Horse: July 2008 Archives

Hi how sweet is this?  Note how Rollo's upper lip jutts forward when he is being given a scratch - second photo shows that a treat. We call it his giraffe face!  Thanks Pete for taking these!




Rollo is a very itchy horse and, very nearly, suffers from sweet itch (an allergic dermatitic reaction caused by a protein in the saliva of the biting Culicoides midge). Sweet itch can be a devastating condition resulting in sometimes such extreme pruritus that skin damage can result - the horse scratches its skin to try and rid itself of the persistent itching (often centered around the mane and tail areas) to the point of seriously exfoliating the skin at worst, and at best really messing with their mane and tail often losing a lot of hair in the process! So horse owners are very keen to try and wage war against said Culicoides midges, not only to save the horse agro, but also because the horse looks a mess if Culicoides wins!  Also, they are bloody annoying to me too as they seem to like me!  Bastards.

So I have had to be really careful as a result of Rollo displaying early signs of sweet itch  - he goes out in a fly rug (or perhaps that should be called an "anti-fly rug") during the day because of that - you can see the rug in the photos.  I also liberally spray him with fly and midge repellent, also wiping this around his face. The midges are most active during sunset and sunrise, but then there's all the othe nasty biting bastards around so at least he is protected from everything as much as possible!

Anyway, as a result - and anyway most horses do - he loves a good scratch and this is an important part of equine bonding rituals - that's why you will often see horses giving each other a mutual grooming session. Very often they start this by nibbling at one another's withers (the thoracic verterbrae for those friends of mind that don't know about horses; it is from where a horse's height is measured as it is the highest point of the back just below the neck). The withers are an easy trigger for endorphines (one of the body's "feel good" chemicals) which are released during this process and the horse also gets a dopamine hit! I remember many moons ago when I was a Pony Clubber doing Prince Phillip Cup and our "chef d'equipe" (!) told me to scratch the withers of my very excitable pony to chill him out - and it really did seem to take some of the stress out of him!

One of the things they get you to do in Natural Horsemanship (e.g. Pareli) is to rub your horse all over as a way of desensitization and bonding.  I take this one step further because rubbing is great (why does all of this sound kind of pervy?  It really isn't meant to!), but what many horses really want is a darned good scratch - done in a way to mimic a horse nibbling.  I believe some of the techniques of the Tellington Touch technique also mimic this but then that is my opinion! 

The moral of the story is if you spend a little while each day just scratching your horse then you become another horse to him  - great bonding exercise.  Even better, if you visit your horse in the field and give him a scratch for a while without any expectation of riding, you'll develop a bond to the point that your horse just walks up to you - no catching problems - the horse won't be associating you with work every time you enter his field!  That's an old story but it works!  Rollo always comes up to the gate for me, though sometimes I have to go a bit closer if he is asleep!  And we even join in the other horses for grooming sessions which is very funny! So many people just grab their horse from the field, ride them and give them a perfunctory pat if they've done right and then bung them out in the field again.  We *spend time* stroking and scratching our dogs and cats, so why not our horses?

Here's my tips for helping avoid midge and fly irritation:

  1. Keep the horse clean!  Flies and midges (or not so much the latter) are attracted by dirt, sweat, secretions and coat grease.  When your horse comes back from exercise, sponge off any sweaty areas.  Make sure that you wash your horse all over regularly with e.g. Dermonline shampoo. When your horse has had a feed sponge off his nostril and muzzle area.  Before you put your horse in the field, sponge off any secretions from his eyes/nostrils.  This is a big thing to fight fly and midge annoyance.

  2. Use midge/fly repellent spray.  If your horse doesn't like the feeling of the spray (or the noise of it), simply spray it on a sponge and sponge him over with it!  Make sure to sponge his face with the repellent and the dock and sheath areas.  Citronella was what I used to use but I think it is not licensed for use any more - but it used to be brilliant!  Be aware that just as worms get immune/desensitised to certain anti-worming chemicals (anthelmintics) that so can flies and midges get used to spray - so use different ones from time to time.

  3. Use an anti-fly (usually just called a "fly") rug.  Get one that also covers the dock and neck area.  Be wary of using one that covers the face unless you really need to - would you like something covering your face and impeding your vision (especially if you are a prey animal like a horse)?  I don't use a face mask on Rollo for this reason, but am vigilant about using facial fly spray and keeping his face clean.  However, if you notice undue discharge from eyes, it may be due to fly irritation and you may need to re-consider this position and apply a mask because conjunctivitis may result and you will save vet bills on if you have to get something like chloromycetin.

  4. Don't stable or field your horse too near to water, muckheap, etc - if you have a lake/pond this is where midges breed, and muckheaps are a favoured choice for fly breeding!  Horse flies in particular love water.  Water buckets are better than fixed troughs.  If you've got a fixed trough have a look in it in about Jun/Jul - see all those little wriggly things in there?  Many of those will be midge larvae!

  5. When you are out riding, the midges and flies will also be attracted to you.  The sprays you used on your horse may have masked them, but if the midges/flies get attracted to you, they may nevertheless get attracted to your horse as you ride him.  So use a masking agent - e.g. Jungle Spray!  It also avoids those bloody painful horse fly bastards that I hate as I come up in massive hives!  Many people also recommend Avon's Skin-So-Soft Soft and Fresh Dry Oil Body Spray - it doesn't contain nasty chemicals but apparently creates a layer on the skin that midge mouthparts find hard to penetrate!  Thanks for reminding me of that one, Frank (recommended to us when we were on the highly midgy Isle of Skye in Scotland in May this year).  You can get the at Avon and doing a search on Google for "skin-so-soft" add "horses" to it and you'll find that some people even use it on their horses!

As a last comment, the number of Culicoides midges appear to be becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK, as does the length of their survival. Global warming is most likely to be the culprit. Hence the increase in the occurrence of sweet itch over the last several years. However, sweet itch aside, there is another, more sinister, reason for us all to become more vigilent about protecting our horses from midge bites and that is that the UK and northern europe are now for the first time being faced with diseases that were once termed "tropical". African Horse Sickness (and Blue Tongue virus which affects ruminants, e.g. cattle) are also carried by Culicoides midges and these diseases are spreading northwards. African Horse Sickness is really nasty and almost always fatal, so we all need to be even more vigilent to protect our horses from biting midges.

Hope that this is useful! Enjoy!

Hey, check this out - the first photo of me on Barolo! Thanks very much to a friend of Vicky's called Diedre (I think - correct me as I am sure I am wrong) for taking this :-)))))))


Catching Rollo

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How sweet is this?  When I went to get my little horse in this morning for a ride, he was fast asleep lying on his side on the grass.  The photo below shows him just having woken up and the video below that shows him getting up and coming over to me - how sweet!



...and this video shows him on a horrid day in June - sorry about the noise of the wind!


This is my friend Vicky's horse - I call him "Handsome George" because I think he is just stunning.  Here's some photos. 

George_2008-06-1.jpg George_2008-06-2.jpg George_2008-06-3.jpg


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Yes, my horse is a rare Danish breed called a "Knabstrupper" - a rude friend of mine by the name of Mike just said "Sounds like a dodgy german S&M game..." which made me nearly spill my coffee (he keeps doing that to me) so I had to include this here for memory sake, apart from anything else!!


It is now 7 July and I have now had Barolo for about 6 weeks.  He has settled in really well and has many new horsey friends at our excellent livery yard, and well as human friends too - particularly my friend Vicky and her beautiful Appaloosa horse, George. The yard is really lovely and the people all very nice.  I chose the yard because Vicky was there and I used to visit her and George before I even got my horsey - we decided it would be cool to keep ours together. 

Barolo and George were fascinated by one another from the outset - I wonder if a horse's brain is able to "recognise" a fellow spotted horse and then decide that somehow "horses of spots should run together"?  Another interested party seems to be yard manager, Badr's, lovely dog Dexter!  He is a dalmatian and Barolo is rather intrigued by him too.  And when Barolo first turned up, Dex jumped up at the stable door, rested his paws atop it and had a good look at the spotted arrival of another species!

I have only been riding Barolo for the last about two weeks.  The first few weeks I spent a lot of time doing Natural Horsemanship with him - working from the ground in the indoor school to establish a relationship based on trust and gentle respect.  I built this up to the point I was able to liberty school him - it is a wonderful feeling having your horse get to the point that he just follows you around the school, no need to "pull him around".   Though saying that, this doesn't always work out - there is a large mirror at the end of the school and Barolo seems fascinated with it!  He'll suddenly decide he's done interacting with me and makes a bee-line for it and just stands and stares at himself.  Interestingly, he also seems to look at me (in the mirror) when I come up beside him to remind him he is supposed to be interacting with me and not the mirror!! e doesn't seem to do anything (as I think I'd expect if he thought it was another horse), he simply stares at himself in fascination, sometimes blinking! 

Have I got a narcissistic horse?  Is there even such a thing scientifically documented somewhere in the annals of equine ethology?  I doubt it!  Nevertheless, his almost obsessive fascination with the mirror does make me wonder about that rule of self-awareness and consciousness where scientists say that only primates are able to "recognise" their own reflection...  Does Barolo know that it is an image of him in the mirror, or does he just think "oh, who's that handsome, spotted geezer with the big, brown eyes"?  I must try to get a photo of him doing it - it is really bizarre to watch!

During the on-the-ground schooling, we had great fun trying to get the right saddlery for him in order for my eventually being able to ride!  I chose to get a saddler out - Geoff Dean from Ashington who I used many years ago with my old horses (I still have a double bridle that he once made for me that has for many years hung in my office as a reminder that I might one day be lucky enough to get another horse!).  Eventually we chose a Bates Caprilli.  This saddle does not have conventional flocking - it is air-filled!  This is much gentler on a young horse's (or any horse's) back - it re-shapes itself according to the change in the horse's musculature and skeleton as he ages and is worked.  It cost me around £800 so it should be good! Luckily it is also really comfortable for the rider which is a bonus!  The time Geoff Dean came round was in fact the first time I rode Barolo.  My friend Vicky tried him first - she is considerably lighter-weight than me - but eventually I couldn't resist having a go myself!  We had no idea how he would react, so Vicky lead him with me aboard - actually he was brilliant and calmly walked around the indoor school sporting his new saddle!

Trying to get a bit that Barolo would feel happy in was more of a challenge, interestingly.  The photos that I was sent of him made it unclear which bit he had previously been used to, and I was not given this information when he arrived.  So it was guesswork a) which size to use, and b) the type he was used to.

Being such a youngster at just 4 years old in April, I wanted Barolo to have the simplest bit I could get away with.  I had a stash of bits from my previous horses, so I put him in a simple German eggbutt single-jointed snaffle (stainless steel) - only to find it was way too large (around 6 inches I reckon).  Anne at the yard kindly lent me a Dutch Gag simply for sizing purposes - this was 5 inches and I decided it was too small for a cheeked bit but the mouthpiece looked like it would be perfect.  I had also noted that he fiddled around a lot with the Eggbutt and didn't think this was just because of the size being too big.  So I went out and bought a Happy Mouth loose-ring snaffle with a double-jointed mouthpiece to stop the nutcracker action thinking that might have been what he didn't like.  He hated it and pulled loads of faces and chomped on it a lot!  I had a close look at what he was doing, and a close look inside his mouth.  I decided the mouthpiece was taking up too much space as he seems to have a reasonable narrow palette and a large (given the palette size) tongue. 

The long and short of it all was that I ended up with a Shires training snaffle - one of those loose-ring ones with an angled lozenge to stop the nutcracker action of a single jointed, and that is made out of German silver (it is gold coloured) knowing that this alloy tends to not be so cold in the horses mouth and has a sweet-ish taste compared to old-fashioned stainless steel.  I opted for a thin mouthpiece which I know is more severe than a thicker one, but instinct told me that Barolo may be more comfortable with "less" metal in his mouth.  All of this combined to result in a perfect bitting solution - he is really happy with the bit, gently mouths it and seems to be fine!  The irony behind all of this is that the Shires bit we settled on is the cheapest one I tried!  Just goes to show that you don't need to spend a fortune on a bit - it was only around £30. 

During all of this was the process of selecting a bridle. I decided on a John Whittaker JW4 bridle and breastplate and got them in a really nice burgundy colour to go with Barolo's spots, only to find that full size was way too big!  So back to where I got them from - Brendon Horse & Rider Centre, Pycombe, Sussex - and they said that John Whittaker gear had stopped doing that colour and they hadn't got cob size in stock.  So I had to go for the oak brown which wasn't in stock, so yet more waiting!  However, eventually it all arrived and in fact goes in with the saddle colour better than the burgundy colour would have done, so that's all cool!  So since then, about two weeks ago, I have been riding him!

When I ride, I use my Parelli natural horsemanship headcollar underneath the JW4 bridle (with the grackle removed) and have the 12 foot line of the headcollar in my hands in a kind of "bridged" fashion alongside the reins.  This serves two purposes:

a) If Barolo gets too spooky to manage, then I can simply get off without having a fight on my hands and a potential accident and simply manage the situation from the ground, hopefully not too far towards the end of the 12 foot line!

b) If I get too spooky(!) or simply lose balance, the way I hold the headcollar means that I can't accidentally jab Barolo in the mouth - the headcollar acts before the bit because I shorten the headcollar line more than the reins in situations where I think it may be prudent to do so. Where we ride this is actually rather important - we are right on the side of the South Downs in England with lots of up and down hill work.  Barolo has a tendency to go behind the bit and doesn't really accept it too well (though he is getting much better in walk) and the last thing I want to do is make this worse by jabbing him in the mouth and teaching him to fear the bit.

Because of my weight, I am being extremely careful with Barolo so that he gradually builds up enough muscle to carry me, as well as to carry himself!  We have been doing very gentle hacking (which nevertheless involves hills!) and even had a very short - as in, 10 strides - gallop last week!  We have done much of this on our own - nothing like the feeling of going off exploring the bridleways, just you and your horse.   At one point I had to get off him because he is evidently not used to a rider on his back opening and closing gates!  That then meant that I had to teach him how to calmly stand by the closed gate in order for me to get back on again afterwards!  He is a really quick learner - so bright - so eventually I was able to get back on once he understood what I was trying to do!  My friend Vicky has been out with me a couple of times too - she was very patient the last time whilst I spent quite a while trying to get Barolo to walk close enough to a gate to be able to open it!  Now Barolo seems to be gradually improving at gates and certainly seems to have sussed the idea of standing still the other side of a gate if I need to clamber up it to get back on him again!

Once I have built up his basic fitness by this kind of hacking out, I will begin a bit more schooling.  We have had some plays in the outdoor schooling area, even over a few poles, but nothing with any serious aim.  It is so nice for me not to have any deadlines.  When I was younger and wanted to be a showjumper, everything was about targets and achievements - it was hard on the horses and hard on me.  This time I actively want not to have targets and just see where we end up in a very kind of "organic" fashion where what we do is merely dictated by both of our moods, rather than by a forced discipline.

Here's a photo of him eating and in the stable...
More soon



Barolo and Vicky

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This is so sweet - my friend Vicky happened to go in and see Barolo in the stable in June and another friend, Anne, took a photo - Barolo was too lazy to get up despite Vicky's persuasion - such a shame the photo didn't come out so well. It is so nice to see a horse so trusting of humans that he doesn't even bother when one of them comes into the stable!


About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Horse category from July 2008.

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