Friday, 29 April 2016

Rock crunching

When we went out in the woods the other day we noticed some big piles of gravel had appeared. Presumably they're going to spread it on the paths to make them more vehicle-friendly in the winter. It's not little smooth, round gravel like you get in posh gardens, it's big uneven, lumpy shapes, calcaire they call it in France.

So naturally we decided to see what the horses would make of it. Going up and down slopes is good training for TREC and all that. Not to mention good practise for just riding out and about.

Well, they just walked up and down it, no problems. Sky might have wonky feet that don't look like a lot of people think they should, but she has no problem taking them and the rest of herself over this sort of terrain.

Who needs shoes anyway? :-)

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Great British traditions?

Today is the Queen’s 90th birthday. Naturally this means extensive coverage in the media. This morning I was listening to Radio 4 in the car on the way to work and part of this coverage included a reporter going to the barracks at Hyde Park to have a look at the preparations the Household Cavalry is having to do for various birthday parades.

And it made for depressing listening, for me at least. The reporter, Roya Nikkah, was happily describing some of the things the soldiers were doing to get their equine charges ready to go out in public. One soldier was whitening his charge’s socks with chalk so they’d look “immaculate”. Not such a problem, maybe, unless the chalk ends up irritating the skin, probably not so likely. But then she went on to explain that he was also shaving off the horse’s whiskers on its muzzle, to make it “look smart”. The Queen, we were then told, being such a lover of horses, has a keen eye and always scrutinises the horses on parade to ensure that they are turned out looking their best. But should looks be more important than well-being?

Those of you who are regular readers will no doubt know that a horse’s whiskers are as important to him as a cat’s. Would we trim off a cat’s whiskers to make him look smart too? Horses need their whiskers to feel for things under their noses where due to the position of their eyes, they can’t see. But then, as these horses are doubtless shut in their stables for the vast majority of their time, would they ever get the chance to explore the world around them with their delicate whiskers?

The report then went on to talk to one of the Household Cavalry’s 14 farriers. He proudly related how well they look after the horses’ feet, shoeing them regularly as they’re trying to “minimise concussion”. Quite how nailing a piece of iron to the bottom of a horse’s hoof before it goes out on the roads around London would minimise concussion has never been adequately explained to me. Wouldn’t the horses be better off barefoot, which has worked so well for institutions such as the Houston Mounted Police Force in America?

But no, we’re British of course, and therefore bound by rigid tradition. Tradition that also dictates just how much metalwork needs to be on the head (and more accurately, in the mouth) of a Cavalry Black. Have you ever seen them on parade without a large amount of head tossing? I have been told that the amount of kit a soldier must wear and the rigidity of some of it makes for a very uncomfortable parade duty. But at least these men have chosen to be there. Their horses haven’t. But then as so often in the equine world, the horse’s side of the story just isn't taken into consideration…….

So when you watch all those immaculately turned out horses on parade for the Queen over the next few days, spare a thought for them. Kept, like racehorses, in an unnatural way for an equine, using traditional methods, in traditional tack (this regiment dates back to the Restoration, I believe) I wonder just how happy and healthy they are? I don’t know about you, but thinking of things from the horses’ point of view will definitely lessen my enjoyment of those birthday celebrations.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Back to France for more training......

Been busy with horseback archery again during these school holidays, we spent 5 days in France at a young archers youth training camp, with our friends at Domaine de Gauchoux near Limoges.

It was fab. Everyone there is just so laid back about everything. Over here people would have been aghast at such things as dogs running loose and horses left unattached to graze after they'd finished their runs. But there were no issues or injuries. I sometimes wonder if the people who worry too much about safety are more likely to have accidents as they're too uptight and it transmits to the horses? Anyway, Alan le Gall who owns the place was not fazed one bit when after 10 minutes of riding a new horse, Ali asked if she could take the bridle off and ride in a rope headcollar.......

Ditto with me and Saltimbanque, a big horsie who'd never encountered archery before. I offered to do a bit of work with getting him used to it all and Alan just said here he is, off you go and left me to it. Didn't realise until later that no one but Alan rides him as when he arrived 2 years ago he was such a nervous wreck he didn't want anyone making him worse......

We stayed in a yurt, which was so much more warm and comfortable that we thought it's be. Beautifully decorated inside......

And how about this for a view?

Although on the first night, I was awoken to the sound of galloping hooves and was half way out of bed before I realised it couldn't be mine escaping.  Next morning over breakfast I found out a couple of the other coaches had had the same reaction......

Anyway, full report on the archery blog here: