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The Earth is getting it's own back...

Definition of irony in the horse world right now - slogging through a long wet winter, only to be grounded by a deadly virus when spring finally hits!

Here in the UK it's an unsettling time for many now, with stricter 'lockdown' restrictions set by the government last night. Many people are now unable to ride, and some aren't even able to go to see their horses, depending on the yard they're on :(

I'm feeling immensely grateful right now that life for us continues fairly normally - we keep the horses on a yard, but it's a DIY yard half a mile from home. We've been able to 'socially distance' ever since this nightmare kicked off, and continuing to have to tend to the horses twice a day gives us all an oasis of calm in an otherwise stressful world. Even DemiDad has enjoyed spending time doing the jobs at the yard!

I'm not riding my 'young' horse Tango (he's 12 - but very green...) it's so frustrating as we'd built a solid foundation of groundwork over the winter and had recently started getting things off the ground under saddle again. Plus he's TBxArab, so he's definitely more settled in his head when he's in work. But he isn't established, and to me it's not worth the risk - if frustration is all I have to worry about over the coming weeks, I'll count myself very lucky! Assuming no ban on 'high risk activities' is put in place, I'll still be able to keep my other arab Jay (only in light work at the moment anyway) ticking over, but I'll be turning to ground work as well to help me keep them sane. MiniD has had some major confidence issues lately, so any riding she is doing is on the lead, or with me nearby - she's very much dropped down a level or two. For any of you still riding and hoping to compete with Demi over the summer, I'm more than happy for you to do the same! It's so so important that if we do make that 'individual decision' to ride, we do so in a way that avoids putting any strain at all on our over-worked NHS (and besides, who wants to risk ending up in hospital right now?)

I think it's time for many horse owners to be 'thinking outside the box' now when it comes to managing their equines. This is possibly the worst time of year to be dealing with such a lock-down (and not just because of the glorious sunshine!) Heading into spring, grass growing, it's going to be a difficult time for so many owners of natives, those who struggle to keep waistlines in check, and of course the dreaded laminitis. I've used a 'track system' very successfully in the past, and it's something I'll probably have to employ again this year. Both Jay and Maisie are prone to laminitis - Maisie also has Cushings. It works far far better than traditional strip-grazing.

grass track livery yard field
A simple 'grass track' on a livery yard

I wonder if this unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in will see a resurgence of skills in groundwork? I first learnt to work Jay properly from the ground when I was pregnant! It's fascinating how much you can teach them, and I really do find it a wonderful way to work a horse. It has such benefits for ridden work too - studies have shown that horses regularly worked from the ground are calmer and more settled in themselves and in their ridden work. Riders who lack confidence or finesse in the saddle can often be highly skilled working horses from the ground. (Sadly I fear I neither have a huge amount of finesse in the saddle nor a huge amount of skill on the ground #lol - like many leisure horse owners I guess! However I have still seen vast improvements in my horses - and I enjoy it!) Many groundwork exercises, including the use of poles, can help proprioception and improve a horse's posture and way of going. If I had one wish for grounded horse riders during this coronavirus outbreak, it would be that they could discover the benefits - and joy - of working with horses in this way (for those not already converted, of course).

long lining pony school cones blocks
Long-lining a young pony to improve suppleness and obedience

I think perhaps the most important thing to remember is that time off work can be really good for horses (assuming their management is set up to maintain their health - for example using a track system to increase activity and keep obesity/laminitis at bay). With so many all-weather surfaces and venues offering competitions year-round these days, we have become accustomed to our horses staying in work throughout the year. But if you look back through 'traditional' horse keeping books, this was not typical for a lot of horses. Hunters were roughed off in the summer, and eventers roughed off through the winter. Endurance horses often have periods of time of work. So for those not lucky enough to be able to keep their horses ticking over through the coming weeks/months - don't stress. My arab Jay ended up with over a year off when I was pregnant - she had a bad case of summer mud fever, and then by the time it had healed I was in the early stages of pregnancy: it wasn't worth bringing her back into ridden work for a month or two before I hung up my hat on safety ground. So, I took her to my regular trainer, Simon Battram, for a couple of classical in-hand lessons, and I lightly lunged her (walk and trot) here and there. When I was ready to ride again, she came back into work as if she'd never been off, and in actual fact her canter work under saddle had improved!

arab horse cantering schooling dressage
A purebred arab, Jay does not have the most natural canter...

So hang in there guys. We'll get through this. And our faithful horses will be waiting to put a smile on our faces when we do.

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