Equestrian Life – February 2012

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February 2012

It’s February and while we are trying to shake off the winter, which is always reluctant to leave us, take heart that any more bad weather will not be here for much longer. Yes, spring is around the corner and with it the start of a new outdoor competitive season and a chance for more rosettes and trophies.
Horses are more at risk of colic during the winter months compared to any other time of the year, vets have warned. If the symptoms of surgical colic are not spotted in the early stages and you don’t seek the help of a qualified vet, it could prove fatal.

Equine colic is defined as abdominal pain – the most common forms of colic are gastrointestinal in nature, often related to small intestinal or colonic disturbance and may need surgical intervention.

It is not the cold weather that is the problem, it is the potential change in the management of the animal because of the change in season. For example, if the horse has been outside in a field grazing all summer and is then brought into the stable and kept there for the winter, the change in their feeding or exercise regime could cause problems. If the animal is suddenly fed less fibrous and more concentrate food, this could be a risk factor for colic.

Bob Barker, veterinary surgeon at St Davids Equine Practice has more than thirty years’ veterinary experience. He said the practice sees three or four cases of colic on average each week.

“There are two types of colic – medical and surgical – and the latter can be life-threatening if not treated. Horses are the animal most affected by gut problems and we see more cases when there is a change in nutrition or pasture, or they change to new hay too early in the autumn. If, during the colder months, their water freezes and they don’t drink enough or they eat snow that can also be problematic.”

The obvious signs of colic include pawing the ground, looking at their abdomen, excessive sweating, rolling, lying down and getting up frequently and not wanting to eat.

Bob added: “As vets, we are able to assess the degree of pain and other clinical signs. Surgical cases are much more likely to be successfully treated if caught at an early stage. Horses are not able to vomit, they have a small stomach and a very large intestine and if there is a blockage in their digestive problem this is a serious issue.”

Alan Goddard, managing director of Cornish Mutual insurance, said: “Colic is a commonly seen insurance claim but it is something that all horse owners worry about, whether they are insured or not. The best advice is not to delay, contact your vet and call them out to you as soon as possible – this is the best way of diagnosing the problem and understanding the severity of the situation.

“The chances of a horse being treated and surviving are much better than they used to be. However, if the colic needs surgery, this is pretty serious and the costs can run to several thousand pounds.”

Usually the relationship between riders and drivers is one of politeness and commonsense, but there have been incidents which have led to exchanges of both gestures and opinions. These incidents have led to a point being made that, while drivers have to pass a test, riders can take to the road as soon as they have swung into a saddle. The same could be said of cyclists, of course.

In one journal it was stated, ‘An inexperienced rider in charge of half a ton of horse venturing onto busy roads is inviting trouble both for the motorist and the horse. Horses cannot be switched on and off at will. If they are startled and they decide to go, they go, and it takes an extremely strong, experienced rider to stop them.’ This statement was followed by a call for a certificate of road competence to be introduced before riders are allowed on the highway.

It sounds a bit drastic but, sadly, road accidents involving vehicles and horses are not as rare as they should be. So what should we do about it? Certificates could be rather like licences. Most people involved in road accidents hold a driving licence, which proves that it is not a magic wand which proves an invisible safety shield. The same could be said of a certificate of equestrian road safety. Accidents will still happen.

There is a case to be made for road sense being taught as part of our riding education and for us to be aware, be sensible and be safe.

May your riding end in cheers and not tears.

There are two very special days of racing at Market Rasen this month. The first is Residents’ Day on Tuesday, 7th February and anyone living in Lincolnshire gets in at half-price. Book your tickets and provide your Lincolnshire address to receive this special offer. Gates Open: 11.30am; First Race: 1.35pm; Last Race: 4.35pm.

Then on Sunday, 19th February it is Circus Sunday! This is a family friendly race day with circus entertainment. Gates Open: 11.30am; First Race: 1.45pm; Last Race: 5.00pm.

Telephone 0844 579 3009 for more details and tickets.

We have all heard someone say, ‘He ran roughshod over….’ Well, did you know that it was once an equestrian term? A horse was roughshod when the nails of its shoes were left protruding for a better grip in wet weather and slippery conditions. On dry and hard conditions it could be painful for the horse. Uncaring riders would ride the horse anyway, hence the expression ‘riding roughshod’. It’s enough to give a horse a headache, well sore feet at least.

So Christmas is a distant memory and I’m sure we all put on an extra pound or two during the festivities, but how is your body feeling now? Are the short days and dark nights still encouraging you to curl up in front of the fire on those cold, damp evenings or do you get out there with your horse whatever the weather?

There are times when a nice relaxing evening or weekend is called for, and very limited physical exertion on your part, and I’m sure your horse feels like this too at times. But what happens when you then leap back into action and expect your horse to perform at his best? Are you able to perform too? Only a few years ago riding was focused on just that, riding and more riding, but following modern trends we now do other activities to help with our riding. Whether it be yoga, T’ai chi, going to the gym for a workout or attending a Pilates class, there is so much on offer at a place near you I’m sure.

So what is stopping you and what are you able to gain from having a go at one of these other activities to complement your riding? Do you think your horse will notice the difference? A silly question you may say, but believe me it will be one of the best things you can do to help your horse. He won’t personally thank you but he may well work better, and you will feel a difference in his way of going. You may not realise that the difference started with your own body, which perhaps gave him clearer signals of possibly moving with greater ease yourself; less stiffness through your position, more relaxed shoulders and neck, less overall tension contained within your body. Simply a change in activity for your own body can have a dramatic effect when you return to such a familiar activity as riding.

If you only focus on stretching out your tightened muscles, or growing a little bit taller, and relax here or relax there, but without your focus being on your horse, value the time you can spend on paying attention on your own body and how it moves. How many times do you hear, ‘Sit up a bit taller’ or ‘Relax your shoulders’ during your riding? A simple command but try it without your horse and you may just find it a bit easier when you then try it on your horse.
Good luck and happy riding!

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