I was recently looking through old photos of the horses on my phone, as I often do, and was delighted to see how much they have changed physically, and how much their condition has improved over time. The changes are due to good food and correct, varied work – in this post I will discuss the food bit, as both horses are on a unique diet thanks to the variety of feed our livery yard offers.
It is important to note that no feeding program is permanent, and I am always open to revisiting what the horses are fed based on their level of work and dietary requirements at any given time.
Paddy is traditionally a difficult horse to keep weight on, and despite feeding as much haylage as he could want and as much hard feed as was good for his digestive system and leave me still in the saddle after every session, he never was as ‘filled out’ as I would like, I would always have considered him ‘the bare minimum’. To be sure I got him scoped for ulcers and he came back clean as a whistle.
Just before he got injured I began to take his feeding much more seriously, and when he was off work this gave me a chance to play around with different feeds to see what worked best for him.
Top image, April 2016. Bottom image, April 2018. Good feed, and good work! Bottom Image Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography.
Beet Pulp – both horses get beet pulp in every feed which bulks up the feed and provides additional fibre in each feed.
Red Mills Horse Care 10 – I put Paddy on this when he was on box rest, as he has a sensitive tummy that reacts to the slightest of stresses – resulting in a ‘runny bum’. He also has a tendency to internalise his tension, and having read fantastic reviews about how this neutralises the acids in the stomach, has reduced starch and sugar, and is a great source of vitamins and minerals, I thought this would be a great feed to try. Paddy has been on this since last July and is thriving on it, with solid droppings and much less sensitive to having his girth done up.
Dengie Alfa A Oil – I won this in a Facebook competition and thought it would be worth trying as Paddy hoovers up his feed, so anything to slow him down and add more calories to his diet without heating him up would be a massive bonus! Padge from Dengie Horse Feeds was immensely helpful, getting information about my current feeding program and finding ways to integrate Dengie into what I already feed. He also informed me that Alfa-A Oil is a complete feed, something I didn’t know – so as his workload increases I have simply added more Alfa-A Oil to the feed rather than increasing the Horse Care 10 and he’s thriving. This worked so well for both horses I have since kept them on it and ordered a few more bags.
Micronised Linseed – The ultimate addition to any feeding program for weight gain, condition and shine. Paddy gets one cup per day split over two feeds. A bag lasts forever and is great value for money. Saying that, once it runs out, I will probably not buy another bag and just stick to the Dengie Alfa-A Oil as this does just as good a job with the benefit of also being a complete feed.
Paddy’s current feeding program has really helped him to ‘bulk up’ and fill out! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
Supplements: Paddy is currently on FlexAbility, as following his injury on my vets advice I wanted to use something as a preventative to ensure the area remains strong. This was the only supplement with scientific research behind it, and this spoke to me so I have invested (I say invested, as it is not cheap!) in it on a maintenance dose.
Willow is a growing young horse whose shape is constantly changing as her workload increases and her young bones continue to grow. It’s important to feed her to help build this condition without overheating her, so the focus is on feeds that condition.
Beet Pulp – both horses get beet pulp in every feed which bulks up the feed and provides additional fibre in each feed.
Baileys Top Line Conditioning Cubes – I used to have Paddy on this when I first got him, as he was still growing as a gangly six year old. This is a great feed for young horses as you begin to ramp up their work and they change shape, to help boost the improvement and development of their topline with the work being done.
Dengie Alfa A Oil – Willow also gets Dengie Alfa-A Oil to bulk up her feed and improve condition.
Willow, April 2018. You can see the shine from her, and she has really filled out since last winter! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
Both horses get as much hay/haylage as they can eat, and are turned out year round (bar the days where it is really too bad to go outside) with either grass or a hay bale to eat from. Good fibre, clean drinking water and a decent salt lick forms the basis of a good diet for a horse, and depending on their needs, condition and work levels then additional hard feeds can be looked at. I know horses who need nothing but a cup of balancer morning and evening and look super, and others who need more, so it is very much individual.
My best advice I can give you is to partner closely with either your yard owner or a feed company that you trust – we really believe in Baileys, Red Mills and Dengie on our yard, and adjust the combinations and amounts depending on the horse’s condition and workload the given time. I would trust the recommendations of any of these companies and the results speak for themselves.
What do you feed your horse? Is there anything you have found works, or doesn’t work?
Do you ever feel like you let your horse down sometimes?
That’s how I felt last night.
I’ve had ongoing problems with my right hip and glutes for the last couple of months, and this is making it very difficult for me to put my weight down through my right leg, tipping me over onto my left hip and sending my left shoulder forward. Yesterday my hip was particularly troublesome and I was in quite a bit of pain.
So it’s no wonder when I got up on Paddy that he didn’t particularly want to bend left, and I couldn’t keep him in a consistent contact on the left rein. And funnily enough, I had problems maintaining inside flexion on the left rein with Willow too. The right rein was fine for both of them – in fact Willow felt the best she’s ever felt on the right rein, go figure! I made the decision with them both to keep the session short and just do what I could correctly, staying in trot as much as possible and doing some work in light seat.
We spend so much time worrying about how comfortable our horses are, getting regular treatment from physios, vets and dentists – but we often forget how big an impact our own physical condition can have on a horse’s way of going. It is our responsibility to ensure that not only are they in peak physical condition to do their job, but that we ourselves are in a physical condition that allows them to do that job.
I left the yard feeling deflated and actually quite disappointed with myself that I had let my two lovely horses down. They are the most adaptable and forgiving animals, and really did get on about their job with no complaints regardless of the potato that was on their back
Today I woke up feeling much brighter after a good night’s sleep, and the first thing I did was book an appointment with a physiotherapist to look at my wonky body and see what needs to be improved. And I feel very grateful to have two very lovely horses who will let me get on board again this week and give me 100%. Today they’ve earned their day off.
Today I want to ask (and answer) the question – what female inspires you, or has had an impact on your life?
For me, it’s my lovely Mum (pictured). I’m an only child, and my Mum raised me alone – but this is not something that defines me, nor did my Mum ever even make it a ‘thing’ growing up. In our home, no dream – no matter how big – was unattainable, as long as you maintained a positive ‘can do’ attitude and were willing to work for it. I was always taught that no job or task was beneath anyone, no matter how important you are – or think you are – and that you should always be respectful and kind to people. I was taught the importance of paying my own way, managing my finances, and that nothing worth having comes easy or for free.
I believe that these values that my mother instilled in me are the very reason I feel so blessed to have the life I have today. Growing up we never had the money for horses, and I remember the envy I felt watching some of my friends with their own horses – but I wanted it so badly that I worked and volunteered every spare minute I could at my local riding school in exchange for lessons and riding ‘bold ponies’. I promised myself that before I was 30 I would have my own horse – that I would work hard, get a good job, and save my ass off and that the reward would be so much sweeter when I knew I had earned it myself.
That’s exactly what I did. I worked hard in every job I had, thankfully got promoted quickly, and earned enough money at the age of 27 to buy my first horse (having loaned a horse for two years before). That horse was Paddy! There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting something that you have waited quite literally your whole life for!
Every setback I have had, every challenge I have faced, my Mum has been the first person I’ve called, and the one who has always been there to pick me up, dust me off, and get me focused on how I can turn the situation around. The values she taught me through my life are the reason I believe I will make the best of any situation and why I know that no matter what, I will always – as us Irish say – ‘make out just fine’. We are grafters!
And it being Mother’s Day this weekend, this feels a very fitting post. My Mum lives all the way over in Australia so I miss her lots, but I’m very excited to be going to visit her in three weeks time
It is THAT time of year. Hair shedding season. There is often more hair on you than on your horse, and your days are spent picking loose hairs off ‘non horse clothes’ as they have somehow infiltrated all aspects of your daily existence.
With the shedding season, comes the dreaded rubs. Rubs on the shoulders, rubs from your riding boots on your horse’s sides, rubs from the reins, rubs from your saddlepad. And the worst of all – a rubbed mane. All too familiar at this time of the year are the sights of horses with plaits ending halfway down their mane, or a row of lovely plaits and then a few teeny-tiny plaits toward the withers. It’s positively devastating.
Paddy has always had a lovely thick mane year-round, but suffers from rubs on his shoulders and sides around this time of year – while Willow on the other hand has started to lose quite a bit of her mane where the rug sits. I’ve been taking some steps to prevent further hair loss, and encourage regrowth as fast as possible on both horses, and thought I would share my tips with you all:
LeMieux Lava Burst Shampoo
1. Keep the mane & coat clean
Rubs, particularly on the mane, are often as a result of friction, where the rug cannot easily glide over the surface area as the horse moves naturally. I bet if you looked at the inside of the neck of your rug you’d see it is pretty greasy (guilty)! The best way to limit friction is to keep the mane and coat clean and shiny – wash the mane and sensitive coat areas as often as the cold weather will allow, and if you don’t have to plait for a show, consider spraying in some detangler to keep the mane sleek and thus limit friction.
I used a LeMieux sheepskin girth cover all year around with my last horse, who was very sensitive
2. Watch the girth area
This applies all year round, but pay particular attention at this time of year – sweat is a big culprit for causing rubs around the girth area! Combined with dirt (see point 1) it can cause girth galls and sores, so it’s important to brush or sponge down any sweat that has built up after riding. Many of us will we bringing our horses back into work at this time of year, or ramping up their fitness work, so increased sweat and friction from the girth as the horse moves is something to watch out for.
For extra sensitive horses, consider using a sheepskin girth cover during this time – I used one year-round on my last horse as she was particularly sensitive, and just at this time of year for Paddy as a preventative measure. Also, they look so pretty!
The LeMieux Anti Rub Bib goes up past the withers and protects them with their classic soft fleece lining
3. Bibs – not just for babies!
For horse’s who are particularly sensitive or whose manes point blank REFUSE to stay attached to their neck, a hood or bib is a great option to consider to create the ‘friction free’ effect. Depending on the severity of the rubbing, you may choose to use a full neck hood which covers the horse’s entire neck, or a bib which goes halfway up the neck.
As Paddy mostly gets rubs around his withers and shoulders, I chose to go for a bib. I use the LeMieux Anti-Rub Bib which is very different to any other bib I have used before, as it goes halfway up the horse’s neck and has LeMieux’s trademark fleece wither protector – protecting the critical area around the withers that is most susceptible to rubs. To prove its effectiveness, I gave it to a friend whose horse without fail lost his mane every winter, and who had exhausted all options and bibs trying to stop this from happening – his mane stayed intact and she ended up looking to purchase one herself! You can read the full review here.
The LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive range is ideal for horses prone to rubbing at this time of year. Look how thick it is!
4. Choose the right saddlepad
A big complaint I hear around this time of year is how many horses are being rubbed by their saddlepads after being ridden. You may need to be selective about the types of saddlepads you use during this awkward time, until your horse’s summer coat has grown in – try to avoid pads with piping or embroidery around the sides, and just have a general feel of the material on the pads – sticking with softer materials and avoiding pads with materials that feel coarse.
For extra-sensitive horses, or for that extra bit of luxury for your horse, I highly recommend the LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive pads – I was lucky enough to be given one by LeMieux to try on Paddy last year at just the right time, and I wouldn’t be without it now. You can read our review here.
The LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive Eurojump pad is my favourite pad to use on Paddy! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
5. Apply a conditioner to speed up regrowth
Step one is to stop the hair loss or rubbing from escalating. Step two is to get the hair to grow back, if some has already been lost! There are lots of solutions out there to aid hair re-growth, from home remedies to products specifically manufactured for the job, but the two most widely known products are Shapleys M-T-G and Eqyss Mega-Tek Rebuilder. I personally have used Mega-Tek for the last few years as it is easy to apply, the smell is divine, and can be used on coats, manes, tails and even hooves!
Shapleys gets fantastic reviews, however historically it had a very strong smell so I avoided it – I am told the new ‘Plus’ version leaves a much nicer smell, and the product is useful for not just hair loss, but a range of bacterial and fungal issues such as rain scald, mud fever, sweet itch and lots more. A very versatile product!
So there you have it, my top five tips for preventing (and saving) hair loss in the wrong places on your horse this winter/spring! I hope you find them useful. I just cannot wait until the summer, when my horses have a beautiful summer coat and a nice full mane – and NO MUD! But then I suppose, we get the flies…
Do you have any other tips to share on preventing hair loss or rubbing that you have picked up over the years?
The products featured in this post are a mixture of those I have received from LeMieux to review in the past and continue to use, as well as products I have purchased myself.
As part of my blogging goals for 2018, I am focusing on doing more on the website, and trying to get into a good posting schedule beyond the posts I do on social media. One thing I am doing as part of this is reviving the ‘monthly roundup’ posts that I tested in late 2017 – a summary of everything we got up to in the previous month, which is a great way for you all to catch up on the various posts I put up across all my channels throughout the month. Typically, you should expect this roundup to be up on the blog in the first week of the month, but I am sorry to say I am a bit behind schedule with the first one of 2018! February has been a particularly busy month for me, so forgive me for being late with the January roundup. But better late than never eh? So here it is…
Willow & Paddy get acquainted!
Paddy Makes Progress
Does anyone else feel like I’ve been talking about Paddy coming back into work for forever?! I know I do! The initial prognosis from the vets was six months off work – a combination of box rest, small paddock rest, and gentle walk work during that time. An assessment from our vet halfway through this showed that he was making good progress, so after four months I moved him from in hand/walker work to ridden work. However, he felt somewhat stiff and just not 100%, so I took some videos and brought him back to our vet for another checkup. We decided to rest him for a further 6-8 weeks, and do some in-hand walking in that time – I was in no rush to have him back in work, and wanted to give him every chance to come back fighting fit.
I followed his program as diligently as I could (it’s not always easy when you’re on the top of a mountain, trying to rehab a fresh horse in the depths of an Irish winter!) and brought him back to the vet halfway through the programme for a final checkup. I was unbelievably nervous going back to the vet, as we hadn’t exactly been getting the news we hoped for both of the previous times we were there. I guess it really is third time lucky, as my vet was happy with the progress Paddy had made following his rest, and gave us the all clear to ‘kick on’ with our fitness plan for the Eventing season ahead. I can’t tell you just how emotional that moment was for me, as I felt like our journey back to ridden work was a long one, and full of plenty of bumps along the way. As an owner you become quite doubtful and paranoid – watching every step, analysing countless videos, doing unnecessary Googling – it creates anxiety in you, distracts you, and even causes sleeplessness.
We’ve been rehabbing rail, hail, shine – or snow!
A good support network is absolutely critical for any horse owner going through a situation like this – I plan to write a separate post about the value of a good network, but you need to surround yourself withn experienced and supportive people who have your best interests at heart. I am lucky to have a vet, farrier, yard owner and good friend who are all experienced, but most importantly pragmatic – they give me solutions, talk me down when I am panicking, and gently let me know when I am over-reacting. I really believe that everyone needs these people in their lives.
And so, Paddy has been ‘kicking on’ – by the end of January, he was cantering on the lunge, schooling in trot under saddle, and even had a little trace clip at the end of the month as he’s now doing enough work to actually sweat! I will continue to ramp up his work and assess how he is coping with each session – and step it back if ever I feel concerned. I am in no rush with him. More on his journey on the Facebook page, and in next month’s roundup…
Willow Goes Hacking
I absolutely adore Paddy and his endless talent, however one thing I wish I could change about him is his lack of interest in hacking on the roads! He is not a fan, and would much prefer to be in the arena, on the beach, or out cross country. As time has gone on, and trust in me has been established, we venture a little further down the roads, but I can still tell he isn’t enamoured with it. So when I had the chance to produce a baby from scratch with Willow, I promised myself that I would produce a horse who hacked, and who enjoyed it! Hacking is a great way for horses to see the world, add variety to their training, and create a more durable horse in the long run – working on varied terrain conditions the horse’s legs to cope better and prevent injury.
I wanted Willow to see hacking as a normal activity from day one, so together with my yard owner who helped me to break her, we long-reined her up and down the roads and lanes around our yard before we even backed her. The roads in our area are very quiet, and many of our neighbours also have horses and are considerate of them on the roads, which makes this much easier.
Willow loves to hack!
Once we backed her, I pretty much got her going on the roads after just a few sessions – hacking her down to the end of our long lane and back after every session. This created a positive association between hacking and the hard work being over. We then ventured a bit further with a ‘babysitter’ – an experienced, non-spooky horse, who would be safe with a baby horse potentially running up their bum, or spooking sideways beside them. We used our ‘babysitter’ to show us the scary things on the roads were safe – wheelie bins, big walls and gates, and even bends that we couldn’t see around. All these can be scary to horses!
However, I need not have worried, as Willow is a naturally forward-thinking horse, and quickly grasped that hacking is easy and fun – there’s lots to see, and if she’s very good she gets to go on a long rein! She very much has established a positive association with hacking, and I can happily hack her on new routes alone without issue.
Here’s to a Summer of hacking ahead!
She also loves to jump!
Willow Does Dressage (and some Jumping, too!)
Seeing as this blog is all about my journey into eventing, I figured I better try and get my new baby horse accustomed to a few of the eventing disciplines too! Having established some confidence over small jumps, I decided to enter Willow into a local unaffiliated Combined Training league – these shows are a great way to expose young horses to a show environment, in a more relaxed atmosphere. She had only been away from the yard twice before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but we had to start somewhere.
The first week was a bit of a mixed bag – she was understandably unsure when she got off the trailer, and I was extremely nervous, having not done dressage in just shy of a year. This did not inspire any confidence in Willow, and when we got to the warm up I could tell she was lacking in confidence, as she had never seen a dressage arena or a judge’s car before – and so I got even more nervous! This translated directly to our test, where we got stage fright halfway down the centre line, and completed our test a bit further away from C than I would have liked! The judge was extremely fair, using all the marks available – giving us a 2 for our moment of stage fright, and just a few movements later giving us a 6 for a nice relaxed circle in trot.
At least the plaits looked good that first week…
She then went on to produce a lovely clear round in the jumping, and was totally back to herself after a couple of jumps – this she was confident in and new her job. I could not fault her in any way on the day as she was reacting exactly as I should have expected her to, given it was her first time between the white boards – I myself was just not prepared enough to help her, and let her down.
So I made it my mission to get my s**t together for the following week and do my wonderful horse justice. I booked a lesson with my yard owner to give me some tools that I could use if Willow should become unsure – to get her focus back on me, give her something to think about, and help her to feel confident in herself. I plan to do a full write up on this lesson (I am so behind schedule on all the posts I need to get written!) as it was one of the best lessons I have had, and I can tell you that I came away with three tools that really worked for Willow and I. I kept these in my mind from the moment I turned off the ignition at the show the following week until I dismounted after our jumping round – and what a difference they made. We came out with a score of 70% in our dressage, and a clear in the showjumping to come second in Willow’s second ever show! We went from a 2 for our centre line to an 8 – what a transformation.
Each subsequent week passed with no more ‘stage fright’ and continued improvement in confidence, and placings! We were never out of the ribbons each week, and didn’t knock a single pole showjumping over the five weeks – which went a long way toward giving us good points on the league leaderboard! The final was in February, so I’ll be referencing that in our February roundup, but for those of you who follow us, you’ll know that we ended up WINNING the league! A much-needed boost after some long hours, late finishes and early starts, and reminded me why I work so hard at this sport, even when it’s not always going my way.
We won the Combined Training league! Yay for Willow pony!
Willow goes XC Schooling
Willow has proven herself to be a very brave little mare, always thinking forward and loving her jumping. The prospect of eventing her this year is becoming a very real one. To start this journey I took her cross country schooling to Barnadown, who are running a mini One Day Event league in February and March. We started doing some of the baby fences, with a ‘babysitter’ horse who gave her a lead over everything. We then progressed to some of the bigger fences, finishing up on a small course of 70-90cm. She was super! It took her a few goes to become more sure of herself jumping down off the banks and into the water – this is normal with young horses who have never jumped off a drop before, as they are not footsure – but we kept doing it up and down, up and down, until she was just popping off out of her normal stride. This is the best way to teach a young horse banks and ditches – just trot quietly up to over and off them until they do it out of their natural stride, nice and easy. Paddy struggled with ditches when I first started schooling him and I was told this by Ciaran Glynn in a clinic, and it massively helped us both.
We’ve also been busy testing some new products which I hope to start publishing reviews of on the blog very soon! They are:
Pro-cush XC whip – I got this as a gift from a friend and so far I really love it
Back on Track Royal Quick Wraps – I won these in a competition from Equine Therapies Ireland, who are the first Irish distributor of BoT products in Ireland. This is my first time using a Back on Track product, and so far I am a huge convert!
Leroy & Bongo 2018 planner – I bought one in 2017 and loved it so much that I purchased it again in 2018! Full review to follow.
My Horse Box subscription – I did a review of the July Box for My Horse Box last year and loved it so much that I purchased a subscription for myself in 2018. I did an unboxing video for the January box which you can see here
Woof Wear Riding Wellies – I bought these as a gift for a friend but they ended up being too small for her, so I kept them for myself! Absolutely love them so far, want to test them a little bit more before reviewing.
Equiami Lunging Aid – I bought this on the recommendation from a physio and a friend to help with Paddy’s rehab, and to build Willow’s topline. It took me a few goes to figure out how to use it, but so far I’m seeing a real difference in how both of the horses go. Stay tuned!
So, a very busy January to kickstart 2018, no wonder I’m feeling so tired! February has also been extremely busy – hence why I’ve been so late publishing this roundup – so I look forward to sharing that roundup with you in a week’s time!