January 28, 2010

The character of a horse, part two

I would like to continue this discussion guys, thanks for participating!

Today’s question:
Do we have different character traits depending on what horse rase we are looking at?

Compare a thoroughbred with a pony.
Are there differences?
How much comes from handling, and how much comes from the breed?

Some pony breeds (Shetland, New Forest and the Swedish Gotlandruss being three examples) have roamed about in the wild, and have had to mend for themselves up to rather recently.
They are often both very food motivated and easily kept, as scarcity of food has been a strong selector in survival.
They are smart - as in testing things out.
If you have an escape artist in the yard, who would that be?

The smart and the sturdy ones survived. The others did not.

Ponies can be challenging to handle.
In my experience, they often test people out, and are very good at it too.
Let me give you two bright examples:

This is Maigutten.
He is one of the riding school horses at the stable.
I suspect his owner gave him to the riding school because she found him difficult to handle.
What breed he is I do not know, but that there is some native pony of some sort in the mix I do not doubt when looking at him.

Now, Maigutten won’t take a “No” for a No unless he has tested it out.
Guess who's got an extra chain on the door to his box/stall?
In spite of this, Maigutten often escapes.
He is a good dressage pony, and a very good jumper. With an experienced rider.
And for the rest?....He reads the rider in exactly 15 sec, and then either refuses to go, or starts doing funny exercises.
The entrance to the arena has to be closed to keep him in.

Is he a butthead?
Yes, definitely. But a smart and talented butthead.

My other example is the Shetlands pony May-Lis, now diseased, but used for pony riding in the riding school 15 years ago.
If the parents that were leading the child were used to horses, she was good as gold.
If the parents were not used to horses (quick assertion) she snapped at them, which made the parent let go of the rein.
Then she ran over to the nearest turf of grass, and turned her butt to the approaching parent and kicked loose at them when they came close enough.
Terrified child screaming, of course.

These are two horror examples, but I am sure that you guys can find similar (but perhaps less extreme) examples, at least of riding school horses that are used to quickly assess people and adjust their behavior accordingly.

My daughter's first pony was a cross Shetlandspony-Gotlandsruss, Felix.
I could tell you some stories about him too.
But he behaved *most* of the time, and was much loved.

All horses differ between people, but I do believe ponies make more out of it than other breeds.
Some people blame it on the fact that they are mostly handled by children.
To a degree.
But is that the only explanation?

Another example: The Norwegian Fjord.
I would say that what we have here is a Pony In Disguise.
I am sure that anyone that has had anything to do with a Fjord will agree with me when I say that they are wilful, sturdy, food loving and smart. I have never seen a skinny Fjord.
And they walk all over you if you let them.
Again, tough conditions and survival of the fittest.
But they are normally not handled by children, so I'd say we are speaking genetics here.

In my opinion you will find more "personalities" with native breeds than you will find in Warmbloods (or thoroughbreds) where many of the survival instincts are bred away.
But they might have other issues.

Our neighbour who runs the yard is a racehorse trainer, so we have thoroughbreds in the stable too.
My husband has had many of them up through the years as he litterally was bred into the sport. Below you see Fair Flair.

Have you seen the panic button on a Thoroughbred?
I hope you haven't, because it is not funny.
They just lock out the world and RUN.
A couple of years ago one of them (not one of ours, TG) got scared and galloped full speed (with rider) along a road for 9 km (5.6 miles), and litterally run its hoof off. Box rest for half a year. Unfortunately never recovered after that either.
The young rider got out of it unharmed, but that was only luck.

I have never seen that happen with a pony.

So what do you think?
Does breed count?
Can we say that a breed has certain traits?
And if so, in what way?

(and thanks to my daughter for the first and last picture)

January 25, 2010

The character of a horse

Is the character of a horse set in stone?
Is a nice horse always nice?
Please bear with me and read a rather long ingression to my thoughts.

There is a good discussion going on over at Mugwump Chronicles.
The first post is about what kind of sensitivity you need in a horse depending on what work he is to do.
That post made me want to share some thoughts over things I have been pondering over lately.

This is my daughters pony MacGyver, aka Charlie, aka Prince Charming.
He is such a sweet horse, and we really love him.
When you ride him he is always happy to cooperate, he works for light aids and tries to understand what you want.
If you really look hard for problems he is a bit ticklish when you brush his belly, and he can throw off the odd happy buck when out on trail, but that’s it.

Or at least, that’s what we thought – until now.
Prince Charming has been misbehaving.

We have had a very sweet girl at the same age as my daughter, C, that has been riding him twice a week for over a year.
C rode him well and everything was fine up to beginning of December when she wanted to stop riding him as Charlie had been misbehaving.
Charlie had been acting up when C was out on trail with two other riders from the stable.
C also said that Charlie had bucked with her in the arena a couple of times.
We understood nothing of this as he at the same period of time had been his normal angelic self with my daughter and me.
We were sad though as we liked C, but concluded that the level of what is scary can differ from person to person.

In December Charlie had time off due to a shoeing problem.
Around Christmas we started to ride him again.
And again, even after having time off, he was his normal cheery self and no misbehaving.

Until the new girl, M, was to ride him last week.
She tried him the week before without any problems, but comes Thursday and she was to have her first dressage lesson.
I was riding Fame at the same time, when our Prince Charming suddenly starts a rodeo show.
I could feel my chin fall down to my knees…what on earth was going on???!
M manages to stay on, and continues to ride.
Just to have another act of entertainment a few minutes after.

Still in a state of shock of my Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde-pony, I ask M to change horse with me.

Our ill-mannered pony was opportunistic enough to try the same on me and gets an unpleasant surprise.
He tries once again, with the same result.
After that he is behaving himself again, and M sits up and rides the rest of the lesson without any problems.

He has apart from this incident never misbehaved with my daughter or me, or any adult persons riding him, so I rule out any health problems.
On the contrary, he is happy to work.
So I guess he was just looking for some extra entertainment.
Exit Prince Charming, hello Mr. Bad Guy.

Now to summarize this rather long story, I am coming back to the questions on top.
Is a horse’s character set in stone?
Is a nice horse always nice?

In the example above we have a horse where the setting around him is the same, and still he acts totally different depending on the rider.
If you in addition change environment, how you manage the horse and how you feed him, the horse might behave quite different.

So I would definitely say that a horse's character is not set in stone; it may differ quite a lot.

Here you have the difficulty in selling and buying horses.
Assessing the horse’s temperament is perhaps the most difficult task when you are out to buy.
You get a “feel”, and personally I always try to test by pushing the horse a bit, and see how he reacts.
But still it's a qualified guess, at its best.

From time to time I assist people in buying horses.
I love the match-making feeling, of trying to get a good horse-rider combination, and it makes me happy when things work out.
But I always try to have a discussion about the "adjusting period".
The horse is no car, it takes time to learn to know and ride a new horse.
In my opinion you need between 6 mths to a year to learn to learn to know your new partner.

Don't expect it to be perfect from the start, because it won't.
Or perhaps it's very good to begin with as the horse is still working on the previous, more experienced, owner's routines and riding, and then there is a performance drop after a while when the horse adjusts to the new, less experienced owner.

And so much is about management, and routines.
No turnout=bad horse.
Much feed, little exercise=bad horse
No rules=bad horse

I have been pondering a lot about my antelope problems before Christmas.
As it is difficult to get any answers from Fame I think I am concluding that less trail riding and no playing around when turned out (due to uneven, frozen ground) at least play a part in the equation.
Again, a change in managment (due to weather) that affects the behaviour of the horse.

Comments anyone?

January 20, 2010

Hello horse, goodbye antelope - and a moose record!

Had two lovely trail rides the weekend before last, in spite of the cold.

It was clear and sunny weather, but unfortunately at this time of the year, the low temperatures comes with it. All of the week it had been from -22 to -27C (-8 to -17F) in the evenings, with somewhat higher temperatures at daytime – but then I was stuck at the office!

Fame has since the snow came been back to her normal self.
I had a session for the Danish trainer Jimmi before Christmas, and he was happy with the progress, even if I felt we had been training more on spooking than on sensible work.
So it was very nice to hear!

With all the snow she can romp around with her friends during daytime instead of having all that surplus energy left when riding, I believe it is a major factor in the equation.

Due to the darkness after work it was impossible to go hacking after work too.
Now with the snow the situation is much brighter in all aspects, and she is happy to concentrate on the dressage work.
I have been riding her bareback in the training too.
Both to keep warm, but I also need the saddle to be checked as I am worried it has become too narrow for her. I am waiting for a visit since before Christmas from the saddler.

We are working on straightness and collection.
Basic work to build strength, and by this gaining more expression in the gaits.
When you discuss the issue of straightness with non-dressage people they often tend to go a bit blank.
But if you instead speak of stiffness in the horse, it is more familiar ground.
You might have trouble to get a correct bend to one side.
Your horse might have problems to pick up one canter lead.
But it is all a consequence of the horse not being straight.

On my ride on Saturday we almost broke our moose record.
My old one was 16 off on a two hours ride, but then I passed a feeding station where I saw twelve of them, so maybe that doesn't count?

Anyway Saturday we saw 7 off on a one hour's ride.
No feeding station!

Here we saw four off.
If you look at the center of the picture, one is standing, and one is laying down, but getting almost run into as the first one is trying to escape from us. In reality they were quite near us. (If you click the pic you might actually see something, or look at the blow up below)

One large male seems to have taken residence in the area between the creek and the stable.
After passing him (as no 7) on our way home, Fame after a while suddenly strays off the path and on out into the snow.
I got curious (I mean, we were on our way home) and let her pick the way.
After a short while, we reach a salt lick for the wild animals. Much tracks in the snow, and the bushes are eaten short.
So she inspects the place, trudges around, and then finally starts off home again.

I believe we were on a sightseeing trip, LOL!

On Sunday another cold, but lovely ride with my friend Helen and their New Forest, Othello.

Enjoy your winter rides, everyone!


I can understand that it is not easy to see any moose in the pic above.
Very frustrating really, as they were only some 10-15 m away from us, and I felt very brave grabbing the camera whilst holding Fame in the middle of all these five moose. Bareback.
And in addition I was freezing my fingers off because of the cold!
So - tada - here is a blow up of the picture:

Can you see them now? One walking, one laying.
Below is a picture of another one beside the two above (yes I know, lousy pic here too):

And below is another lousy picture of another moose, the first one we saw.
If you look at the picture at the top of this blog post, this guy was standing below the large spruces just where the field ended (center of the picture):

January 06, 2010

Horses and riding in cold weather

Today we have -26C (-15F), and the temperature is falling.
I have been riding tonight, and it was a bit difficult to keep the fingers warm, lol!
Low temperatures is a topic which often raises some questions with horse owners, so here are some facts and tips.
When does the horse get cold?

Studies are made by the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) on how horses handle the cold.
Food is the most important factor.
When hay is digested, the process also generates heat.
The more the horse eats, the lower temperature he handles without getting cold.
Horses can handle low temperature much better than humans.
They have seven times more body mass than us, but only 2.5 times more skin.
Extra fat is more important than the coat. The fat isolates three times more than other types of tissue. So make sure your horse is not underweight when the winter comes!
All clipped horses need a blanket.
An unclipped horse in medium work (up to intermediate level) normally does not need a blanket during winter time if the temperature is over -10C(14F).
If the temperature is around -10 or below, you might either add extra hay (1-3 kg depending on temperature) or add a blanket.

If it is raining, snowing or hard wind, a blanket is better.
Wind, rain, sleet and snow are harder to handle for the horses than the cold is.
If the wind is 10 m/s you would need to increase with an extra 15 kg of hay to compensate!
On the other hand you might remove the blanket on a sunny but cold and still winter day.
When it is cold, the horse raises the hair to get extra insulation.
If he is very cold, he shivers.
You can be quite certain that your horse is not cold as long as the hairs in the coat lie flat against the body.
Jonna Lindås, Ingrid Olsson, 2004: När behöver hästen täcke? Fördjupningsarbete nr 259.
Enheten för hippologisk högskoleutbildning, SLU, Uppsala
Johanna Perman, 2000: Behöver hästen täcke på vintern?
Fördjupningsarbete nr 111. Enheten för hippologisk högskoleutbildning, SLU, Uppsala

Can I work my horse in cold weather?

Yes, you can.
Horses have a long way from the nostrils to the lungs, and again, their respiration system works much better in low temperatures than the human eqiuvalent does. The air is warm before it reaches the lungs, so you can work your horse as normal even if it is cold outside.
The racing season for harnessed horses goes on all through the winter in Scandinavia.
Horses competing here work at top speed, with maximum air intake.
A study has been made by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences:
Five standardbred horses were subjected to a treadmill exercise in a climate chamber, first in +17C (63F) and then in -25C (-13F).
Conclusion was that the cold exposure (-25C) did not seem to have any untoward effects on near maximal exercise tolerance.
On the contrary the cold environment seemed to be beneficial for heat dissipation during exercise. Further, no evidence of tissue damage in the respiratory tract was observed.
The horses showed no sign of discomfort during exercise in the cold.
(Source: Dahl, Gillespie, Kallings, Persson, Thornton: Effects of a Cold Environment on Exercise Tolerance in the Horse. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.)
Article can be found
Riding in new, deep snow is fun, but it is strenuous work for the horse, and can be tough on the tendons.
(Walk in deep snow yourself. Hard work compared to normal walking, right?)
So have fun, but keep it short!

How do I equip my horse?
When we are closing in on the winter season here in November, we shoe our horses with fixed studs and rubber inlays, Huf-grip®.
If you do, you won’t have any trouble with footing, come what may. We work them all through the winter on the snow, which is a super surface to work on. Jump them too.

Before and after work, cover your horse with an exercise rug. Take it off during work, your horse won’t need it.
If it is very cold, I personally prefer not to ride with a metal bit as I imagine it is uncomfortable to the horse. I use one in plastic, or ride bitless.
If you do ride with a metal bit, remember to warm it up before putting it into the horse's mouth.
Never, ever put a sweat horse out in the cold. He must dry up first. Cover him up and/or walk him dry.
Also remember that the horses might not want to drink enough water if the water is cold. Keep an eye on water consumption, and offer luke warm water in addition after training.
If you reduce your riding during the cold spells, reduce the hard feed but keep up/increase amount of forage to keep the horse warm.

How do I equip myself?
Riding in very cold weather can be…cold!
Use layers of clothes, and always wear wool as the first layer closest to your body. Best there is.
On top of my riding breeches, I use chaps. They are better to ride in than thermo trousers (which can be bulky), and they keep you reasonably dry also in snow, sleet and rain. Give you a good grip in the saddle too!
Invest in a good winter jacket. Mountain Horse has a good range and quality. I prefer something with down because it keeps you warm without being too heavy.
Use a bum warmer on the saddle. Either synthetic, or in sheep skin or reindeer skin (which is the best!)
Metal stirrups make your feet cold. Exchange them for wood, or use some type of isolation/cover.
Your feet and hands are most problematic.
Feet: I swear to Muck boots. Buy them large enough to get a thick pair of wool socks inside, and you’ll stay dry and warm. The riding model is also high enough to walk through the snow without getting it down into your boots. Earlier in the season you can handle the mud without problems when fetching the horses – yay!
Winter boots can be bulky. Check that the stirrups are wide enough to accomodate them so you won't get stuck if something happens.
Hands. Not easy. Thick gloves are problematic to work with. Again, Mountain Horse is my choice.
Keep your training short, but in up tempo. That is the easiest way to stay warm. If you are cold, jump off your horse and walk/run beside him, that will get your temperature up.
Ride bareback! Now is the time to train on seat and balance. It will keep you warm too!
Protect your face. Use a cold protecting cream, and cover up if it is really cold.

AK is desperately trying to get her feet thawed in warm water after a -26C riding experience.
Hjalmar is pretending she is a horse, and she gets a snack for good behaviour (while the rest of us are just cracking up with laughter!)

January 03, 2010

Days of relaxation...and some extra entertainment

I have had some very nice, relaxing days, with much food but also much riding.

When the snow comes it makes all the difference for us riders, so right now I am a happy girl.
Before we get the snow it is dark after work, and the ground is either frozen (and often uneven) and before that it is muddy. It is not easy to work the horses.
With the snow it is light even when it is dark, and we have a very good surface to work on.

Fame and I have been really enjoying our trail rides again.
We have been happy both of us, Fame striding out, full of energy and with toppled ears and me enjoying the ride and the scenery.
I had planned to do some dressage work too, but until today we have been dashing through the snow instead.

Yesterday after we had passed the frozen creek and were on our way up to the stable, a large male moose was laying down in the snow, just beside the path.
I stopped Fame to see if he was interested in moving.
He was not.
He only moved an ear, staring straight at us and stayed put.
I could not take any photos, because I had my hands full trying to keep Fame in place.
She either did not see the moose (which I doubt, even if he was laying quite still), or she just did not care as she was heading home to her food.
She was one impatient horse.
I finally had to make a detour through the winter jungle, emptying a lot of snow laden trees in my neck (of course) but we came home safe and sound, and Fame got her food...

I have mainly been riding bareback. It has been very cold, and it is the easiest way to keep warm.
Even if Fame has been full of pep I have managed to survive sideways crow hops at full speed and suddenly stops from canter, and all the other fun things a happy horse can entertain herself and her rider with.
But yesterday it was a close one.
We were on our way home, and I had asked her to trot.
Her trot (by magic) increased in speed and I resigned and asked her for canter instead.
Riding bareback it is absolutely to be preferred. Hehum.
Anyway the canter increased in speed too (by magic! has nothing to do with being on our way home) and we reached a T-junction path.
We managed to negotiate a steep turn and Fame gets so elevated by this so she has to launch a series of bucks.
Due to the cold I was riding her with a hackamore, which makes it hard to get the head up. I did my best anyway and in addition growled "NO" loud and clear, trying to stay on, sitting more and more loose for every buck.
And she goes "What?? Oh, sorry" and stops bucking, but I can tell she is quite smug with her little self.
Stupid thing.

In addition to some quality time with the horses, I have been busy with a long standing project.
We listen to audiobooks a lot in the family.
Unfortunately when you have audiobooks in CD formate, sometimes a disc go missing, in particular if you have kids in the house.
I have finally taken the effort to rip the CDs over to mp3-files.
It takes some time, but then we have a safe and versatile copy.
It makes us able to play the books both on our mp3-players and in the car, where the player also can handle mp3-files. Suddenly you don't need 10-20 discs, just one or two which makes life easier. Being audiobooks you can compress down to 48Kbps, which downsizes the files considerably.

I got two very nice Christmas presents from my sister this year.
In the beginning of the 80'ies Trevor Nunn's and Royal Shakespeare Company's version of "Nicholas Nickleby" was sent on TV.
It is a theater show, a marathon performance of 9 hours, divided into several episodes and recorded at one of the world’s most historic theatres, London’s Old Vic.
It was very, very good and we were stuck to the screen while it lasted.
This year I got the show on DVDs and a box of safran and almond biscotti to follow.
Coming in after a cold ride it has been wonderful to creep up in the sofa with a hot cup of tea and some biscotti.
The show was just as good as I remembered it; the cast and the adaption is nothing but fantastic, and the sofa is now full of crumbles...

The spruces are majestic now.
It is my favourite winter tree.
So beautiful, and provides shelter and food to the wild animals too.

Enjoy your winter everyone!