Posted on 9th February 2021 by Sue Tomlinson
Getting up and going again after the Christmas break is always a slightly daunting task, especially with the added difficulties of a global pandemic and the uncertainties it brings! However, we at Team DE are a resilient lot so rather than worry about the start of the season, we are focused on bringing all the horses (and staff…) back up to fitness in a way that means we are all healthy, sound and ready to go when we get the green light.
The British weather is both glorious in its variety (not how Kate would describe it!) and its unpredictable nature and, whilst offering endless opportunities for posts on instagram, it isn’t always that conducive to working outdoors! The day to day management and training of horses can be greatly affected by the weather and the following are just some of the ways we can try to minimise its impact.
First things first, and on a sub zero morning Yard Manager Katie springs into action checking all the automatic drinkers to ensure no one has gone without water overnight. Buckets filled the night before are handed out where needed and breakfasts of reduced hard feed are dished out if more than a few days of bad weather are expected. Meanwhile, Krzysztof assesses the footing around the yard, clearing and gritting where needed to ensure safe footing before any horse is brought out of it’s box.
One of the issues at this time of year is maintaining a consistent work programme, as best laid plans often go to waste when the cold weather strikes and life gets put on hold. As we hit early February most horses have completed their initial road work and are beginning to start working in the school…which presents another challenge as they are what we call ‘half fit’ …or in other words… ‘full fresh’!!! They all know the fun stuff is about to start and they want to get on with it!!!
Icy roads and flighty horses are definitely not a good combination, meaning that hacking is off the table and when the arena freezes over as well, it’s time to make use of our all weather options.
The horse walker is an invaluable bit of kit providing a safe alternative to ridden exercise. Thirty minutes in alternate directions during morning and afternoon yards keeps all the horses moving and provides an opportunity for a groom and rug check under the solarium lights in the cross ties. Legs are washed and checked, rugs changed, feet picked out and painted and any trimming can be done all in the toasty warm ……if anyone is looking for Hayley ……. check the solarium first!!!!!
We also rotate using the Activo-Med magnetic massage rug on some of the older horses to ensure their muscles stay in prime condition during any break in their normal exercise routine.
The two wood chip all weather turnout pens also come into their own at this time of year and it’s busy work for the guys on the yard working out a schedule for all 20 horses to receive a couple of hours out of their boxes to have a good roll and to kick their heels up while the fields are too wet and frozen to use safely.
At this stage in their programmes, even a couple of days in their boxes can be enough turn the quietest horse into a wild loon (naming no names – you know who you are!!), so to avoid issues it’s down to the lunging school for a quick spin before mounting up. We find 10 mins on the walker to warm up the joints and muscles, 10 mins each way on the lunge followed by 10 mins again on the walker to cool off is a great way to settle a half fit horse after a few days without work. Some will benefit more from being out in the pens before being ridden and for others, a quick spin on the walker with their tack on is enough. The key is to know each individual horse, be aware of the importance of warming up and cooling off and of course…. don’t forget your neck strap!!
Having said all this, the most important thing to remember is that there is NO point attempting ANY sort of work outdoors in sub zero temperatures without the vital addition of coffee and hot sausage rolls! With resident ‘Barista Joe’ ready to fire up Luigi (the coffee machine) at a moments notice, all ears during morning yards are finely tuned to the WhatsApp ‘bing’ indicating that the all important survival rations are on their way! As always at Team DE, happy staff make happy horses and as it turns out, even the coldest of mornings can be made bearable with coffee and hot sausage rolls!!