felt that I was wasting my time or that I was missing out on anything else.

 

There was something so calming about his presence. I know many horse owners gain a great pleasure from talking to their horses as if they were people. But, aside from a simple ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ I never really shared that much with him; I never felt that it was necessary. Doing all the little things to make sure that he was comfortable was my way of communicating. He saw me doing it and I believe he had at least a small grasp on the relationship that we had. I would feed him, clean him, brush him and in return he would adhere to my commands and take me across the trails of the New Forest.

 

15 years later and that feeling of serenity is still there. I know that I’ve changed a lot over those years but Jackson still feels like the same horse. He’s been stabled just a few miles outside of my childhood home for all this time, cared for well by my friend, who took full ownership of him when I moved away.

 

Although I know he’s got probably got less than ten years left of good life, I intend to make everyone of them as satisfying for him as possible.