New House!! New House! :D Saturday, Feb 23 2008 

I haven’t blogged for AGES it seems and a lot has happened since the last update. The most exciting thing, for me at least, is that we’ve finally found and now bought our new house.

When we first decided to move back to Denmark, one of the reasons was the hope of finding a really nice house with some land and stables. Property prices in the UK were awful and buying what we wanted seemed impossible; at least for many years. Like many horse owners, I’ve always wanted my horses at home and mounting livery bills were making it more of an interest to my fiance.

In January, we spotted a beautiful house advertised quite close to where we currently are with a small yard attached to it. We called to try and get a viewing but the advert did say the place was under offer and sadly, the new owners had signed a day before we called. While looking at the place on the internet, my other half spotted another house. It was further away (although closer to where he works), with six stables and a few acres. We hadn’t really planned to start looking for anywhere, but we made an appointment (always a bad thing ;p).

The place was ideal for us without a doubt and we decided to put in an offer. A few days and some negotiations later and the offer was accepted. We’re a few weeks on now and the deposit has been paid securing us the house and a moving date of April the first (a BAD day to move imo!).

So piccies anyone? 🙂

The Farm House

The above is the picture of the actual house. It’s a three bedroomed farm house with a beautiful thatched roof (a complete weakness of mine!)

The Outbuildings

Opposite the house are two outbuildings that make an L shape looking onto the courtyard. These were originally used as cow sheds but are currently empty. The stables are currently positioned behind these buildings. Our plan is to take up the floor in these sheds and move the stables to these buildings. This will have the horses looking out onto the courtyard (and put the stables in view from the house!)

The Stables

The above shows the stables themselves. There are 6 loose boxes of about 12 ft by 12 ft. The tack room can just be seen to the left of this picture. Behind where the photographer is stood is a closed haybarn with a huge amount of storage for forage and bedding. The stables need some work but are useable. Eventually, we will probably pull this building down completly after moving the stables to the barns. If you go out of the door at the end of the view on this picture, it leads to the riding “area” and a path to the grazing; which is split between two fields. The riding area is very basic… theres no surface down – its clearly just an area they’ve used to ride on. Our intention is to expand on the area used to about 20 x 40 / 60 metres and to place a proper riding surface down. The stables all have automatic drinkers in them 🙂

Hay Barn

The previously mentioned hay barn!

Master Bedroom

The above shows the master bedroom. The bedrooms are quite dark as they are set up, into the roof, putting the windows quite low down. This picture doesn’t really do the size much justice either! There is a dressing room off to the left of this picture (thank god!)

Bedroom 2

The second bedroom; currently used as a nursery but soon to be a computer room. This is a lovely room but was claimed very fast by my other half 😉

Bedroom 3

Bedroom 3 – soon to be the guest room. It’s quite small but its lighter and airier than the master bedroom!

Upstairs Hall

The upstairs hall way. The master bedroom is just behind where the photographer is stood, with the other two bedrooms being ahead of him. The full size windows and doors to the right lead out onto the balcony.

Garden

The balcony can be seen here, along with part of the garden. The garden is rather large which isnt really shown here. Its got a pond and a hedge row enclosing the whole area in. It needs some fencing work however due to our resident husky 😉

Kitchen

Onto the kitchen and a major selling point for my fiance. The kitchen is almost brand new and its really large. The room to the right is one of two dining rooms. Off to the left is a utility room.

Kitchen 2

The kitchen taken from the entry to the first dining room. Its lovely and airy! Im planning on stripping the paint work off the ceiling beams to varnish them instead. Did /i mention they are leaving behind the beautiful new SMEG fridge?

Kitchen 3

Dining Room 1

One of the two dining rooms!

Lounge

This is the lounge; taken from the point where the television currently is. The lounge spans the full width of the house and is huuuuuge! To the right, the windows look out over the courtyard (and eventually the stables). To the left, over the garden. Theres also a full length glass door out onto the patio area. Again, I want to strip the beams on the ceiling.

Lounge 2

The lounge again, taken from just behind one of the sofas and showing the wood burning fire.

So there we have it! The only thing remaining to be mentioned are our newly acquired four legged friends. When looking around the house, the first stop was with the stables (my main interest anyway). There were two small residents in one of the loose boxes; two donkeys! I spent quite a bit of time talking to them as Ive always liked donkeys. Imagine our surprise then when we received a phone call a few days after the offer was accepted, asking if we would like to offer a home to the two resident donkeys. It works well for us since they will be company for Jack anyway. As such, the donkeys will be staying to live with us 🙂

I can’t wait to move, March is going to be the longest month ever. Ive been very lucky with the farrier and despite the fact that our new house is somewhat out of his way, he has agreed to keeping shoeing Jack. This is a huge relief since Jack now has natural balance shoes and these have made a massive difference to his low heels. The lovely lady who brought him over from the UK for me has also agreed to transport him for me. I hate travelling him as he did have a bad experience in 2006 when he fell down in the back of a box and had his legs trapped under a metal partition!

Arg! I want to move! 😀

Early Preparatory Work Thursday, Jan 24 2008 

Lunging is done for a number of reasons.

One can be to allow an exciteable or young horse time to release energy prior to ridden work. Another can be to warm up a horse prior to work under the saddle. It can also form the basis of good ridden work and, in itself, can serve as a lesson for the horse.

Indeed, early work on bending and flexing the horse can begin on the ground and start to familiarise the horse with the aids he will experience when the rider is onboard.

As mentioned in the previous article, pressing the bit against the horse’s tongue will cause pain to the horse. This will result in evasions and defensive behaviour from the horse. Riding with low hands creates exactly this problem. It’s generally referred to as riding with a “backward” hand as the rider exerts a backwards rein aid in order to ask the horse to come rounder. There are two common evasions. Firstly, is raising the head above the bit and hollowing. Second, is ducking behind the bit and becoming overbent. Be assured that they are both evasions and both should be discouraged and corrected at an early age!

For the horse to become confident with the riders hands, he or she needs to be encouraged to play with the bit. This is achieved by mobilising the tongue. This simply isn’t possible if the very action of the rider’s hands exerts a pressure directly onto it. As such, a gentle nudging action at the corners of the mouth is much preferable. This doesn’t cause the pain associated with using the bit action on the tongue and nor does it restrict the tongue preventing the horse from playing and ultimately accepting the bit in his mouth.

Another thing to note at this point is that the horse should not be encourage to lean on the bit; seeking it as almost a 5th leg. The horse should carry his own head.

There is a common misconception in the horse world. This being that a low hand is needed to encourage the horse to drop his head and a high hand will encourage a horse to come above the bit and hollow. Quite the opposite is infact true. The horse’s neck acts as a massive lever to the rest of the body. Raising the horse’s head high will cause a redistribution in the weight from the forehand to the quarters. Raising the head enough will cause the horse to take a step backwards.

How to Begin

With the horse in his usual bridle, the handler should hold both the bit rings with each hand. A gentle pressing action upwards towards the ears will result in the horse taking a step backwards. Here we can see how the early teaching of reinback can begin from the ground.

Next, holding only the inside bit ring, a gentle upwards action should be applied to bring the horse’s head round to the inside. This will result in the horse dropping from the poll.

The reason?

It is mechanically impossible for a horse to raise his head high while flexed to the side. Consider this as follows:

The weight of the rider and the pressure on the mouth frequently results in a horse hollowing his back and raising his head; the frequently named star gazer outline. This causes the lower neck muscles to elongate. The upper neck muscles and the back muscles contract.

Now consider the following:

If the horse’s neck is bent considerably to one side, his inner neck muscles contract and the outer muscles extend. While in such a position, the horse, physically, can not raise his head and contract the upper neck muscles.

Thus, bending the horse’s neck laterally will result in a dropping of the poll. Incidently, this is frequently seen in riders employing rollkur; where the horse is ridden over deep and with strong lateral flexion. The difference is, here, the lateral flexion is used to teach the horse to lower the poll and immediatly, the hand is released. The bend is created with an upward nudge of the rein, encouraging self carriage and exerting pressure on the edges of the mouth. In rollkur, the hand is set low and the bend created with either a fixed hand (frequently combined with a strong curb rein), or with the use of auxillary reins such as the draw reins. In this scenario, the head is kept in strong lateral flexion with constant pressure applied to the tongue.

Through exerting small amounts of upwards pressure on the bit rings from the ground, early lateral work can also be taught; for example, shoulder in. This is usually started on a small circle with the rider using a lunge whip to control the quarters and replace their own leg.

It is vital to note that while working a horse from the ground like this, ANY over bending should be strongly corrected. This is done with an upward nudge on the bit rings again. Similarly, if the horse leans on the bit and stops supporting his own head, the same correction should be applied.

Correction Work

With a horse that has a tendency to work very hollow under saddle, working from the ground like this can form the base of correctional work. In this case, the rider should hold the outside rein with one hand and position it at the horse’s poll. The inside bit ring can be held directly. Walk the horse around on a 20 metre circle exerting small amounts of upwards pressure on the bit rings. The horse will respond by dropping his poll and the rider should release the pressure as a reward. Once the horse becomes more compliant, the outside rein can first be moved to approximately half way down the neck and, eventually, the outside rein can be passed over the neck and layed loose so that the horse learns to respond to just being asked by the inside rein.

From the ground, the horse is therefore learning that the correct response to a nudge of the bit is to lower the head, it’s also the most comfortable option.

The Aim of Ground Work

Following these exercises will result in a number of benefits prior to ridden work commencing (and indeed as a useful partner to ridden work).

The horse will be familiar with the rider’s voice aids.
He’ll have learned the correct response to hand aids from the rider.
He’ll be familiar with reinback
He’ll be familiar with shoulder in.

This is a fabulous basis for the early education of the young horse or the correction of undesireable behaviour in the older horse.

The Early Lunging of the Young Horse Thursday, Jan 24 2008 

The earliest education of the young horse begins on the ground. People often underestimate the importance of this stage, or, due to ignorance, already begin to create problems that will effect the horse for the rest for his or her life.

The Lunging Equipment.

Lunging should be done from a lunging cavesson. This can either be placed over the top of the bridle or used alone. The cavesson should be padded across the nose to protect the delicate nose area.

Finding a good lunging cavesson these days can be quite hard. Too much padding around the nose results in the handler being unable to get a correct fit. This can cause the noseband to spin when lunging which can then cause the cheek pieces on the outside to slide onto the outside eye. Needless to say, this isn’t pleasant for the poor horse.

Personally, I much prefer cavessons made of good quality leather. The noseband should be padded (much like the padding you would expect on a good cavesson noseband)

A lunging cavesson

In addition to the lunging cavesson and lunge line; the rider should equip themselves with a lunging whip and, vitally important, gloves. Exciteable horses and the rough webbed material most commonly used in lunge lines make for a bad combination – preserve your hands at all costs.

Why a Cavesson?

Many people choose to attach the lunge line directly to the bit rings. Either by clipped to the outside ring, threading over the poll and then through the inside bit ring before feeding to the hand; or by clipping to the outside ring, threading behind the chin and then through the inside bit ring.

There are a number of problems with attaching a lunge line directly to the bit. Firstly, you will create nut cracker action on the horses tongue which will be particularly painful. There is a discussion later about the action of the hands on the horses mouth and how detrimental backwards hands – which press on the tongue – can be.

The long term preservation of the delicate mouth is vital for the schooling of the young horse!

Horses can be unpredicatble on the lunge; displaying playfullness. Such headshacking or bouncing around can cause the rider to jab at the horses mouth, even accidently.

Aside from the physical damage that both these problems can cause to the mouth; there is the psychological damage. For a horse to work correctly under saddle, he or she has to be able to trust the rider’s hands. If, from a young age and in the earliest education, the horse is taught that the bit causes pain; the prospect for good work under saddle isn’t good.

Some people choose to lunge from a headcollar or halter, believing that they are being kind to their horse. The problem here is that the handler has very little control at all over the horse. So, when working your horse from the ground, it is preferable to exert pressure onto the nose than to the mouth. This should ensure the handler some degree of control without the risk of damaging the oh so precious mouth.

The Use of Auxilary Reins and Gadgets

The horse should be allowed to move in his or her natural state. This means being free of constricting gadgets or reins. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, again, most of these cause pressure on the tongue which will cause pain to the horse. For the reasons above, we wish to avoid this at all costs. Secondly, many of these gadgets or reins do not work and cause additional pain or stress to the horse. The specific problems with individual gadgets will be discussed later. Thirdly, part of educating the horse should involve being able to change the rein without returning to halt. This is impossible unless the lunge is attached to the centre ring of a cavesson and the handler doesn’t have the additional job of switching reins and gadgets around with every change of direction. Lunging should be able gymnasticising the horse from word go. How is this possible when every change of direction takes five minutes to achieve?

Keep things simple. Being able to watch the horse moving, free of constraining influences is always refreshing and useful at identifying early problems.

The Position of the Handler and the Horse

The rider should be parallel to the horse at all times when lunging (with the exception of preparing for a change of direction.) The horse and rider should create a triangular shape; the horse as the base of the triangle. The lunge line being one side and the whip being the third with the rider comprising of the point.

The Correct Position of Horse and Handler

The horse should move according to the rider. This should allow large circles, small voltes and changes of direction to be performed simply. Thr only pressure that the rider should attempt to exert on the horse, is to bend him inwards slightly. The primary aid should be the voice. At the earliest level, lunging familiarises the horse with the voice and the commands of the rider. These should therefore, be kept consistent.

The Change of Rein

The change of rein should be done, while in movement and without bring the horse back to a halt. This can be achieved by the rider stepping out infront of the horse and then pacing backwards while sending the horse onto the opposite rein.

So why do this?

Many people associate this as being nothing more than a “trick”; the realm of the competent ground handlers or perhaps the show offs? Indeed, there is a very valid reason for teaching the horse to change rein on the lunge without altering the pace. It is a well documented dominance exercise and a useful tool for creating a healthy relationship between the horse and handler whereby the horse has respect for the handers’ space. In addition, it allows for faster and more frequent changes of rein. Remembering again that lunging should be able the early gymnasticising of the young horse, the more frequent the changes of direction and speed, the better.

Hmmm… When Did I Last Blog?? Tuesday, Jan 22 2008 

Ok, so I confess, it’s been a while since Ive updated the blog. There have been a couple of reasons for this. One being the fact Im still battling with the more serious content on this site and the second being that I’ve had a sick bunny to contend with yet again.

So firstly, to the Avril fans. Avril has been very happy and hyperactive after his miraculous recovery from the myxomatosis at Christmas. That was, until yesterday, when I returned from riding to see him behaving rather strangely. My best description, which at least the horsey readers out there will understand, is that he looked like he was weaving. I watched him for a while until he seemed to snap out of it. During the rest of the evening, he was very very quiet and wasn’t eating nor drinking. This is unlike Avril as he’s somewhat large for a bunny and has the appetite to match. Avril should be an American rocker bunny; everything has to be super sized. I decided to have a closer inspection in the evening and let him out of his cage. Rather than his usual bunny antics (discussed indepth in my previous blog), he just sat and seemed to wobble slightly. Whats more, his head was titled onto one side. To be blunt, he looked drunk.

I spent most of the evening wondering if he’d suffered some sort of minor stroke and today saw little improvement. This afternoon we took him back to the vets. I must admit, I was terrified initially as there was talk of brain problems and all sorts. The vet wandered off to do a little investigation about a bunny parasite problem and returned having spoken to the nice guy who made the myxomatosis diagnosis. Their new diagnosis is a deep ear bacterial infection which is affecting the area of his brain that controls his balance. Generally, he has a wicked headache and is dizzy… my rocker bunny is evidently one with some kind of drug or alcohol infection. The choices we were given were to put him to sleep, or accept that the infection he has is most likely one that will return periodically through out his life and he’ll need drug therapy for it. We naturally went with the latter.

Now at this point Im going to rave slightly about this country. The vets here are amazing. Seeing the bunny, all the discussions (we were in for an hour easily) and three weeks of anti biotics came to around twenty pounds. Whats more, they’ve given us a long term repeast prescription so that whenever we think he’s starting with it again (and they’re predicting every few months-ish), we can just go in and buy the anti biotics. And now I shall slate my home country’s veterinary system, where, after a change in law regarding to the prices they can charge for the actual drugs, they decided to make up for it by placing crazy examination fees on everything. I remember when I could buy and keep small amounts of bute or anti-bi’s for my horses as a “just in case” – long gone are those days in the UK.

Hopefully, Avril will be feeling much improved over the next few days. I am aware that I promised people photographs of him. Unfortunatly, he’s still trying to physically prop himself up against the side of his cage, so I don’t think he’s feeling upto posing for his fans just yet.

Today was fun in general. I got to go shopping with my fiance who gave into my recent whining and took a day off to take me out. First stop; the hair dressers. I was there just a couple of weeks ago attempting to convince the world of my natural blondeness. My fiance was also late collecting me which left me stood out in the snow and wind feeling rather grumpy. The result? I told him Id forgive him if I could have my hair extensions done. By some miracle, he agree’d. (That just shows the sheer quality and impressiveness of my whining. Contact me for lessons by arrangement). A date was settled (February the 2nd) and a time (8am for god sake. I dont generally have a pulse at this time, but apparently, its a lengthy progress and seriously, there was no pun intended!) The colour? Not the lightest blonde they did, but one shade below, with a few pink sections put in. The longest I can get is 44 cm’s, which is not quite as long as I wanted but hey! Throughout this, the tone in my voice was getting higher and higher as the excitement kicked. Upon turning to my poor fiance and asking what he thought, all I got in reply was “Oh yea… really looking forward to this bill”. As we left, I happen to mention how much I loved my hairdressers and how nice they were to me. His theory is that we’re single handedly paying for an extension to their business.

Next port of call was the horsey shop! Jack needed a new saddle cloth and I needed to look at hats as Im told the extensions will probably require a larger hat size. Horsey people understand the intricate nature of choosing a colour for your horse. Not only do you need to consider his or her own coat colour, but of course there is your tack, your bandages or boots and your own clothes. Yes, Im a self proclaimed Dressage Diva. Indeed, the fact this is seemingly used as quite a derrogatory term amuses me greatly. I co-ordinate and Im proud. Im not ashamed that my horse looks amazing.. is there any reason I really should be? (In essence, this comes back to the fact that all horse enthusiasts dislike each other… see a previous blog for my explanations on this.) We finally agree’d on a saddle cloth for him and grabbed the final bits I needed, ASIDE from the gold glitter which he outright refused to buy me (i’ll sneak it in next time).

From here we headed to the lingerie store. In fairness, while I was trying on bras (the sizing is slightly different), I wasnt aware that some girl next door was having a fitting and the rather witchy looking assistant kept yanking back the curtain of the changing room asking her if the items were ok. Seemingly my other half got quite the eye full… Im not sure if he or the poor girl next door was more embarassed (any girl of slightly older years will tell you that this is why you never ever ask for a fitting in these damn places as it seems to be an excuse for aged women who’s breasts have now reached beyond their knees to handle younger girls and fondly discuss their perkier days with fellow workers)

Since Im home bunny-sitting tomorrow, I may have slightly more time to make a longer post about something which makes me grumpy during the course of the day… its not hard to find things 😉 For any readers out there however, please send vibes and cross fingers for my lovely rocker bunny. Hes only a year old and hes far from graced with good health :*(

Avril and the Dead Bunny Flop Friday, Jan 11 2008 

We have another member of the family who I have yet to mention on this blog; Avril my year old bunny.

Avril arrived as a Valentine’s present from my fiance last year. Trips to pet stores were a regular occurance for us and, like many animal crazed individuals, I always liked to have a wander round and look at the small fluffy pets. It was just before Valentines day last year that I first saw Avril. There was, what could only be described as a small black furball bolting round the rabbit enclosure like something posessed. On closer inspection, he had one white foot and a white nose. Best of all, he had a wicked mohican hair-do made of of black fluff. Now, crazy animals always appeal to me. THIS was both crazy and fluffy. While all the other bunnies were chilling, this one was leaping in the air, skidding around the enclosure and jumping ontop of unsuspecting bunnies.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh my god! Hon! Look at the rocker-bunny!”

Rocker-bunny was the best way I could describe him. If this rabbit was human, he would have been the lead singer of a metal band.

“No'”
“But loooooooooooooooooooooooook”
“No!”
“But?”
“No”

So that was that. I got dragged out of the store being told that we didn’t want more animals. Clearly after spending an evening with me whining and protesting about rocker-bunny, my other half changed his mind and went to buy the rabbit. At this point, Id decided he would be called Coby (after Jacoby Shaddix).

While waiting for my boyfriend to arrive how with the bunny next day I was, quite literally, like a kid before Christmas. A few weeks prior to this, Id adopted a pheasant that myself and the dog had found out on a walk; clearly she’d been hit by a car. As it was snowing, I decided I absolutly had to take the pheasant home to stop her freezing. The pheasant, soon to be calle Filly, soon took over the whole of our lounge. Indeed, we lost complete use of it because she clearly didn’t like human company and would hiss and get upset if anyone went in. Sadly, Filly eventually (and predictably) died. I need something new to look after

On his arrival with a small cardboard box and a rather huge cage, my other half told me it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I immediatly paniced thinking my rocker-buns had been sold but upon opening the box, it was very much him! Cue massive amounts of cooing and huggling. The “problem” he was referring to was that the bunny was a girl. There went his name. Shortly after, bunny became known as Avril.

Now, when we decided to make the move back to Denmark, a few conditions were put forward from my side. ALL the animals were going with us. That accumulated to two dogs, one horse and Avril the Rocker-Buns. We ended up driving across Europe with the dogs and the bunny and Jack travelled seperatly with a transporter.

Fast forwarding somewhat, just before Christmas, it became obvious that Avril wasn’t well. Avril had been suffering with runny eyes and I assumed this was a dust allergy. When we were both woken early one morning by a strange rasping sound and realised it as coming from the bunny, we rushed to the vets. The one thing I’d been telling myself was that at least we had a house bunny; we couldn’t be looking at myxomatosis. Imagine my devastation then, when the vet said that’s exactly what he suspected. In addition to that was another slight surprise. While examining buns, the vet decided to take a look at the tummy area, and I saw something which initially paniced me. Two lumps and immediatly I was thinking cancer.

“Well, shes a he”
“A what?!”
“She’s a he”
“Thats not what the pet store said!”

We came out of the vets with some strong drugs to try and sort the myxomatosis, information suggesting the likelyhood was that bunny would die and the news that she was now a he.

Once again, we’ll fast forward a few weeks and my darling bunny is now well again. Indeed he’s back to his normal and slightly hyper active self. Since he’s been sick, Ive naturally been more observant about him and I was frequently commenting to my fiance that he often made me think he was dead. He’d lay in the strangest positions, eyes closed and completly out of it. Yet everytime I’d wander over or call his name, he’d jump up and act normally.

This lunch time was one of those times but to an extreme! I was making lunch and glanced over at the bunny’s cage. We’d changed his bedding yesterday so he now has a nice fluffy straw bed. I could see his white foot stuck in the air… He was layed flat out on his side, slightly closer to being on his back, legs in the air, head resting flat out and eyes closed. I could, however, see him breathing. At this point I called my other half over to take a look. He wandered over to check and sure enough, once the bunny could hear you, he jumped up and was fine.

Five minutes or so later…

“Its the dead bunny flop”
“Excuse me?”
“Thats what they call what he’s doing! It’s the dead bunny flop and a sign of contentment”

I decided I needed to investigate this further and did some googling. Sure enough, there were pages popping up all over with the titles of “Oh My God! My Bunny is Dying!!!” followed by answers detailing this bizarre bunny behaviour. Still somewhat disbelieving that there was actually a known behaviour called the Dead Bunny Flop, I carried on reading sites about bunny behaviour.

So here I present the a-z of bunny behaviour

The Binky:-

This is a display of happiness! When the bunny can no longer contain his or her delight, it may leap in the air, kicking it’s heels together.

Bunny 500s:-

Here the bunny leaps into the air and does a 180 degree turn.

Chinning:-

This is a terrotorial type behaviour where the rabbit will rub his or her chin over objects or people to say “mine!” Mine does this rather frequently when out of his cage… and over pretty much anything he comes across. While hes certainly layed claim to me, he hasn’t yet attempted this with our Siberian Husky.

The Dead Bunny Flop:-

As mentioned above. This can occur quite suddenly and unexpectandly and often, bunnies will make a rather large banging noise as they flop over. Quite literally, it looks like they just flopped over dead. Fear not however! This is another sign of contentment and relaxation from a bunny comfortable in his or her surroundings

Thumping:-

Either a demand for attention or a scolding of something he doesnt like. Bunnies may do this when wanting food or attention from their owners. Alternatively, they may resort to this when you have done something they dislike such as clipping their nails.

Tooth Purring:-

In this instance, a bunny will gently grinding their teeth creating a slight nibbling sound. This is a sign of happiness and contentment.

So there we have it. The first animal I have come across that literally does a death scene through happiness. I’m pretty happy that horses can’t do this thats for sure. My bunny is on the large side by bunny standards and creates a pretty lound noise when he flops, imagine the minor earthquake a horse would create. Avril should certainly get an oscar nomination for the number of times Ive been caught screaming “Avril?!!?!!?!? Are you dead?!”

In other news, I have repetitive strain injury from using the laptop too much. Ive suffered with this before, mainly due to my refusal to sit in anything vaguely resembling a good posture when using the PC… and I use the PC a LOT. I seem to have a real aversion to sitting correctly. I like sitting with my knees up or tucked underneath me. Since the arrival of the new laptop I’ve emigrated from the computer tables to the coffee table allowing me to sit in the arm chair and watch TV at the same time. The result is RSI! Ive got to say, its the strangest pain Ive had though. My shoulders and arms feel somewhat like they’ve been burned, then had a million needles stuck into them… they’re actually quite numb until I try to move and then I get a bizarrre prickly sensation. Ive been told to rest… So naturally, Im blogging about it 😉

Denmark In a Good Light and The Evilness of Felines. Wednesday, Jan 9 2008 

Ok, frankly, today has been rather quiet so I don’t have anything specific to blog about. Sooooo, Im just going to start randomly writing and see where it goes and whether any rants spew forth.

I’ve been blogging a lot recently about what I don’t like about Denmark. My fiance who happens to read this blog mentioned to me that perhaps it was worth considering what I did like about Denmark.

First up and most importantly for me has to be the people. The Danish people are amazing. They seem to be friendlier and generally more sociable than the Brits. An example would have to be the livery yard I’m on. Horsey people are famously bitchy. There’s just no getting around this; we will be bitchy about everything. Dressage riders don’t like showjumpers because they can’t ride properly. Showjumpers hate dressage riders because they over ride everything and have a tendency of becoming snobby. Eventers think they’re superior to both because they have to tackle all three discipline… everyone else calls them jack of all trades, masters of none. Endurance riders are the ones who daren’t do anything aside from hacking at speed. Hunters are cliquey. It goes further than this though… full livery clients hate DIYers (a.k.a The Green Welly Brigade) who, in their opinion, mess up the yard, mess up the routines and have a strange fascination of making things out of bailer twine. DIYers hate full livery’s as they don’t have the commitment to horse ownership and use money to make up for a deficit of care. Part liveries… no one likes them because they can’t decide which side of the debate to join. Horse people will argue over EVERYTHING and depending on which side of the fence you sit on over certain issues; you can frequently expect to be accused of being cruel. Add to this that most horse owners at amateur level are female and livery yards become a cess pit of bitchyness. Not only can they be catty over how their fellow liveries horses are cared for and ridden, but they can also be bitchy about how their fellow liveries look, dress, how their hair is and so on.

As such, when I agree’d to move back to Denmark, a major concern of mine was Jack and where we’d keep him. The plan was to move so we could look at buying a property with land and stables, but that was more long term. The fact was, I had to go on livery. I’d be the proverbial new girl. To make it worse, I don’t speak the language. I was expecting the worse to say the least.

My horse, for example, feels the cold something terrible. When Jack and I met, it became clear to me that our relationship was fate. He was, without doubt, the equine version of me. Jack shivers at the first sign of a summer breeze. I had him on loan for a month before the sale was agreed and I remember retrieving him from the field in a heavyweight winter carpet; a wug to be precise. I asked the yard owner if there had been a mistake with his rug… it was only the middle of September. No mistake, I was told, Jack feels the cold. Fate! I have the circulation of a corpse. When everyone else is enjoying temperature of mid twenties in the summer months, I can be found with a blanket round my shoulders. My blood cells are fat and lethargic and rather than whizzing round my body keeping things warm, they’re sat yawning and watching eastenders. There was no doubt, Jack and I were meant to be. However, let me be frank; Im an over protective owner. He’s booted up to do anything more strenuous than being stood outside for a brush. His legs are wrapped for most of the year to stop him banging them in the stable. He has an air bag filled saddle because Im precious over his back. I won’t use gadgets of any kind and his bridle is a simple snaffle with a cavesson noseband (to prevent my trainer from over titening those awful cranks that are all the fashion)

Right from Jack and I arriving, people were lovely to us. They humoured my “British ways” and tried to help me understand why they did things differently. Some people were clearly reluctant to speak English but most gave it their best shot and introduced themselves and, over time, the more reluctant became more confident. While the Danes generally have excellent English, the equine terminology isn’t something that they would have come across. While their English education starts at an early age, there is no doubt that it continues and is vastly expanded through movies and television. Lets face it, there aren’t many of those around that would be discussing the finer points of dressage training or veterinary care of our four legged friends. An excellent example of this was when I was told my horse had rot on his legs….

“My horse has WHAT?!”‘
“Rot! His legs are rotting”
“Jack’s legs are rotting…?”

This resulted in a pretty furious drive to the stables to find he had the tiniest bit of mud fever on his legs.

“Rot!”
“That’s mud fever”
“Ohhhhh, we call it muck. Translated to rot best”

A similar panic occured when I was sent a text message saying he had foot sour. This turned out to be a touch of thrush.

When he first arrived, I was told, quite enthusiastically by the stable master that it was recommended that all working horses went on the machine. THE MACHINE. This worried me immensly. I had visions of some kind of electric shock therapy used as a training method or such like. THE MACHINE turned out to be the horse walker.

Throughout all these language difficulties, the staff have remained enthusiastic of trying to learn the lingo and making sure I know what’s going on with Jack. I have to give massive kudos to them for that.

Next up, Im going to mention my hair dresser. Yes, I know we have hair dressers in the UK. Perhaps I’ve been unlucky with mine but they were forever trying to talk me out of things. I’ll admit that I tend to go to extremes with my hair and once I have an idea in my head, it needs to be done immediatly. This has caused me no end of problems with hairdressers who, after listening to me excitedly explain my new idea, tells me that maybe we’ll go with a toned down version first to see if I like it. I usually walk out with my hair a couple of shades different and generally feel disappointed. I must admit, going to the hair dresser for the first time here was daunting. Trying to explain what it is you want can be hard enough in your own language but when the hair dresser isnt a native speaker?! Never the less, I wanted a drastic change to my hair so I had to bite the bullet and go. My hair dresser rocks. He’s called Kim, he was very honest with me from word go and he tries his best to do what I want. Not just that, but he throws out new ideas that I might like and he’s really taken his time to get a feel for my style. So, when an English girl turned up on his door with almost black hair and declared “I want to be blonde… I want to be platinum blonde with pink stripes. It needs to look punkish! I wanna look like Avril Lavigne” his only answer was that it might take a few months to get it that blonde. He ordered in pink colour especially for me; hes since ordered in reds, blues and purples and his last idea was hair extensions putting my hair to my waist. No more two shades change. No more hair dresser who seems semi-terrified of me throwing a hissy fit because I don’t like what they do; Hello a hair dresser that gets me.

Incidently, referring back to my rather spoilt horse, I logged on Facebook earlier to find he had 7 requests for friendship. Evidently, Jack’s friendship is more in demand than mine! Im now starting to consider how I will feel when the day arrives that Jack can proudly display more friends than I do. On that note, I’ve still been pondering the psychological consequenes of maintaining virtual relationships on behalf of my four legged beastie. Could it be some kind of displacement? Perhaps I’m portraying subconscious areas of my own psyche onto Jack! Perhaps his virtual popularity is what I secretly yearn for? This is definitly something I will be pondering more, perhaps while I’m in the hairdressers at the weekend getting blonded up and having my pink stripes put back in.

Finally, while this is completly off topic, I wanted to mention the house cats here. When I first lived in Denmark, 5 years ago now, we bought me a kitten; called Fluffy. When we moved back to the UK, we took our newly acquired husky with us, but left the cat behind as we thought they’d be less likely to settle. My cat turned out to be the local whore and pumped out a couple of litters of kittens before she finally got “fixed”. Incidently, in personal objection to this, she ran away shortly after. She was spotted by the neighbours running round the forest close by. This does add up since her first litter (of which theres actually only one resulting cat), showed that she has a certain fondness for “roughing it.” To put it another way, theres quite clearly some feral cat in the resulting off spring. My darling fluffy clearly liked a bit of the rough. That kitten is now a couple of years old and has to be the strangest looking kitty in existance. She’s long furred, short tailed and just generally strange. She can be found sleeping in the strangest places outside. Just last night my fiance dragged her in after finding her bedded down in a pile of leaves on the window ledge to the basement windows. (The windows are technically below ground level, so they have a sort of dug out area infront of them that allows some light to get in.

Im not generally a cat person. To be blunt, they don’t like me. I actually really like cats, but I take personal offence to the fact that, as a species, they just don’t like me. My fiance says I’m too huggly and bouncy for them. For me, anything small and fluffy is place on the earth to be hugged and cuddled. Frequently what happens is that I’ll see said kitty lazing around. I have an urge to huggle said kitty. Due to the fact that by nature, they’re sneaky little balls of evilness, Im fully prepared to sneak up and pounce on them unsuspectingly. For me, its a case of playing them at their own game. Consequently, I frequently get scratched by a cat trying to wriggle it’s way out of my arms. Hissing Im used to. This has become a personal vendetta against the cat species. The more they hate me, the more I want to hug them. I’m going to hug them into loving me. Despite all this, Im quite taken with Fluffy’s bizarre looking result of her flirtation with the rougher side of cat society. I have respect for them both. Perhaps because I have a soft spot for tattoo emblazened rock stars.. I can fully appreciate Fluffy’s desire for one night with a feral cat. Now, Im not even sure what said illigitimate child cat is called, but for me, she’s Lil-fluff. Much to her disgust, I stuck a camera in her face earlier and here are the (not so great) results.

Lil Fluff

Aaaaaaaaw

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!!!!

Sleep Kitty

These pictures sadly don’t do her fluffyness justice. I’ll try and take some more when it’s light but she was laid on a dark duvet in a darkened room. If it had been any other cat, I would have dragged it off the bed and made it stand in the light to be photographed (again, I’m stressing that cats and I don’t get along), but this is Lil Fluff and I didn’t want to disturb her 😀

Gizmo

Lastly, the remaining cat from Fluffy’s second litter; Gizmo. If this picture doesn’t show the evilness of felines I don’t know what does.

So, enough random blogging for one day! I bid you a good evening dear readers!

Jack Has Friends; Both Virtual and Real! Tuesday, Jan 8 2008 

Today saw the snow subside and the rain return. On the good side, at least I dared venture out. I embarked on my usual route to the stables (it’s actually a rather new route for me due to the appearance of a roundabout that appeared, quite literally, overnight and was indeed my first experience of going around a round-a-bout the *wrong* way). The route takes me through a couple of small villages. Now, I have a major problem over here in that Im quite clueless about the speed limits. Everything is in kmh rather than mph which is annoying as I have no idea of the conversion rate so spend most of my time ambling along at a speed that “feels right”. Some of the roads naturally have big signs telling you how fast you can go; some don’t. Much like the UK when you are entering a built up area, you are expected to *know* to slow to 30 mph. Its the same here, except Im actually pretty clueless on what Im expected to slow too. Of course, you can just go with the flow of the traffic but Denmark don’t use speed cameras so often people are travelling quite a bit above the limit.

I’ve mentioned before that Ive found driving over here really hard. Initially we brought our car from the UK with us. That resulted in me driving on the wrong side of the road but on the right side of the car. That wasn’t too bad, I could work with it. Eventually, we decided that car was far too expensive, particularly when faced with paying massive tax to re-register it with Danish plates (which, incidently, was going to cost us around 20,000 pounds). As such, we got me a new car, which is great! Except Im now on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car.

Anyway, back to today. Travelling on the usual route to the stables and I slowed down going through one of the villages, as did the car infront. The rest happened all rather fast. There was a van parked at the side of the road and it blinked at me. A very bright red blink out of the back of it. Then it hit me that the speed cameras over here are always placed in the back of an unmarked van; GOD DAMNIT! Upon returning home and explaining to my fiance where I was, it’s emerged that I was doing 60 kmh in a 50 zone and evidently there is now a speeding ticket winging its way here. I don’t see my defense of “my speed felt right'” cutting it to be honest.. although the car infront was doing about the same.

I spent the rest of the journey there feeling this incident was completly unfair since there was no signs telling me what the speed was. By the time I arrived at the stables, it was raining really heavily which was hardly filling me with enthusiasm to ride (yes, I know I have the use of two indoor arenas, but the fact it’s raining OUTSIDE still makes me not want to ride. Psychologically, I feel wet and rained on regardless of the roof.) I wandered in to Jack’s stable to find him missing which was kind of odd since I’d walked past the horse walker and he wasn’t on there. I noticed the doors to the small indoor arena were closed so made a dash for it (it’s raining remember). I opened the doors to find not just Jack wandering around but another horse; a friend!

Now, excuse the surprise here but let me clarify. Horses here rarely go out together. We have one field in summer that is used as group turnout but it’s literally a case of “the strongest will survive!” Its a relatively small field and its free for all… there’s no restrictions on who goes in there or for how long. So it’s a mixed group of mares and geldings with individual horses coming and going all day. For me, that sounded like a recipe for disaster. We then have a number of other fields where the horses go out in ones or twos. However as many of the horses on the yard are owned by the same people, the groups were already very much settled. Jack therefore, was going out alone. This suited me in a way as Id had an awful year with him being bullied none stop and a number of nasty injuries as a result. I did feel somewhat sorry for him as he’s a sociable boy, but the stables are set out in a way that they get plenty of interaction.

Fast forward to now, 8 months on and I open the indoor arena to see Jack with a friend.

“Hi! Sparrow out with mine”

Was the greeting from the groom who has now taken over looking after Jack since his former slave girl left. If a horse could smile, Jack would have been beaming, despite the fact that the rather over excited youngster was almost hanging off him and swinging by the neck cover on his stable carpet. I stayed with them a while chatting to the groom and actually started to pity the younger horse who clearly believed he was just out for a quick 5 minute stretch and role (Jack had different ideas and was running round bucking and squeaking like a crazy horse)

So thats it! Jack now has a friend; a rather enormous chestnut gelding belonging to the groom. Another interesting result came out of this conversation. I mentioned that Jack was 16 this year and the groom said I should consider paying for extra straw so he could have a deeper bed. (To be precise, he said i should pay for extra “yellow stuff for to lie on”) One thing I have always liked about this yard is that they don’t skimp on their beds. We don’t have areas at the front of the stable where it’s just concrete… we have enormous, thick straw beds spanning the full size of the stable. Extra straw sounds fun and images were beginning to pop into my mind of opening the stable door to be met by an avalanche of straw which I had to battle through to find Jack buried in the middle and obviously warm (Jack gets cold.. its why we have so many carpets).

“Extra straw? I’ll have some of that. Where do i sign?”

So now Jack has something scrawled in danish on his stud card which apparently ensures him a deeper bed. I cant wait to see it based on the fact that his bed is already usually well above my knees on “normal” straw rations.

Now, when it came to 2007, one of the biggest new products in terms of the technology scene was arguabley facebook. It seemed to replace MySpace really quickly and I finally gave in over summer and hooked myself up with a page. I must admit, I was surprised at it’s addictiveness and the “haha! I have more friends than you!” statements you could taunt real life friends with never seem to grow old (you know you all do it.)

The ways in which we socialise these days are getting more and more bizarre to be honest but last night, a discovery was made which Im still giggling over. Horsebook! Oh yes, a facebook application that allows you to set up a profile for your horse. Naturally when this was posted on the horsey forum I frequent, I had to join. Thats right, Jack now has a facebook profile and has befriended a number of other horses belonging to members of the forum I use. He has his own profile picture, a list of his favourite activites and treats and his own wall where his horsey friends can post messages for him. Indeed, he’s currently strook up a relationship with a certain mare by the name of Porridge who he now wants babies with. Clearly, this application is going to be a hit with horse owners but you have got to question our mentality for partaking. I was happily posting on Porridge’s profile last night.. posting AS Jack. Yes, I posted on Facebook pretending to be my horse. Seriously, you just KNOW that if a psychologist got hold of this, we’d be locked up somewhere. In this day and age we can get away with it (barely) .. imagine a few years ago though. Would my sanity have been under serious scrutiny if I’d sent a hand written letter addressed to Porridge with Jack spilling his feelings for her? Of course it would! (This is of course ignoring the practicalities of posting a letter addressed to “Porridge” and hoping it arrived. Incidently, I had a friend who stuck a stamp onto a banana and scrawled an address over it in black marker… that never arrived at its destination)

And so concludes todays update, with the exception of a couple of pictures I took of Jack and his new found real friend. I will undoubtedly continue to extend his virtual social network while pondering to myself the psychological implications of conducting relationships on behalf of my horse.

Dude! She has a Camera!

Rollkur – The Basic Disadvantages Tuesday, Jan 8 2008 

One disadvantage to the use of rollkur has been mentioned as an advantage (confusing I know, but it somewhat depends on your views). The shortening of the brachiocephalic muscles which is seen through prolonged use of rollkur creates a high front leg action often admired in the competition arena. On the other hand, it results in a mismatch of the legs through the gaits as the high leg action created in the forelegs isn’t duplicated in the hind legs. This creates a rather disunited looking trot particularly.

Next we move to the horse’s field of vision. Bringing this back to the basics of what horses are; we’re dealing with flight animals – prey animals. Horses in nature are hunted and when faced with something unfamiliar they have seconds to assess whether it is a threat to their lives. Their reaction to something that is a threat? To run of course; that IS a horses’ natural defence. When riding, if a horse perceieves something in the distance, it will raise it’s head and focus on the target – assessing it. When it perceives something closer to it, the head will drop allowing it to shift it’s vision. The horses’ field of vision follows down it’s nose. Imagine then, that as a prey animal, we remove it’s ability to assess it’s surroundings for potential dangers. While this has the “bonus” of giving additional control to a spooky horse (read above in the claimed advantages of rollkur), it has the severe disadvantage of bringing undue stress to the horse. Indeed, the findings of the FEI Veterinary and Dressage Committee employed to investigate the long term effects of the use of rollkur and LDR stressed the necessity for ANY training method to ensure minimum and preferably no undue stress was brought upon the animal.

From a personal point of view, I believe the ethics of limiting a horse’s field of view to the extent of them literally being able to see their own feet is beyond stressful and touching on cruel.

The next problem with rollkur links to another commonly seen site amongst horses ridden in rollkur; excessive salivating of the mouth. Foam stained shoulders are a common site amongst these horses and while some degree of dampening in the mouth is a good thing and seen as a sign of the acceptance of the bit, excessive salivating like this is a problem with a very simple cause. The hyperflexion of the neck and the pinning in of the head reduces the horse’s capacity to actually swallow. The horse tenses his jaw in direct objection to the forcing of the head. This is sometimes masked with overly tight nosebands (I’ll discuss this somewhat in another post).

There is another major category of disadvantages relating to the physiology of the animal. As these require a deeper look at the structural makeup of the horses’ anatomy, it will be discussed later in it’s own section.

Rollkur – The Claimed Advantages Tuesday, Jan 8 2008 

So why use it? Clearly, there must be advantages to such methods? With proponents such as Anky Van Grunsven and Isabella Werth, people who’s list of achievements in the dressage world are vast, there have to be significant advantages to training this way. Afterall, their results speak for themselves, how bad can these methods be?

The number one cited reason for using rollkur is to help lift the abdominal muscles and encourage the horse to work correctly over it’s back. In addition to this, the argument goes one step further. Advocates claim that warmbloods these days are huge and many of the dressage riders are female; legs need to wrap around the barrel of these horses and weight and strength becomes an issue. It is argued, therefore, that the use of rollkur can help female riders activate the backs of their enormous mounts and of course, an underlying aim of dressage is to encourage the horse to round over it’s back correctly (a rounded back being the safest way for a horse to carry a rider without causing physical injury to itself. So for the longterm physiology of the animal, a rounded back is a necessity)

Secondly, the continued and longterm use of rollkur shortens the muscles that connects the base of the skull to the horse’s forearm (the braciocephalic muscle.) Ultimately, this will create a quite extravagent front leg action where the leg is lifted rather high (a trait that appears popular in the competitive world). In itself, this has a drawback however. While the prolongued use of rollkur effects the front legs in this way, it has no effect on the hind legs. The result? A rather disunited looking horse, particularly in the trot gait. If you were to cut the picture in half, the front end doesn’t appear to match the hind end. This disunited looking trot is commonly seen in international dressage arenas and is a tell tale giveaway of the training methods that occur behind the scenes.

In addition to the above points is the argument that it gives additional control to rider’s of excessively spooky animals, or those likely to bolt. Some claim the hyperflexion releases endorphine which have a calming effect. Indeed, the defense of Nicole Uphoff and trainer Henry Boldt over pictures of her training very deeply were that Rembrandt had just spooked and necessited such extreme riding.

Another advantage of rollkur comes from the demands placed on both the horses and riders in the modern dressage world. Expensive horses are saught out by trainers for their more novice clients. Often the fate of these horses is to remain on schooling livery with the trainers to ensure that their standard of work doesn’t deteriorate due to incorrect riding, insufficient work and so on. Many of these owners do, however, expect their horses to compete for them and produce results. An often seen situation is that the owners have neither the time nor the inclination to put in the work to learn how to ride these horses and the trainers are under pressure to produce results and keep these combinations winning. The solution? Create a more rideable animal or one that can, for at least a short term, hold an artificial frame with less influence from the rider. Working horses heavily in a rollkur position builds up muscles across the neck that support this frame. Many riders who support and employ these techniques will claim with jubilation that their horses are light in their hands and therefore must be displaying a degree of self carriage! This is very much not the case and having ridden rollkured horses myself, they are correct in a way. A horse trained heavily in a hyperflexed position will have neck muscles unable to stretch as they should. The result? You can put a novice rider on board and have a horse that maintains this neck curl position through the duration of the test.

In so many novice circles, it is the neck curl that is considered attractive. Untrained eyes don’t care to look over an unconnected back, an outline broken at the third vertebrae or a lazy hindleg; the neck curl is “pretty”. This enables trainers to keep their students content as they are able to go out and win in competitions with relatively little effort required.

A Look At Rollkur – What Is It? Tuesday, Jan 8 2008 

Rollkur, as an issue, has dominated equestrian debate for a number of years now. Contrary to popular belief however, it’s not a “new” technique. It’s use first caused debate in the late 80’s when a photographer took secret pictures of Nicole Uphoff (Germany) working her horse (Rembrandt) very deep and overbent. When the pictures were published, there was a massive public outcry about this but both herself and her trainer (Harry Boldt) denied this was any form of training technique. They argued that the pictures represented a moment in time where the horse had reacted and spooked during work and Nicole had ridden him very deep to regain control. Indeed, the “moment in time” defense has been used numerous times over the years when a rider has come under debate due to this technique.

Rollkur is a rather contentious issue drawing very outspoken advocates on either side of the debate. This frequently leaves some people in the dark, not actually knowing quite what rollkur is but fearing to ask due to the outcry that tends to errupt.

Rollkur is a schooling technique – modern in terms of the grand scheme of things (at least when you consider that the methods of Xenophon are still strictly adhered to by many). As a training method, it is characterised by riding with an extreme hyperflexion of the neck (that is to say, it’s very overbent and frequently with the chin almost touching the chest). Other common terms are LDR (long, deep, round) or indeed, hyperflexion itself. It’s a common site in dressage warm up arenas around the world and this in itself is one of the problems with rollkur.

Rollkur frequently also features strong lateral flexion as seen here.

It is worth noting that fans of LDR will argue there is a difference between it’s methods and rollkur (rollkur tending to be a derrogatory term these days). Their argument being that while they ride their horses in a state of hyperflexion, they also let them out to stretch for periods in between where as people riding in rollkur will not. Perhaps the strongest speaker over these differences is Sjef Janssen, trainer and partner to Anky Van Grunsven, both of whom started speaking openly about the use of these methods relatively recently.

Rollkur forces the horse into a frame that it would never hold itself. As such, it tends to be created either by the use of a strong hand (generally done in a double bridle to allow for hefty use of the curb rein), or via draw reins and other supplementary reins. It can be produced either under saddle or on the lunge (in this case obviously, addition “training reins” have to be employed to create the desired flexion).

Power and Paint - European Pony Championships 2007

I strongly disagree with the use of rollkur, for reasons that will be explained over a number of articles on this blog. I will, however, attempt to present both sides of the argument; looking at the commonly listed reasons for using rollkur.

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