Twitter is NOT Dead...You Get Out What You Put In! I often read posts online that make reference to the glitz and glamour of Instagram and Pinterest for bloggers gaining traction in their reach and traffic, and that Twitter is a dying platform. I also see many comments in the groups I'm a member of on Facebook making the same statements. However, I have to say, I disagree to some extent, & here's why... When I started my blog in late 2012, I was a little shy about "putting it out there" and for about the first four months happily kept it as a diary-style update. It was at that point only really a training log detailing our weaknesses and what we were doing to try to improve them. I soon realised that I enjoyed finding new exercises and tips to help us improve through YouTube videos and other 'articles' shared online. I wanted to be able to share these with other, but at the time I didn't have a wide equestrian network on my Facebook, Instagram wasn't really anywhere, and Pinterest was all about cooking and interior design...However, I had seen lots of success in sharing my professional views via my own Twitter. From that, I decided to give @TeamTunnah a go...
My journey on Twitter from start through to today I soon realised that there was a whole network of other amateur horse riders, from all over the world, enjoying different disciplines, and doing their own thing with their horses. But they did enjoy reading my updates, and I quite liked theirs too. I then discovered numerous "chat hours" dedicated to those enjoying equestrian life... #equinehour was the first and used to be by far the most popular and engaging from my seat, with #horsehour a close second after a while. Suddenly, there was #dressagehour, #equestrianhour, #eventinghour, #ponyhour, #riderhour... You name it, there was a day and time dedicated. And best of all, they all co-ordinated so none clashed. Throughout 2014 and 2015, I engaged with these hours regularly - not all the time or on all of them - but regularly.
Let's leave Twitter a moment... At the end of 2016, I bravely launched my Facebook page. The nerves were real... I'm not even sure why. Maybe because it's the network full of friends & family, and although literally everyone is mega supportiv of my blog, at that time, only the "big boys" had pages. You know, brands, professionals, teams, and bigger setups. One of the main reasons I decided to go for it was to stop bombarding my non-horsey friends on Facebook with "awww look at how cute my horse is" type of content! And to this day, it's why I very rarely share my blog page content to my personal. What's the point? I may as well just put it on my personal profile if I'm going to share it there right away and as a way to garner engagement on it...
A few months after, I decided to focus on my Instagram account. I wanted to make it more dedicated to my blog and our stories. After all, my life outside of horses doesn't seem that interesting in comparison to these "perfect" life accounts that are out there. Plus Instagram is all about great pics... If you want to update friends on what you're up to, Facebook is this way folks!
Think I've gone off on a tangent? Well sort of, but intentionally...
The focuses onto getting Facebook up and running and considering content for Instagram took up a lot of my "spare" time that I had for the niceties for my blog. Which, left Twitter almost neglected. OK, so maybe not neglected, but my attention to it, definitely went down... And as time went on, I was drawn more and more into other areas. Twitter is conversational, so if you can't give it a little something all the time, it does go downhill.
Let's focus on my recent performance on Twitter (& I am a small account in scale of the platform and bloggers on there!) At the start of 2019, I set myself, what I am now starting to think is an almost impossible goal to reach 2,500 followers, hit 25k impressions each month AND be more commited to it as a platform. January went well... February was a good effort to, but with almost a quarter less tweets by me.
I can very much tell you... Twitter is NOT dead. Otherwise, how did I go from just 5,000 impressions on 12 tweets in December, to 39,000 impressions over 182 tweets in Janaury, picking up 839 profile views and 33 new followers?
If the platform was dead, I would have wasted my efforts entirely over the last two months.
How does that translate into traffic back to my blog? Shamefully, I have zero visits from Twitter in December. Yes. ZERO! January saw 861 and February dropped to 654.
Now when you factor in that Twitter's primary focus is talking to each other, traffic is an added extra. You have to be prepared to engage with others and hold a conversation with other users; it is not only about pushing out your own content.
Twitter's Algorithms Vary Vastly from Facebook and Instagram It's similar in one sense - it wants to sow you content that you like. Let's start at the beginning as a brand new account...
You follow accounts. Your 'Home' feed will be full of the content that those accounts are pushing out. Simple.
You start liking some of that content. Twitter reads that as a signal.
You start retweeting the content. Twitter sees that as a strong signal as you're happy to essentially share it.
You click on a few links in tweets, or click to expand images. Twitter sees that you are kind of interested, but maybe not commited.
Next time, your Home feed will be adapted to prioritising content that you've previously engaged with.
Wait...this sounds a lot like Facebook and Instagram... Let's add a layer of complexity.
You reply to tweets from various accounts, like a few tweets and retweet a one or two. AND you start pushing out your own content. Well now Twitter has a lot to consider. It will determine what to show you in the Home feed based on how you've interacted with other accounts, and even make connections within patterns of behaviour between you and other users that you follow. So often when you are seeing that someone you followed liked a tweet, it's probably because it's from an account that you usually like tweets from also.
But what about if you're following some who keeps putting out content that you don't really like. This is where Twitter introduced one of its best features ever... Mute.
Most people just complain at the "rubbish" on Twitter. But it can literally only show you what follow and interact with. So just mute it. It's a temporary signal to Twitter that you really don't like this account's tweets.
Even stronger, and I've no idea why people don't just do this - unfollow them. Guess what? You'll never see content from them again. Ever. Unless you go looking for it, which is sort of your own doing!
So what do you need to do to make sure that the efforts your putting into Twitter don't go to waste? Here's my top 12 tips on how to make sure Twitter can work for you. If it's new to you, you'll need to put the hard work in to build the momentum and get some traction. But it will pay off.
Absolutely number one - be able to have a conversation with someone you don't know but share a mild & lose connection with an interest that you hold
Do not go all out and self-promote. You will not be welcome.
Once you've master the art of this platform, put energy into your followers because it does directly link to increased engagement, providing you stick to the principles
Build your audience within your pocketed niche - don't start on broad topics. Start small, work big
Do not just kepe posting the same tweet over and over - adapt it. You can get 4-5 tweets from every blog post. Easy.
Got 'auto post to Twitter' turned on from Facebook, Instagram or your blog? Don't. It looks awful to us Twitter lovers. If you want to put content on there, make the effort.
Use multimedia - photos, videos, links. It's there. Use it.
Make sure your blog post are setup for Twitter cards.
Practice the art of writing catchy tweets that grab people's attention in 1-2 seconds. Literally.
Test but don't spam. Figure out when is best to tweet, what type and with what content
Get yourself a Buffer account to help with broadcast tweets and management of retweets to avoid spamming your followers while you're having 5 minutes making a coffee
Do all you posts have a share to Twitter button? If not, add it.
I am super proud to announce that we've been listed in the Sparpedia top 20 equestrian blogs...& we're in amongst some pretty good company with another 19 blogs from around the globe! If you want to discover a few more bloggers to start following, head over and take a look at Sparpedia's top 20 equestrian bloggers.
February seems to have taken AAAAGES to get through... I'm not sure if it was all the excitement and anticipation of the Regionals at the end of the month, but I think it is the first time I have ever sat down to write a monthly update post where I haven't seen the month flash by in a heartbeat...
So what did we get up to? Well, still lots actually. A cold snap at the start of the month left us missing out on a weekend of pony parties & playing, but gave us some time at home in the arena which we put to good use while we had Andrew's extra pair of hands for some polework! We've enjoyed a showjumping training session as well as a flatwork session with Cathy, and of course we finished the month off with a FANTASTIC weekend at Morris Equestrian to take part in the Winter Regional 2019.
However, February wasn't only a month filled with happy times, we've also had a couple of blips along the way. During the cold snap, Louie turned exceptionally grumpy...I'm talking ears flat back and telling me to leave him well alone. But oddly, after 15 minutes he was back to his usual self. After three days, I called the vets and a couple of days later, following a gastroscopy, Louie has been found to have grade 3 ulcers in one area of his stomach, with some grade 2 ones on the exit.
I've written a full blog post about being diagnosed with equine stomach ulcers so if you want to find out more, head over and give it a read. Earlier this week (26.02), Louie was given his first Omeprazole injection which he'll now have every Tuesday for the next four weeks, when he'll be re-scoped to see whether there is any improvement in the ulcers. I also changed a couple of things when managing Louie, the most drastic being to give him a decent bucket of Alfa A Molasses free a good 20-30 minutes before working him or travelling him. While I was away at the Regionals, I also gave him a few buckets throughout the day in case he was stressed to help absorb any extra acid.
Gastric ulcers weren't the only hiccup in February... Four days before the Regionals, at a British Dressage training session, Louie looked uneven and we were asked to stopped. After a rollercoaster 24 hours and a visit from the fantastic Phil Dyson at Clevedale Vets, I'm almost 100% confident this is a bridle lameness as Phil found nothing, and on riding Louie twice again before we competed, it didn't present again. If you think that it sounds a bit odd, firstly, it is (!!!) but secondly there's a few reasons why I just couldn't get Louie going into the contact for that training session. Head over to the preparation section of our Winter Regionals round up to find out what it was!
Here we are in our final session at home before we went...
Making the most of the beautiful winter sunshineDespite a cold start, February has been exceptionally mild with some really beautiful days...perfect for long rides out on a weekend!
It's also meant we've had some FABULOUS photos from our time within the arena too!
How's it going on the blog?Excellently!! On Monday, we discovered we'd made it as one of Silvermoor's 2019 brand ambassadors. It's a fantastic opportunity to work with such an ambitious brand that started locally to us. We of course are still an ambassador for the super stylish Boudica Equestrian too, and this month I treated myself to the Ella quilted jacket by HKM. It's lightweight but warm and a must-have spring item. It's selling at £63, but don't forget to use TUNNAH10 to save 10%!
And what against my 2019 goals? Well, this month has been slow, with minimum increases to what I reported in January, so I am determined to put back in the effort to grow my accounts. That said, I've managed to reach my Twitter monthly impressions by 3.8k extra already and this will be my 7th post of the month.
OK, so for all of you that follow us & keep update with us across our social media will probably be more than aware we've been pretty excited about heading up to Morris Equestrian Centre to compete in the Winter Regionals after qualifying back in November.
Well the weekend finally came around...honestly, it seems absolutely years ago that we entered, let alone since we qualified! I'd had a competition & training schedule for the start of the year to help get us nicely prepared and feeling confident. Unfortunately, and as always, it didn't all fall into place, it didn't work out how we had quite hoped, but we made the Regionals, did our test, didn't disgrace ourselves and had a fantastic weekend too!
So, sit back and enjoy our journey to the Winter Regionals!
Gaining Winter Regional Qualification
I hadn't put this on my radar until I came back from the Pet Plan Finals having had a blast... I was straight onto how we can go to more pony parties overnight and enjoy the experience and atmosphere in a bigger competition environment.
I studied the British Dressage handbook and soon realised that I could attempt to gain enough qualifying points for the Winter Regionals at Prelim based on the scores I was achieving and the number of tests I was able to put in.
It would be tight. I had just six tests to achieve the remaining eleven points that we needed in test scores of 66%+. We were on a brilliant run, and within our first outing at Alnwick Ford Equestrian we did it with a 70.17% & 69.79% in long arena tests.
Ever since starting out affiliating in 2011 with a previous horse, Buddy, I'd wanted to be able to put in tests that were of a strong enough quality to gain this qualification. I never quite made it with him so I was over the moon to finally be able to achieve it with Louie.
Preparing for the Winter Regionals
Anyone who knows me, knows I can be super strictly organised and almost a little too structured when I put my mind to it, so of course I'd sat not doing very much in December creating our plans for the new year.
I was perfectly planned, until real life took a hold...
Winter bugs, flu and cold had other ideas & I missed our January training session
Lack of practice over the festivities gave us a VERY rusty competition result mid-January
Louie turned into a super duper grumpy sod for a few days & later diagnosed with ulcers
Our preparation in the week leading up to the Regionals was absolutely dog turd...
Sounds like I'm making excuses? Well, I'm not. It's life and the very nature of working with horses.
We bounced back from missing a training session in exchange for having our dressage coach, Cathy, supporting us in the warm up when we travelled down to Richmond at the end of January. I actually learnt a lot that day as to how to get the most from our warm up with it becoming anywhere near as intense as a training session. The results were good and we felt more confident after a poorer performance earlier in the month.
Louie's ulcers were diagnosed early February, and thankfully they don't seem to be related to his behaviour under saddle. He's been on a special supplement since that day, but only today (26.02) started his official injection treatment, so fingers crossed that in a month or so, we'll have those behind us too.
What about this really crappy week leading up to the Regionals? Well, yes, actually it was RUBBISH.
We'd signed up to a British Dressage training session to be guinea pig riders for coaching taking their UKCC assessments. It went wrong from the second I left the office... twenty minutes late! I only had 30 minutes at the yard to get Louie ready, loaded and away. Brilliant. & thanks to that driver who enjoy a drive along the sea front for my whole journey where I am absolutely convinced I could run quicker (& I am a really bad runner!!)
So, there I arrived at the yard at the exact time I was due to leave. Perfect... not.
I raced around and was gone within 10 minutes. I have to say, it's amazing what you can actually do in 10 minutes when you've no other choice! One thing you can't rush is transporting a horse. I arrive at the venue five minutes before the session started, and was very surprisingly just 5 minutes last into the session.
However...this was actually a nightmare for us. Firstly, it was only a 35 minute session, so I knew I needed 15-20 minutes for a good warm up to get Louie thinking forward and taking my contact. Secondly because we went straight into the session and were asked to do a fiddly little leg yielding exercise on a circle. Not the ideal exercise for forwardness.
About 15 minutes in, the coaching instructor came up and asked if Louie felt normal. He did, but I was honest about our lack of warm up and the annoying way of his going when he isn't going forward, comes back up at me and skips around behind the contact. Yes, he bobs about a bit...
OK, let's see how he goes... So I carried on. And five minutes later I was asked the same again but with expression of concern over his evenness in front. As he summed up - for bing a guinea pig, it's not worth breaking anything. Very true.
I hope if he, or any of the coaches in that session are reading, I am absolutely not complaining. It was the right thing to do, and after asking someone to video us, I could see what they saw. I knew what caused it, but it was a fair statement and fair concern.
I quickly spoke to Cathy, and I was due the farrier that evening. There was definitely no lameness on a trot up, but when watching the video, the farrier agreed he was 'off' but it could be something simple like an abscess. To be honest, I wasn't worried remotely about the leg, the cause (if it was anything) or how to fix it... I knew my trusted vets would sort that out if need.
But the disappointment hit me like a truck at full speed on the A1... And it really hurt!
After a teary drive home & taking some time to sit on my own (all night!), I resigned to that I was no longer going to the Regionals. I was devastated after being excited for what had felt like months!
While I took my quiet time, Andrew reached out to Louie's vet with the video and asked his advice. I mean, how many of you have a vet that at 9pm at night you can send a message to, he asks for the video and gives you all that support... He is a fantastic vet and truly a part of our team! He agreed though that Louie looked off, but said he was in the area the next day. Obviously in my heavy mood about the whole situation, I didn't see the point in booking a vet's appointment, but did it. Might as well start investigation now...
Dashing out of work, I arrived at the yard after the vet. Andrew had brought Louie in and the nurse was running Louie back and forth for the vet. I dragged myself to the tack room to get changed, before heading into the yard. When I did, they were coming back from the arena where Louie had been lunged.
The vet simply said 'Well...he's not lame today!'
This should be a dream to hear, but after such a rollercoaster the night before, all I could manage was a 'FFS...' But it was good news. We chatted briefly about my plans between then and the weekend, and he was happy for me to crack on and if it presents again, let's look at it.
I got on after he had left and I was absolutely determined not to let this horse drop behind the contact. I did just that. Sent the video to Cathy... who pointed out I'd clearly gone far too OTT and now had Louie coiled up like a tense spring that was about 3ft long.
The next night I sarcastically climbed back on and felt like I was riding a barrel racing horse on almost the buckle end, pulling me down, completely on the forehand. When I cooled off, I watched the video and was amazed at how much loser, relaxed and easy things looked for Louie!
I sent it to Cathy. Good news & that was it now until Sunday's test!
On Thursday and Friday, our livery Facebook group put several messages on about various gelding losing shoes...so I was convinced Louie would be missing at least one by the time we left at lunchtime on Saturday. Thankfully this was one part of the week that didn't stray off plan!!
What a rollercoaster of a few days...& it did leave me slightly dented for what would occur on Sunday.
Travelling to Morris Equestrian Centre
After a few hours turnout in the morning, I dragged Louie in to give his tail and socks a good wash, as well as a good stain remover here and there. For a grey, he actually isn't too dirty! Typically when I didn't want to take ages to wash him, he shuffled about and suddenly found random things exceptionally spooky...you know, like the bricks on the wall he was tied to, or the leadrope... I know...
I did start to let my emotions get the better of me in that situation, but while bandaging in the stable and using my stain remover, I calmed back down, and just before 1pm, we were ready to leave.
The drive up is fairly straight forward - get to the A1, down to the A69 all the way to the M74 and follow it all the way to Kilmarnock. It takes about 3-3hrs 20mins for us to get there. I wanted to arrive in the light, and to get Louie settled before we headed for some tea, to then check on him for the night and give him his own tea.
He settled straight away, munching at his haynet, spooking at his water bucket, but seemingly content. I was happy to see he had overcome his fears and drunk half a bucket by the time we came back from having our own dinner. I popped his lycra hood on and pulled his stable rug neck up, but was quite sad to leave him for the night.
You can sleep in our horsebox, but it's not ideal with needing to clear all the shavings out, lifting the partition to one side, and using an big blow up air bed. Plus we've no hook up, and although the weather has been mild, it's February and was the beast from the east at this time last year! So I'd booked us into the same hotel as when we came up in October. It's a 5 minute drive away, and gives a great night's sleep, and even if we don't get to enjoy their smart facilities, it does mean I can have a lovely hot shower before bed!
Winter Regional Competition Day
The arena walk/familiarisation was at 9am - quite sociable really! I gave Louie his breakfast at 8am, where he was actually waiting patiently and was super cute to whinney as he saw us enter the stables! I head into the arena with all its flower pots, judges huts, hanging flags, drapes around the edge, seating, windows to the cafe, music playing, and literally didn't know what would happen... Baring in mind, he spooked at a wall that he had been stood in front of for ten minutes and a bucket of water next to his haynet the day before.
He took to it like a pro, marching out past everything, ears pricked and taking it all in his stride. We used the full 30 minutes, for if nothing else than giving him a good leg stretch after travelling and being in a fair small stable overnight. It filled me with confidence for his attitude for later on in the day.
We had a long wait - we weren't on until 16:38. So we grabbed some breakfast and enjoyed watching some other tests. Andrew was on tack & boot cleaning duties, while I used more stain remover to get rid of the mud splatters and poop marks on the back of Louie.
With Louie's ulcers, I'd packed LOADS of chaff, which he was clearly thrilled about being fed every 3-4 hours! I gave him a bucket full at 12, and then at 3.30pm before we warmed up.
I'd got everything on a timer, so at 2.30pm we started plaiting. It was really great as the stables back onto the main arena which means the freestyle novice class music was as clear as day for us to enjoy bopping around to. There sounded to be some really great music to enjoy dressage to, including Whistle While You Work & Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins! Not sure if all the bopping about is the reason my plaits weren't quite as straight as normal...
I wanted to be in the warm up at 4pm to give Louie a good ten minutes to walk around on a long rein and be relaxed. I wanted to achieve the feeling I had at home on Thursday...just without my sarcastic attitude about it! He felt good, but I knew it was very safe and I was riding fairly basically in contrast to what we'd been working on over the last few months.
Before I knew it, it was our turn. We headed in... I was so excited, nervous, concentrating, determined, all in one!
Louie trotted around the edge just like he had walked around earlier in the day. We were dinged in and we headed down the centre line...
Louie likes a surprise as for the first time in four year, he pooped in his test. cue my pony club style kicking to keep going!! After that, he was a star. We played it WAY to safe and cautious. Put in a neat, tidy and accurate test, but nothing exciting. Lacking power and energy...
Winter Regionals 2019 - Prelim Silver - YouTube
We scored 63.22% which when being judged by List 1 judges, competing at the Regionals, and for a very safe test, I was pleased with. We didn't qualify, only the winner did. But it was an amazing experience from start to finish! Would I do it all again? Absolutely!
After prize giving, Louie had a little bit of chill time in the stable & a bucket of chaff before we headed home. Packing up takes a surprisingly long time - sorting all the horsebox out, making sure everything is put away, loading the horse and mucking out your stable. But by about 6.30-6.45pm, we were on the road, needing to make a stop for fuel and to grab some tea for us.
I fell asleep just before we got back onto the A69, but we made it back to the yard for around 10.15pm, so not too bad in terms of timing considering our stops. Louie had a lovely plump bed waiting for him, and after giving him his tea, we headed home ourselves. It was a great feeling when my head hit that pillow!!
Each month, we attend a flatwork training clinic with Cathy Burrell where we spruce up on our dressage skills. Unfortunately, due to the winter flu, January's clinic was cancelled, so I was even more looking forward to our February session!
It didn't disappoint either, it was a super productive and fun session. We worked on lots of different aspects, starting off with straightening up our canter. I hadn't realised how Louie's hin was drifting inward but with an arena with a few mirrors at the end of the long side, I'd no excuses not to spot it! We worked on using the 3/4 lines to straighten things up, spotting that it was also my shoulders causing some of the crookedness, so was made sure they were squared up and no curling to the inside. We rode "straighter" turns and not letting overbend to the inside along with a subtle shoulder in aid to straighten up.
Whilst were talking about the canter, we also worked on getting me to sit down and onto my seat bones & resist the temptation to tip forward. I sit well on the left rein, but on the right I'm much weaker and lean forward, so I need to work on sitting up and keeping Louie together and the power underneath us.
Still on the canter, our upward canter transition need to be sharper and more forward. At the moment, Louie has great lift but isn't going forward into the canter. So we worked on lots and lots AND LOTS of upward canter transitions. With Louie becoming slightly confused and over sensitive to the insight leg, we took a breather and walked on a long rein for a few minutes.
This is a great trick to reset Louie's brain when he gets a little misunderstood about what you're asking.
We also worked on trying to get Louie to take me more contact forward in the trot, which seems to come much better after a bit of a break on a long rein. I need to get used to the heavier feeling than I am used to in my hands and not interpret that as a negative. It also makes me really conscious to sitting up tall to keep Louie together.
Speaking of hands, I've spent a couple of weeks trying to get my hands into a better position to help stabilise them. The work has paid off as they felt much better, but I'm still ensuring that I don't become over-obsessed with them and create an even big problem about them!
Here's a short video of our session showing our canter straightening work and the work towards a better contact from Louie.
Dressage Training - 11.02.19 - YouTube
Our next planned session with Cathy is on 11th March, and as it will be after the Regionals we're looking forward to what should be a tough session where we begin to take our training to the next level and work on some new dancing moves!!
For those of you who don't follow us on Instagram, you'll have missed our Thursday vlog story with a bit of an update. It was only a minute or so long, so I've decided to give a much more in detail update on the blog as I'm also really interested in showcasing our story and the progress along the way. So, sit back, whether with a lovely hot cuppa or a glass of chilled wine (depending on the time of the day!), and I hope you enjoy the insight from our experience in this post.
After we came back from a dressage competition at Richmond Equestrian Centre at the end of January, Louie seemed fine. Still into chewing the bobble on your hat, getting hold of all the toggles on your jackets & into every pocket looking for sweeties. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and the key to this, is that nothing ever did. Louie enjoyed the next night off, as did I, and as I happily walked up to his stable on the Tuesday, he was in his usual place, snoozing after a day out in the field. He didn't come to the door of the stable, which was odd, but I didn't think too much of it, and popped my saddle on the rack outside his door, open my cupboard and grabbed a couple of sweets. Still no Louie... That is weird, I thought.
Detecting the symptoms of gastric ulcers in horses
I opened the door and went over to him, where he greeted me by twisting towards me, ears flat back and snarling. He never opened his mouth, but it made me stop in my tracks. I tried to use a really soothing voice and give him a pat on his neck, but he just held his head higher than normal still with his ears flat back. This was not like Louie at all.
We all have our bad days, and on cold days or when he's cold, he can be a little grumpier, but nothing like this, just less interested in you. I put a headcollar on him and tied him up in the stable and gave him so hay to munch on. He just stood there looking very angry.
I went to take his rugs off, and he wasn't happy. He didn't kick or swish his tail, but keeping twisting towards me. I gave him a good check over and a good brush, but nothing else seemed to trigger any reaction. He eventually started to munch on his hay... I thought about not working him, but then also thought it a good diagnostic to figure out if something was really wrong and perhaps where and with what trigger.
I tacked him up, and placing the saddle pad on him made him angry, but I thought to keep going and see a reaction with a saddle and especially the girth. Placing the saddle on his back got no reaction which is bizarre considering the reaction I had from a light saddle pad!! I got the girth and got a reaction from attaching it to the straps, but not when I passed it under his tummy or when I did it up.
I was really starting to become bamboozled by what on earth was triggering him to be so grump and angry. I thought it was tummy paid, but it was so inconsistent to touching his tummy or sides...
While I popped my boots on, he began munching his hay, and when I went back into do his girth up more and put his bridle on he was ears forward and into what I was up to again. I took him out and across the concrete yard. I could hear he wasn't lame. I got on, no reaction. Did the gates to get into the school, no reactions to my leg or shifting of my weight. Warmed up lovely, did my girth up, again, no reaction. Worked like a dream & I forgot all about it!
I remember though, that he came in from working and as usual, went straight to his hay, had a drink, and was seemingly happy and normal again. The next night was his lunging session and the whole episode was EXACTLY the same.
Something really wasn't right. So I contacted my vet to arrange to speak to him the next morning.
Discussing with a professional as to the possible causes in behavioural change
When I spoke to him he explained many horses at this time of year struggle with their tummies. The chemicals in the grass are odd with such variance in temperature (some nights it's -5, and 8/9 during the day) and that this could be playing a part. He also said that they physically aren't eating as much when it's been so cold overnight, just nibbling at the grass, so their stomach's aren't as full.
We've always discussed Louie's tail swishing under saddle, but seem to find it no worse at any given time and that when he relaxes into his work, it reduces. He has shown no other signs that would cause us to feel the need to complete an equine gastroscopy, but he said that this is what he would recommend given Louie's recent and total changed behaviours.
I didn't hesitate, and I booked him in for as soon as I could. I never gave it much of a second thought, but came to the conclusion that if he didn't have any ulcers, great, but then what was causing this odd and out of character behaviour. And if he did, great too, because then I can treat them and actually the idea of him even being in small discomfort from them, is enough to act on it.
Coincidentally, the weather on the Friday and weekend was WAY too icy for the horses to get out, but it forced me into an experiment, and was one that Cathy, my flatwork coach, had suggested when I'd updated her on what the vet had said. Keep him in for a few days and monitor his grumpiness. If he continues to be grumpy, you can be fairly confident what ever is going on, isn't from the grass. And if he's back to his usual happy self, you can also be confident that the changes are connected in someway to turnout.
So Louie staying in all weekend and if you saw my horsey duvet days post, you'll know it actually left us in a really productive & motivational place, whereas in the past, I'd have become stressed and uptight and needing to keep him in.
The experiment result was a very happy and content Louie! So I now knew it was related in someway to turnout and the cold grass could be triggering something, whether that is basic tummy pain or a lower stomach content exposing an ulcer that wouldn't normally bother him... We would soon find out.
I worked Louie on the Monday evening, again, he worked really well, nothing out of the ordinary. We worked on some lateral movements to try to improve his suppleness, but it was also a good test to see how he responds to the leg being put on to guide him. He was absolute fine, and as he'd had a bucket of Fast Fibre when he came in, he also wasn't especially grumpy when I arrived at the yard.
Diagnosis of Gastric Ulcers in horses
On Tuesday, we took Louie down to Clevedale vets at Upleatham, near Redcar. It's a fair distance, but boasts the fantastic Alistair Love, who's an RCVS Recognised Advanced Practitioner in Equine Practice and has a passion for gastric ulceration cases. Clevedale really have got a strong team of equine specialist vets and when it comes to not the everyday veterinary needs, they are my first go to.
Alistair Love. Clevedale Vets
With a gastroscopy, the horse needs to be starved for a minimum of 8-12 hours before the procedure takes place. So rather than swapping out his lovely straw bed for shavings and doing it at home, I took him down to their practice and stabled him overnight. It made a lot of sense, as they can then keep an eye on him during that long starvation period as well as for a few hours after the gastroscopy has taken place.
The equine gastroscopy took place on Wednesday morning and unfortunately, due to work commitments, I wasn't able to be there. I was really curious about the whole procedure and being able to watch and hear it all happen. But we headed down early afternoon to collect Louie and speak with the vet. Alistair had already called me after his had finished - he'd done 3 that morning, so it really shows you how common it is to perform!
He updated me on the phone that Louie was found to have grade three ulcers on his lesser curvature, and grade 2 ulcers on the pylorus and wider pyloric antrum. I know right...what does that even mean?
Ulceration on the lesser curvature
As the camera passed through the stomach, it almost comes straight across to the great curvature of the stomach, but it then pushed to come back on itself and on an empty stomach, gives a really clear picture of the lesser curvature. This is where Louie's ulceration can be seen. These are squamous ulcers.
Here you can see Louie's ulcerations. Usually the tissue would look like healthy tissue and be slightly more grey in colour, and you can see that even away from the ulcers that it is more yellow. You can also see the red markings that will be making any acid contact points quite sore for him.
Ulceration of the Pylorus
This is basically the exit of the stomach and a more uncommon place to see ulcers and are glandular ulcers.
They can also be a little bit tougher to say goodbye to so with the treatment that's been prescribed, these may take considerably longer to resolve or improve. Louie's grading on these ulcers is grade 2, and you can identify them in the below image as the small red dots. The rest of the area looks reasonably healthy.
Prescribed treatment of Gastric Ulcers in horses
Please note that the following is specifically designed for Louie's ulcers and what was found, as well as Louie's reaction to taking oral medication and the symptoms that he presents
The squamous ulcers found on Louie's lesser curvature should hopefully improve, if not resolve, within 4-8 weeks of starting treatment, however the glandular ulcers could take considerably longer, with around 10-20% worsening after starting the omeprazole treatment. Symptoms may start to improve within as little as one week of starting treatment which is great to know that it can offer them to begin feeling much more comfortable so soon, but in some cases might not be seen until one month in. As with most things relating to horses, it's a case by case basis.
It is important to remember that treatment is connected to the acid production, so doesn't in any way reflect how well the ulcers are really healing. A second gastroscopy will be carried out 4-5 weeks after the initial treatment has started.
I was dreading the diagnosis of ulcers because of Louie's reaction to any pastes by mouth - worming four times a year is a trauma that requires him to be twitched! So daily... I really wasn't not only looking forward to but also I was concerned whether I'd actually get any paste into him at all!
Despite being administered plenty of sedation for his procedure, Alistair could still see he was fuss about his mouth and having things done within his mouth. So put forward a strong case as to why he would recommend a non-paste based treatment.
Thankfully there is a solution, but it is off license so I needed to sign a consent form to be prescribed it. So what is it?
It's injections. They are once a week and are given straight into the muscle so I can even do them for myself! Unfortunately, they aren't in stock though, so I have to wait until a little later into the month for them to arrive and start. I'm going to get the vets to come to me for the first one so I can learn how to do it properly. I've never given an injection before, so I want to make sure I do it right.
In the meantime and throughout is treatment, Louie has been given a new supplement too - Gastric Defence. It's in pellet form and you give 33g three times a day or 50g twice a day. We've opted for the twice a day as it fits with his current feeding regime.
Feeding a horse with gastric ulcers
The great news is that Louie already has a fairly simple diet - Fast Fibre, handful of Alpha A oil, cup of TopSpec balancer and a mini scoop of calmer. We don't need to change a thing as low starch, high fibre diets are recommended. All that's added is his new supplement!
However, Alistair did recommend feeding un-molassed fibre feed 30 minutes before exercising to protect the squamous ulcers on the lesser curvature from the acid splash when riding. For this, we've now got a bag of Dengie's basic Alpha chaff that's un-molassed. We won't swap it into his feed, but will use it before he is worked or travelled.
Alfalfa is really great to absorb the acid and assist with splash inside their stomach, so we'll be sticking to the great range of Dengie products, but it's worth a good read as their Original and Lite do have a molasses coating which is a no-go.
Prognosis going forward with Gastric Ulcers
Again, this is specific for Louie. No one can predict the future. There is no way to tell what causes the ulcers specifically, and there is no way to know how long they have been there.
However, there is no real reason that Louie cannot make a good recovery from these ulcers and for me to always consider their management in the future.
We are fairly lucky in the sense that there are no changes under saddle, and while we do see the tail swishing present, it certainly didn't worsen when he was worked on those awful evenings he was super grumpy!
I will always now consider the tip on feeding Alpha A before working or travelling, as it can really help comfort levels if there is some irritation and inflammation there. I'm not yet sure whether Louie will be taking his new Gastric Defence supplement for just a month or so, or whether it will be longer term. Time will tell.
And, overall, I am actually really chilled out about it. I feel I've been given some really great advice and a good treatment plan, as well as feeling comfortable that I can reach out to any of my support team should I need to ask anything further or have any concerns.
Have you considered an equine gastroscopy?
If you've have asked me a few months ago about this, I'd have been terrified of what was to come. I had no knowledge on the subject area, and they were these big dramatic "things" that were difficult to managed and spoilt a horse forever more.
That is not true.
Sure, some horses have far worse ulcers than Louie and will need constant monitoring, treatment and management, but others are a one time case. You find them, treatment, pick up a couple of management tips for preventing them coming back, and may never see them again. Fingers crossed we are in this bracket!
But now I know what I'm dealing with, I wish I'd done it year ago. Hindsight is wonderful thing as it's very easy to say that now, but the reason I haven't scoped him before, is he's never really had enough to show for it. If the vet said 'now's the time' as he did recently, I'd have had it done in a flash, but Louie has never carried enough symptoms for it to be a real concern.
If you have even a momentary thought they may have ulcers, even if like Louie, it was 15 minutes maximum on a few days, take the step and organise a gastroscopy.
I am very pleased to say that I have very much started 2019 as I mean to go on... We've done everything we could possibly have wanted! Enjoyed beautiful early morning and late afternoon rides around the local Northumberland countryside, been to two dressage competitions, worked on our showjumping and flatwork at home, and had two MEGA showjumping sessions.
Sounds busy? It has been!! A couple of successful dressage competitions to start the year off...
For anyone who regularly reads our blog or follows us across social media, you'll have seen that we've managed to beat the January blue and up our motivation to make it to two British Dressage competitions throughout January.
The first...OK, it looks successful coming home with two red ribbons, BUT there was a lot of polishing needing to be done! We were out of practice having spend December not doing too much and enjoying hiring venues to showjump at over my Christmas break away from the office. Don't get me wrong, they weren't bad tests, but we can definitely do better.
I went home and had 10 day until we made the trip a little further afield to Richmond Equestrian Centre, and I made every session at home really count! That doesn't mean we had 10 schooling session in between, no. I'd be dizzy doing circles that many times in such a short space of time. It actually worked out as just two, with three lunging sessions...
I've laid down a strict goal for our showjumpng in 2019... It's achievable, but requires hardwork, determination and motivation to keep going. In the time I've had Louie, I've never been so specific in defining what and where I would like to go with him in our showjumping. But right now I've got a big burning fire in my belly to make this work...
We went to a training session the first weekend of the month, and after a very honest and open conversation with Philippa before we got on, we had one of our best training sessions ever! It was a tough one, but productive and SO motivating! If you missed it, be sure to check out the showjumping training update from earlier in January.
Three weeks later we were back but we'd been working at home to keep going in between.
We'd got a couple of bit confused from our last session which mean I made a few mistakes on our lines, but with a few words from Philippa, we were soon skipping round a course finding all the right lines and strides! Take a read through where we were going wrong and what we did to correct it in the showjumping training update from last weekend...
Trying out some new equestrian products too
That's right...NEW THINGS! I'm a bit of a stickler for sticking to what I know, but this month we've given a few things a try and found ourselves more than pleasantly surprised!
Competition breeches. Andrew was on at me for about a year before I bought myself a new pair of competition breeches when mine finally dropped to bits, literally.
Before Christmas I ordered a pair of HKM breeches from the fabulous Boudica Equestrian, but with no competitions planned until the new year, I was keen to put them to the test come our first dressage competition this month. I didn't notice anything different...highlighting just how fantastically they fit. Nothing worse than uncomfortable breeches to distract you. I gave them a full review and a sneak peek into how you can find the perfect pair of breeches for you, so make sure you check it out!
It wasn't only me that tried some new things... Louie was a very lucky boy and was treated to some super lux faux fur lined dressage protection boots and comfort overreaches by HKM and again from Boudica Equestrian. It's not a brand for boots that I've tried before, nor have I ever had fur lined boots. What did we think of them? Find out in my blog post that talks about bringing style and protection together.
How's it going with the blog?
Did you see our 2019 goals? If you did, you'll have seen we set some seriously tough targets for the upcoming 12 months...
I've been spending a lot of time on an evening working on my blog & social media to start the year positively and give myself some motivation to keep working and chipping away at some of these HUGE targets.
Here's some of my highlights:
+14% growth in my Facebook likes; now up to 572
+9% growth in my Instagram followers; now up to 977
30 new Twitter followers
SMASHED my Twitter impression target with 39.3k in January
SMASHED my Instagram average engagement target with 107 per post
12 blog posts in January
Now this isn't all just about me & my goals...Hopefully all of you guys are enjoying the extra posts and stories from us. Make sure you tell us what you think in the comments below!