Fencing for Paddocks

Fencing for Paddocks

We’ve all experienced a Houdini horse; a horse that manages to escape from any and every fence. Stallions have been known to duck and dive under the tiniest of gaps between fencing and the ground, just to get to a mare in the next paddock. It's not unheard of for cheeky ponies to squeeze through all manner of fencing to go and explore. And we’ve all witnessed horses literally walk through fencing to get to the tasty green grass on the other side (you know, because the grass is always greener). 

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Understanding Nutrition: Does your horse need Calcium?

Understanding Nutrition: Does your horse need Calcium?

There are certain factors to take into consideration when it comes to calcium supplementation. Some horses may have an increased requirement for calcium. Young racehorses are usually supplemented, weanlings and growing horses, and late pregnant mares are just some of the reasons you'd be looking at supplementing! However, you need to consider your horses feed and pick on the ground. What type of grass does your horse have available and what type of hay. 

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10 Prevention Techniques to Avoid Colic

10 Prevention Techniques to Avoid Colic

All equestrians are well aware of the major health concern Colic poses to our close companions. Colic is the number one cause of a premature death and while most can be treated the best approach to dealing with Colic is prevention. There are many variations of the condition caused by a range of factors due to the complex nature of the equine digestive tract, but these 10 techniques will greatly help reduce the risk of Colic occurring in your beloved horse.

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Colic Pathology: Compact Guide

Colic Pathology: Compact Guide

There is a long, exhaustive list of the causes of Colic and includes anything from heart problems to infection. It is, therefore, simpler to break the causes into two main groups; digestive tract related and non-digestive tract related.

Non-intestinal tract related illness can include, but not limited to; foaling, placenta retention, abortion, uterine torsion, pleuritis, botulism, renal and bladder stones, ruptured bladder, hepatitis, myositis and laminitis.

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History of Show Clothing - Part 2

History of Show Clothing - Part 2

In the first part of our mini-series on the history of equestrian show clothing, we looked at the early years of riding when everyday clothing, or nothing at all if you were Greek or Roman, was worn.

By the time of the Renaissance dedicated equestrian clothing had been developed so that the nobility could wear the latest fashions even in the saddle. Across the Atlantic Ocean the clothing worn by cowboys was more practical, but still showed elements of its Spanish origins with the rowled spurs and wide brimmed hat.

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History of Show Clothing - Part 1

History of Show Clothing - Part 1

One of the things I get asked the most by non-equestrians is “Why do you wear those clothes?” The obvious answer, of course, is that jodhpurs are practical and riding boots are designed for both comfort and safety in the saddle.

However, the answer gets a little more complicated if you’re talking about show clothing. After all, why do dressage riders compete in top hat and tails? Why do western pleasure riders wear bling?

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Should horses be rugged?

Excerpt from Horsemanship Journal - Issue 5, 2015

Your Thoughts

A recent survey was conducted by Western Horse UK and Horsemanship Journal which included questions about rugging. Of the 114 respondents, 65% felt that horses were often over-rugged whereas, only 4% felt horses were often under-rugged. 20% believed horses were both often over-rugged and under-rugged and 4% believed that they were neither. The remaining 7% did not know.

When asked if they rug their horses to prevent a thick coat for showing, 32% said they did, 27 % said they did sometimes but 41% said they did not. Furthermore, 45% of respondents said they find it hard to find well-fitting rugs and 37% said they sometimes find it hard. Only 18% replied that they did not find it hard to find well-fitting rugs.

It is worth noting that only 4% had reported that their horses were always stabled and only 11 % were always turned out. 84% said that their horses were both stabled and tuned out.

Many people choose to rug their horses, whereas others are firmly against it. 



Ever get the feeling your horse can read your thoughts? Well, he might not be far off. A new study at the University of Sussex is showing that horses are at least capable of detecting the difference between certain facial expressions in humans.

 “We have known for a long time that horses are a socially sophisticated species, but this is the first time we have seen that they can distinguish between positive and negative human facial expressions,” said study co-author Amy Smith, BSc (Hons.), MSc, a doctoral student in the Mammal Vocal Communication and Cognition Research Group at Sussex.

By “socially sophisticated,” the researchers mean that horses live in social groups with a complex communication system that includes the ability to recognize subtle expressions among themselves. Previous research has already shown that horses have a vast range of facial expressions, and that, combined with their body language, vocal expressions, and odors, makes them sensitive to each other’s communication. However, researchers had not yet shown that horses were also sensitive to the facial expressions of other species—specifically, humans—until now.

In their study, Smith and her fellow researchers studied the reactions of 28 riding school horses to photographs of two unfamiliar men, making either angry faces or happy faces. The angry faces caused the horses to look more with their left eye—which has been shown to be related to perceiving negative stimuli. They also had a faster increase in heart rate and showed more behaviors related to stress.

“The reaction to the angry facial expressions was particularly clear,” Smith said.

The horses reacted less to the happy faces, according to the researchers. This might be because as prey animals, the species has evolved to be particularly aware of danger. While they might have an innate ability to recognize negative emotions in humans, it’s also possible that they’ve developed the capacity to recognize the facial expressions associated with anger during their experience with humans. In any case, the researchers said, the important thing is that the horses are capable of distinguishing the emotional expressions in humans, and that they can cause them to react.

“What’s interesting is that accurate assessment of a negative emotion is possible across the species barrier despite the dramatic difference in facial morphology between horses and humans,” added co-author Karen McComb, BSc (Hons.), PhD.

“Emotional awareness is likely to be very important in highly social species like horses—and our ongoing research is examining the relationship between a range of emotional skills and social behavior,” she said.


That big Western saddle in your tack room might have a reputation for evening out the pressure over the horse’s back compared to the English saddles. But according to a new study by Swiss researchers, that’s just an old rider’s tale. Research by Katja Geser-von Peinen, DVM, of the Vetsuisse Faculty in Zurich, and her colleagues checked the distribution of forces in 10 horses ridden under their usual Western saddles. They found that forces in the first third of the saddle were twice as high as in the rear third. What’s more, depending on the gait, those forces could go up to three times the actual weight of the rider in that front third! Previous studies on well-fitting, standard-tree English saddles showed better overall pressure distribution, she said. “People often choose a western saddle to improve weight distribution and relieve pressure on the horse’s back, but they’re relying on subjective experiences and statements and not actual research,” Geser von-Peinen said.


As researchers hone in on what makes a dominant horse, one group has discovered a strong link with body condition. According to researchers at the University of Bristol and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, the well-fed horse is more likely to be at the top of his herd in an outdoor, domestic setting. In fact, dominant horses are even at a greater risk of being obese. The scientists ranked dominance and evaluated body condition in 194 horses in 42 English herds. They found that as dominance rank increased, so did body score. And dominance rank was nearly 12 times higher in obese individuals compared to non-obese ones! Their results were not influenced by age or sex of the horses. “Special attention should be directed towards correctly managing the intake of more dominant animals within a domestic herd, to prevent obesity in these higher risk animals,” the research team stated. Giles, Sarah L. et al. “Dominance Rank Is Associated with Body Condition in Outdoor-Living Domestic Horses (Equus Caballus).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 166 (2015): 71–79. PMC. Web. 9 July 2015.


The “ideal” horse might not be so “ideal” in terms of ability and welfare. According to Australian researchers, equestrians have an image of the ideal horse that sometimes conflicts with what’s best for the horse. Through an online survey with silhouettes of different horse shapes that focused on various body parts, more than 1200 riders and handlers selected their preferred equine images. The research team found that while these respondents chose neutral shapes for most body parts, they tended to like head and neck images that aren’t necessarily compatible with good equitation. Most of the respondents liked a thick neck, stated Paul McGreevy, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney. But a thick neck in horses is often related to obesity, which is inconsistent with good health and sports performance. The thick neck preference could be related to cultural bias created through artistic images of crested-neck war horses and royal horses throughout history, he said. It might even be related to humans’ ancient history of hunting horses and thereby preferring a meatier look….

Respondents also preferred a smaller, dished head, the study authors stated. But a smaller skull can be related to a brain shape that’s associated with excitability and reactivity, which can be dangerous for the rider and incompatible with certain sports disciplines.

The good news is that 93% of the respondents showed a preference for a natural head carriage rather than a hyperflexed position, they added. Current equine marketing often uses photos that show thick-necked, small-headed horses in hyperflexed position, but apparently the equestrian world is only influenced by the first two of these.


Caspar GL, Dhand NK, McGreevy PD. (2015) Human Preferences for Conformation. Attributes and Head-And-Neck Positions in Horses. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0131880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131880


Want to have a good relationship with your horse? Want to train him right? Want to stay safe on the ground and in the saddle? First things first: train yourself. Riders and handlers should all educate themselves in equine learning and apply that knowledge to their horse-human relationship. And ideally, that education should happen through specific training classes by equitation science professionals, according to the Italian equine learning research trio Paolo Baragli, Ph.D., Barbara Padalino, Ph.D., and Angelo Telatin, Ph.D. In their recent review on equine learning research, they looked at the different ways horses learn through training—mainly associative and non-associative learning. Associative learning is the process by which horses learn to associate a certain stimulus, or cue, with a specific action they can do to receive a reward, such as the removal of pressure or a bit of food. Non-associative learning is general habituation to certain things in their surroundings, like saddle pads and bits, or even plastic tarps and umbrellas. When horses get used to these things without fear reactions, they’ve had non-associative learning.

But poor knowledge of these learning processes can lead to disaster, they say. If we use too much pressure or have poor timing on pressure release, horses can have associative learning between a stimulus and pain or confusion—which can lead to unwanted behavior like kicking, bucking, rearing, biting, etc. As for non-associative learning, horses can become habituated to things we don’t want them to, like bit pressure.

To become better horsemen, we must learn more about the processes of how horses learn, according to these top equitation researchers. “This will lead to positive effects for all sports and activities in which the horse is employed (and) reduce the possibility of injuries for humans involved in the equestrian industry…,” they stated. Read their full, practical review (Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2015;51(1):40-51) online for free.

Cribbing Excuses and Stressful Whinnies

Cribbing ExcuseHere’s what Swiss researchers have to say about crib-biters: Let them eat wood! According to recent research, crib-biters not only have higher stress levels when they can’t crib, but they also have learning impairment. If you’re teaching your cribber a new trick, they might find it stressful or frustrating. So if they lean over to that wood fence to suck some wind, more power to them, says Sabrina Briefer-Freymond, Ph.D., of the Agroscope national research institute in Avenches. “Crib-biting horses appear more stressed than non-crib-biters during simple task learning, and crib-biting seems to help alleviate that added stress,” she says.

Stressful Whinnies Good feelings are contagious. Unfortunately, so are bad feelings. Among horses, those feelings can be spread through whinnies alone. According to Elodie Briefer, Ph.D., of Agroscope in Avenches, Switzerland, horses recognise the emotion in whinnies and will share that feeling. In her study of 18 horses, she played recordings of familiar and unfamiliar horses whinnying. Some of those whinnies came from stressed horses (recorded during a separation), and others came from happy horses (recorded when separated horses got back together). When the horses hear the stress in the familiar voice recordings, they acted stressed, with increased movement, heart rate, and whinnies themselves. “Negative whinnies can create negative emotions throughout an entire yard,” Briefer says.


Follow the Leader

Think you can pick out the leader of your herd? Think again. Odile Petit, Ph.D., of the University of Strasbourg has been studying several different kinds of groups of horses, and one thing seems clear: there is no set leader. “People have traditionally thought that one dominant horse decides when to set a herd in motion, but we now know that’s not the case,” she said. “Several individuals can initiate movement of the herd - with more or less success depending on the situation.” What determines the success? Quite simply, whether the others are up for following at that particular moment or not. But that success doesn’t have much to do with dominance, Petit tells us. Even a low-ranking horse can get the herd to move - provided it somehow chooses the right moment (everyone’s thirsty?) or has enough ‘friends’ to go along with them and get the troop in motion.

Blue Cross Rafiki finds his perfect home

Rafiki, a young cob rescued from a miserable life of fly grazing and neglect, has landed on his feet in his new home, thanks to Blue Cross. His new owner Margaret suffers with severe arthritis and following radical surgery earlier this year is now unable to walk and needs a power wheelchair. Rafiki has turned her life around. “He gives me a reason to get up in the morning,” she says. The pretty little strawberry roan cob, who was named after the baboon in the Lion King because of his indomitable spirit, was found fly-grazing in Buckinghamshire with several others. Three ponies had already been found dead at the site and a further two had to be euthanased as a result of a condition caused by excessive burdens of encysted small redworm.

Rafiki, at just 18-months-old, had a massive worm burden of 5300 eggs per gram and needed urgent veterinary attention, including specific treatment for encysted small redworm. He was nursed back to health by experienced staff at Blue Cross and within weeks was looking much healthier and was ready to be routinely castrated. Understandably wary of people, he was gently introduced to basic handling until he was happy to be groomed and to have his feet trimmed. He was then put in a short-term Blue Cross foster home for some invaluable one-to-one attention to prepare him for rehoming on the charity’s loan scheme.

Rafiki is now living like a king in his new home with Margaret. Unrecognisable as the shabby waif he once was, he is her pride and joy. Margaret is an experienced horse handler who has, amongst other things, worked with semi-feral young New Forest ponies. She was determined not to let her wheelchair curtail her lifestyle.

“Once I had got used to the wheelchair I was bored, getting fat, and really missed fresh air and equine company,” she said. “I looked at the Blue Cross website and there he was. It was instant. We went to see him and he was perfect. He was not the slightest bit bothered by the wheelchair and quite happily sniffed me all over.”

“From day one he has been an absolute joy. He is kind, gentle and so patient. He seems to understand that wheelchairs are not as versatile as legs, and waits until I have sorted my muddles out. All the credit of this goes to Blue Cross. They have done the most amazing job in making him the way he is now, and I thank them enormously. He has made such a huge difference to my life and given it some purpose. He is doing me much more good than anything I can do for him.”

Margaret handles Rafiki every day. In time, she plans to introduce him to as much as she can, including a saddle, bridle, rugs and a trailer. With the help of her daughter, she hopes to be able to take him for walks round the village and the farm where he will become familiar with traffic and tractors.

Vicki Alford, Horse Manager at Blue Cross in Burford, continued: “We couldn’t have asked for a better home for Rafiki. We are currently inundated with lovely young cobs like him and are desperate to find them good homes before winter sets in and our resources become tighter. If you are an experienced horse owner with the knowledge, time and facilities to give a calibre youngster a home, please get in touch.”

Rehoming 1

Rehoming 1

The tragic death of some of Rafiki’s companions has prompted Blue Cross to remind horse owners to treat their horses for encysted small redworm during the late autumn/early winter. Small redworm is the most common worms found in UK horses and, in their encysted stage, they are potentially fatal. As they don’t show up in faecal worm egg counts and may not cause any obvious symptoms, owners often don’t know their horse has got them. Blue Cross advises horse owners to speak to their vet or SQP for worming guidance.

To find out more about how you can give a cob a home or make a donation to Blue Cross, please visit www.bluecross.org.uk. The Blue Cross supported loan scheme offers borrowers financial help with vaccinations and worming costs until the horse is four years old.

Mummy’s Boy / Girl

French researchers have confirmed that a foal’s strongest influence - including its relationship with humans - comes from its mother. According to Séverine Henry, PhD, of the University of Rennes, a dam’s influence is particularly important in the first month of life, when a foal spends 90% of its timeless than five yards from her. “Not having a good relationship with the mare is certainly an obstacle to a human developing a good relationship with her foal,” Henry said.

What’s her advice? Don’t interfere with the mare-foal bond by touching the foal in the early days. But do spend lots of time petting, hand-feeding, and gently talking to the dam. When the foal sees Mum happy and well treated with humans, they will be much more likely to establish a good relationship with humans, too.