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Sunday, 3 February 2019

Horsey Duvet Days

It's that time of the year again where the snow and ice are putting pause to all of fun & games with our horses... Where I'm stabled, we've actually been quite lucky in that we haven't really got much snow, and you can just about negotiate your way around & out of the yard without looking like a bad impression of Torvil & Dean! That said, the overnight hard frosts mean that the grass is rock solid and not an ideal delicacy for any horses stomach, so Louie hasn't been to play out for a few days now!

I used to really get quite stressed about keeping Louie stabled, not only for health reasons but also finding ways to keeping him stimulated in the stable. These days, I'm much more chilled out about, and apart from my morning muck out being constantly interrupted for cuddles, Louie's much more content than he has been in the past.

Why decide to give your horse a duvet day

But why do I keep Louie in on days like this? 

I'm REALLY surprised by the number of photos and videos that I've seen across social media over the last few days, with horses being turned out on really hard frosty pasture with no sign of extra forage being added. This is really bad for horses and can very easily lead to impaction colic cases. Not in isolation, but with a number of other contributing factors also at play such as horses moving less around the field, drinking very cold water or not drinking enough because it's cold & general less turnout hours. Of course, the grass itself will see change to its nutrients due to the low overnight temperatures and varying temperatures throughout the day.

Horse & Hound recently published some top tips from the director and head of hospital at Newnham Court Equine in Kent as to how you can stay on guard and be prepared for signs of colic during the winter months.

Not only is it Louie's tummy that I'm keeping in check, but also his legs. When it's very slippery to get to the field, it's important to weigh up if the risk walking on the ice is worth it. Coupled with that, if you have a poached and potty field from the wet muddy weather, it's very easy for horses to twist one of those many tiny joints and soft tissues in a horse's leg. For me, minimising the risk of injuries like these is the logical option. 

Of course, in other parts of Northumberland (& the UK), people have seen a good few inches of beautiful, thick snow. I always find this much easier - it's not slippery so you can ride or get to your turnout in it, but also the ground underneath isn't solid so doesn't carry the same risk of injury. Just remember, even if you're only turning out while mucking out, you will need to provide forage for your horse as with thick snow, they will struggle get down to the grass. 

I mean if world-class horses and riders can practice their cross country in the snow...

What to do when its a horsey duvet day

My instant reaction was to go into a bad mood... which never help, nor is particularly nice for anyone around me! However, this year, although it's our first duvet few days, we've got a big list of everything that we can do that ordinarily we wouldn't have chance to do...


How many of us just give our horses a quick flick over with a brush as we hurry to change a rug, or scurry around to ride before its too dark? Most of us probably... But some more time in the stable means we've that little bit longer to enjoy spending time grooming our four-legged friends.

This morning Louie got a thorough groom, starting off with a lovely all over mini massage with a long tipped rubber curry comb to bring the grease and any dry skin to the surface. Next, we took the flick brush to lift off all the dirt that was now sitting on the top of the coat using short but firm strokes. Finally, we go all over his body in circular motion with a body brush, before giving it a clean with a metal curry comb, and brushing him as usual.

I don't think I've found time to give Louie a brush like this since I was off work over Christmas - evenings at the yard are rushing to ride before it's dark or starts freezing, and usually on a weekend we're busy rushing to a training session or plaiting for a competition.

I really enjoyed it, especially seeing Louie enjoying a light scratching over his wither while I was using the curry comb! His lips were quivering all over!!

Planning you pony parties

When I got home, I popped the kettle on for a cuppa to warm me up, and soon found myself engrossed in the British Dressage magazine, but being particularly drawn to the schedule pages. You can also view these of course online, but this issue holds dates from 1st March through to 15th April, which for me is perfect as we've no competition plans after heading up to Morris for the Winter Regionals.

It's a great way to discover new venues too - I've spotted a few in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and the Border/Scotland. Although they are a little further afield and take that bit longer to get to, I really enjoy going to new places, and not only go to the same venue time after time...

I had my red pen at the ready to circle and highlight anything that I'd like to consider going to. But you can take it one step further and look to get an annual wall calendar to pop in your next few months of competition. I did that a few years ago, but soon found myself over committing to competitions, so if you do that, make sure you have a balanced approach!

Taking some inspiration and motivation for your training sessions

First up, if you're into your polework, but don't want to spend HOURS setting up some of the exercises that you see across Facebook, give the lovely ladies at No Bucking Way a visit to take a look at some simple yet very effective pole exercises for you to try at home. Share with them how you get on too - they love seeing other people giving their exercises a go!

After I'd flicked through the British Dressage magazine and curbed my enthusiasm to travel all over the country in the next two and a half months, I thought I better think realistically... And, about what was I going to work on to help us keep on improving our scores.

My absolute 'go to' is my 101 Schooling Exercises book - yes, a paper copy of a book published in 2005. Wow, 14 years ago!! 

The book is super handy as it sections itself in problem areas such as becoming more loose and agile or suppleness and straight, as well as more complex movements when you want to leave the ground and work on flying changes.

Last winter, I lost motivation and would ride, just to ride, with no real objective. It became boring and we ended actually taking a step backward because we didn't do anything especially productive. Every time you ride in the arena, give yourself a goal or objective to work on, that's my motto, and this book provide LOADS of exercises to keep your schooling varied and different each time, even when you're working on the same thing.

There's also a 101 Jumping Exercises book for polework and jump exercises. It's sometimes good to combine the two and create your own!

Getting your house in order

As much as Andrew will have just fallen off his chair reading this and that it might mean I'll help out more on housework, no, that's NOT what this means.

It means get organised.

When was the last time you went through your tack room and got rid of everything you haven't used for the last few years? Whether you put them in the bin, or make a few extra pennies to put towards your pony parties, have a clear out, because once that lovely spring weather comes, you won't want to be tidying out the tack room!

Do the same if you have a horsebox. Every year, I go through and make sure all my sprays, lotions and potions, medical kit, rugs, tack, gloves, and everything else that I keep in mine, is all as it should be. Providing the roads are fine to drive it on, get any maintenance done on it that you've put off too. Again, once the better weather comes, you won't want to be using your weekends for taking your horsebox to the local garage.

Are you ready for spring? We all talk about being ready, but are we really? Did you get all of those light rugs washed last year ready for this spring and summer? If yours are still sat at the bottom of a storage box waiting to be washed, get them done now. There's nothing worse that putting your horse out on a beautiful spring day in a rug that's far too hot and heavy.

Top tips when stabling more during the winter

If you didn't already see our guest post by Emily Davis from Cheval Liberte, you can take a look at her four reasons to consider stabling your horse. The post also included five top tips for increase equine health and wellbeing if you decide to do so.

One of these tips is to ensure that you can provide entertainment for your horse through things like snack balls, treat licks and stable toys. This morning, I gave Louie a treat swinger from Silvermoor. He loves anything like this but when hung in the very middle of his stable, he definitely found it much more of a challenge...

These treat balls are a high-fibrous, slow-release healthy snack to help alleviate boredom when a horse is stabled for a longer period. It has no added sugar and is made completely from natural ingredients. It is unique in that it has no corners so horses cannot just grab it and gobble it down, although Louie's doing a great job of grabbing it, but not able to break it down. He clearly needs to learn how to nibble!

So when the weather isn't on your side, don't let your first response to be glum. Instead, put the time to good use and come out into spring better than ever! Hopefully some of these tips will help some of you out. Got some other tips that you find useful? Share them in the comments below!


  1. I enjoyed reading this. I'm more relaxed about duvet days than I used to be. There's nothing worse than seeing a miserable horse standing at the field gate when it's been raining solidly for 8 hours!

    1. I think we've become obsessed with turnout and when we don't really provide a truly natural environment for our horses, we can't always assume it is the best thing to do. As with most things, it's about managing the individual horse X

  2. Great ideas for things to do on duvet days! Which reminds me that I really need to clean out my tack room! xx

    1. Thanks Pam & glad I spurred you on to doing your tack room. I cleared out mine last winter, and was able to sell loads of good items which funded some of our recent pony parties X

  3. I love the 101 exercises books. I've got those two and while I don't look at them anywhere as near as much as I should, they are fantastic for coming up with some problem solving exercises.

    1. They are great books and give some ideas for some good exercises to break up your winter training. It's cool how many of them can fit together too! :)


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