Having the ponies in at night over the winter is of course more labour intensive than their summer routine. Apart from the mucking out, I have to deal with Cookster’s mild dust allergy.
Over the summer it can sometimes be difficult even to shut him in the stable – the dry weather makes everything too dusty. With a reasonable amount of rain we lose that problem but I do still have to think about haynets which need soaking for him.
We don’t have a hay steamer but have developed our own system and soak the nets in the stream. That works perfectly as it washes all the dust away so the nets aren’t sat in dusty water. The only problem is that hay floats so we have to stand on the nets to weigh them down.
As you can see this is a job for all the family!
It does make us look a bit odd though – my sister once found herself being watched by an estate agent and the people he was showing round the field next door. They didn’t buy the house and we still don’t know if it’s because they thought the neighbours were mad!
Over lockdown we didn’t really do much schooling. Obviously we did the odd bit of flat work when warming up for jumping but proper, serious schooling got put on hold – mainly because we had nothing to work towards. We are still not going out to shows but I am hoping to do some online dressage soon so schooling has suddenly become important again!
Galahad was not impressed in our first session. Flat work is never his favourite thing anyway and he has got used to not having to do it. He was rather sluggish to start with and I could really tell how much schooling does improve his way of going – I couldn’t get him to bend to the right at all. He is improving now but it just shows how important schooling really is.
As well as the flat schooling I have introduced some gridwork into our routine. Partly because it is good for Galahad’s rather weak hindquarters and partly because he loves to jump so it makes the session more interesting for him too. I wanted to try some bounce distances which we have only ever done in lessons before. Those tend to be with other people whose horses inevitably have longer legs than Galahad so normally he can squeeze in an extra stride and avoid the bounce altogether. The advantage of being at home is that this time I could shorten the distances until they were right for him.
The first time we tried it he had no clue what to do with his feet and we were very scrappy on our way through. It didn’t take him long to figure it out though and soon he was bouncing through like a pro.
I think Galahad enjoyed it and I know I did so we’ll be keeping the grid up as long as the state of the ground lets us.
This week I decided it was time to switch the ponies to being stabled at night. It has been raining so much and at least if they are out during the day we can see if they are being stupid standing out in the rain getting cold (Cookster especially is very prone to to doing this) and do something about it. At night they are just left to their own devices.
Of course, the ponies were not aware of this and were waiting impatiently to be brought in on the morning of the day of the change. They were very miffed to be left out in the field! Then in the evening I had to traipse across the field in the dark (because of course I didn’t remember a torch) to find them. By the next evening though, they had it sussed and were all ready and waiting for their dinner.
It is obviously much more work to have the ponies properly stabled but there is something so cosy and satisfying about tucking them up in bed. Plus, it guarantees me the best welcome in the mornings!
This weekend autumn seems to have hit us with a vengeance. We have had two days of driving rain and splashing through puddles. Of course, that didn’t stop us going out to ride – it just meant that we got very wet indeed. We also spent a lot of time inspecting the hedges as the ponies turned their heads away from the wind. Gettng out at all was interesting – we had to ride across a field and turn into the wind. The ponies were quite happy to walk forward but they definitely did not want to turn left!
I also made the mistake of wearing my spare pair of waterproof trousers as they were handily in the tackroom , as opposed to in the house. It turns out that I did buy the newer pair for a reason and there is not really any point in keeping the old ones for emergencies. They didn’t keep me dry at all.
In brighter news, the ponies had their back checks this week. Galahad hasn’t seen the back lady in about a year (he normally gets looked at ewvery six months or so but covid caused a hiatus) and he miraculously only needed a few tweaks – no full treatment and no time off afterwards. That is a first and a definite reason to celebrate.
As with many horsey people, I also love dogs. The idea of roaming the countryside with my pony and my dog is a dream which seems just perfect. Unfortunately, my dog is a spaniel cross and she will go off after any smell which takes her fancy. On foot I can keep her in check but I would not feel at all happy on a pony, especially if we were on or near a road – which we would be.
However, she has learnt to be sensible and look after herself when she is around the ponies in the yard. I used to have to shut her up away from the ponies and their dangerous feet but her sense of self preservation has finally kicked in and she is now more or less sensible about keeping her distance. Of course, I still keep an eye on her but I can now be much more efficient than I was.
The ponies are also very well behaved around her. They are used to dogs running round at my instructor’s yard so they barely react to them now. As long as the dog doesn’t do anything to startle them they pretty much ignore her. Which is exactly how I like it – we can all just get on with our own thing. It is wonderful.
This week I have been working several twelve hour days in a row so I have seen very little of the ponies. My parents have been looking after them for me and my Mum has written a guest post.
As our daughter is spending a week working very long hours, it’s fallen to us parents to keep an eye on the Exmoors. I suppose this is reasonable really. It was me that suggested we buy them for our teenage daughters – it seemed a good idea at the time.
I say us – in reality it’s my husband who does the hands on stuff. I am one of the world’s organisers. I have the bright ideas and others carry out the hard work. Hours in the cold and rain helping my youngest daughter to catch half wild six month old colts fell to him. I put the kettle on for when they finally succeeded. He has spent many days over the years supporting our eldest daughter competing in jumping and dressage competitions. Anxiety stopped me from following his example. I stayed at home waiting for the text saying all was well. On the days I plucked up courage to go, I have been known to hide behind the tea tent or walk the dog while she was competing. I am getting better at this now. She looks so good when competing, it is a pleasure to watch her – if only between half closed eyelids or from behind parked cars.
So this week, after our daughter has fed and mucked out the ponies early in the morning, it is up to us to put them out to their fields at the right time and make sure their grass intake is restricted so they don’t get fat which they will do without any encouragement at all. It’s me who reminds my husband it’s time to let them out of the yard. He who has to stop whatever he’s doing to let them out. Me who decides which grass they should be grazing. He who has to move them to the right field.
Our reward for all this is the pleasure they give my daughters, the sight from our windows of two beautiful Exmoors grazing in the fields and the way they wicker at us when they think it’s time for food. Also some beautifully rotted down muck, just ready for putting on flower and vegetable beds over the winter.
We don’t have a trailer we could use to collect the hay ourselves so we asked our neighbour to deliver it to the end of the drive for us. Then we used the lawn tractor’s trailer to ferry it all down to the hay store.
I did some of the driving but mostly I enjoyed having a ride on the trailer – although I did learn the hard way that if you stand right on the back of it you will bend it. We had a bit of a job getting the sides back on!
It is very satisfying to have the hay store filled with hay for the winter. It smells wonderful and I’m sure the ponies will think it delicious!
The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that recently I have been riding Galahad without a noseband. I actually quite like the look on him but I didn’t decide to do it to make him pretty!
I realised that Galahad had developed a small bald patch on his face and, although I am almost certain that it wasn’t caused by his noseband (which is so loose that it basically does nothing), I took it off to remove any chance of it making the rubbing worse.
It is in fact probably caused by his fly mask which I have now also taken off. It is very odd – this year both ponies have grown some white hairs where their fly masks sit, even though they have never had a problem before. Thankfully neither of them are showing any signs of sore spots so hopefully they haven’t actually been hurt by the masks.
The fly season is now drawing towards its close so I can leave the fly masks off without causing a problem. We will need to think of a new solution for next summer though!
I am always trying to find new things to keep the ponies interested in what we’re doing. They don’t want to be doing the same thing all the time any more than we do so this week when my sister came over for some socially distanced riding my parents and I set up some games for us to play. They were a medley of gymkhana games and some trec style obstacles which were a lot of fun and were also good for the ponies.
Anything that involved me on Galahad picking up a pole was obviously scary for him, although the flag race went pretty well. Our version of tent pegging however took us a long time to get through. Perseverance did pay off but it’s never going to be something he’s desperate to do!
Another very good game was a kind of maze made with poles on the ground. That was excellent for the ponies’ flexibility and it was gratifying to see just how bendable they are.
My favourite activity though was riding under low branches. When we first approached Galahad was having none of it but we worked patiently and before long we could canter through. He does work so hard and makes me very proud!
The ponies being the colour they are, they very rarely get bathed. Even when we go to a show, a proper bath isn’t strictly necessary to get them properly clean and, of course, this year we haven’t even had shows to clean for.
Even so, I do like to bath them sometimes – Galahad can get quite dandruffy and Cookster’s mane gets very greasy over time. Obviously I don’t want to overdo the bathing – they do live out after all – but I have been meaning to bath them for a long time. Sadly, when I’ve had time to spare the weather tends to be cold and windy – the hot, sunny days are all very busy!
Today though, the ponies had got very hot and sweaty on a long hack so they needed washing down anyway and I took the opportunity to give Galahad a proper bath (my sister was in charge of Cookster). It felt amazingly good to be doing it (nostalgic too – it took me right back to my childhood) and it certainly made Galahad look very sleek and shiny.
He was very well behaved too. The last time I bathed him I had a terrible job rinsing out the bubbles – he wouldn’t let me near him with a hosepipe and a bucket of water was even worse. This time he thought about panicking but actually just stood still and even relaxed reasonably well.
Bathing is tiring work!
Naturally neither pony stayed clean for long but I was very pleased to have finally got round to it and it was a lovely way to spend the morning.
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