Thursday, 6 August 2020

Are We Eating As Well As Our Horses?

Apples are great for horses and riders!
There's a new kid on the 'public information' block - the association of obesity with worse outcomes for those who catch Covid-19 - but it's hard to hide anyway from the very clear message that being overweight is bad for your health. By implication, bad health impacts on our NHS by utilising resources and costing £££ and it made me think about how we plan our horse's diets and how we plan our own.

Our horses only drink water - no caffeine, alcohol or fizzy drinks (sweet or diet variants) and most of them eat a diet of feeds grown and nutritionally formulated to deliver optimum, healthy equine nutrition. Obesity in horses and particularly ponies is a growing issue so - or so we're repeatedly told - and good advice on managing weight is easily available.

When it comes to us riders however, it seems that for some, well pretty much anything goes ...  This article - Here's How The Body Reacts To One-Off Overeating - New Research - is an interesting read and is a good explanation of what happens to your body when you decide to eat mulitple portions of cheesy chips, cake and hot chocolate with marshmallows at a show! Overeat often enough, at home or away, and it's easy to see why some riders do become too obese to be properly fit. Riders at the higher levels just aren't obese, as they simply couldn't perform to the required level essential for success.

We receive a lot of information every week in the Equine Extra office and one recent report caught my eye as we all know someone who drinks more alcohol than is 'recommended' for good health, but the latest figures reveal that more working years are now lost to alcohol than cancer! The report is below (in blue text and makes for sobering reading (pun intended!).

Alcohol Kills Country's Working Economy

Almost a fifth of working years of life lost in England in 2018 were due to alcohol consumption, overtaking working years lost to Cancer, the latest data from Public Health England (PHE) shows.


Mortality data for 2018 from the Office for National Statistics was used to calculate the potential working years of life lost for individuals who died before the age of 65 years.


The results published this month (July 2020) show that in 2018, there were an estimated 178,933 working years lost due to alcohol in England which amounts to 18% of the total working years lost, which stands at just over 1 million (1,005,868). 


This is the highest number recorded since 2011. 


The younger the person who dies is, the more they individually contribute, as there are more working years of life lost. The report shows that those aged just 45 to 54 contributed the most, with a total of 57,558 working years of life lost in 2018, closely followed by the 35-44 age group who contributed 47,243 working years of life lost.


Furthermore, the report reveals that liver disease – 60% of which is caused by alcohol – is now the leading cause of death in those aged between 35-49 years old.


Premature deaths from liver disease due to alcohol consumption led to nearly 50,000 working years of life lost in 2018.


Public Health England has also revealed that working years lost to alcohol are far greater than the total combined working years lost to the 10 leading causes of cancer death in 2018.


The 10 leading causes of cancer death led to 136,559 working years lost in England, which is around 40,000 years fewer than the estimated years lost due to alcohol. 


In 2018, men (131,403) had almost 3 times more working years of life lost than women (47,530).


Nuno Albuquerque, Head of Treatment at alcohol addiction treatment experts UKAT comments on this report;

“Unfortunately, alcohol-related deaths often occur at relatively young ages, and so it is important to consider the wider impact alcohol has on both the individual and society. 


“Reports like this one are instrumental in our understanding of the problem, but most importantly, in using the information to instigate positive change. But where is the Government’s commitment to tackling alcohol abuse in this country? Why are our leaders continuing to bury their heads in the sand about how impactful alcohol is?


“These figures clearly show that more and more potential working years of life in this country are lost to alcohol, even more so than the 10 leading Cancers combined. Our working economy is being killed off by alcohol- a substance so socially embedded and accepted, yet so dangerous and addictive.


“This is frightening, and if this information does not instigate immediate action by our Country’s leaders, then what will?”


For help and support with alcohol misuse, visit

Just think how many calories there are in alcohol too! It's probably the only 'drug' you ever have to apologise for not taking - think about it - it's true!

I've also been following the increasingly vocal vegan movement and whilst I personally couldn't accept either the air miles involved in too many of the 'ingredients' in vegan cooking, nor the seemingly inevitable struggle to ensure that our human vitamin and mineral requirements are met without supplements, I do enjoy cooking and eating vegetarian meals - and each to their own. However I don't accept the environmental argument either - and this article, widely published last year - 'Vegans Don't Realize Billions Of Animals Are Killed Growing Crops' Says Pig Farmer - will probably be something of an eye-opener if you haven't read it before. I'd suggest that if you need to somehow defend your dietary choices, then just perhaps you aren't comfortable with them either??

In the UK, we can't say that good quality food isn't easily available. British-farmed, meat, vegetables and fruit are produced to high ethical standards right across the UK and our landscapes owe a lot to farming practices, both current and in the past. So you don't have to buy factory-farmed or imported foods and we can all easily choose the diet we want to eat, staying healthy at the same time.

It's just the same for our horses. Decent grazing is always going to be the cheapest feed you can get and the good feed companies will advise on balancing your horse's forage correctly, depending on his workload and breeding. So next time you look up information about your horse's diet and scrutinise his weight, take the same time to think about your own too; after all if you're fit and not fat, your horse is far more likely to enjoy your rides and as you will potentially be a better balanced and effective rider - you can read more about that here - The influence of rider:horse bodyweight ratio and rider‐horse‐saddle fit on equine gait and behaviour - It will be interesting to read all the follow up work as it is published.

The phrase 'you are what you eat' can be readily dated back to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in 1826, in his seven-volume book The Physiology of Taste, but it's just as true today.  Our horses are what they eat and so are we. We spend a lot of time, energy and £££ to keep our equine friends both healthy and sound and it makes sense to do the same for ourselves. Food for thought ...

Pam Harrison, Editor, Equine Extra

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Be Brave - Admit You Don't Know Enough About It!

A trainer’s perspective on assessing the fit of saddles by Freelance Trainer Josella Scott.
Based in south west Scotland, Josella’s extensive ‘cv’ includes sourcing and training show jumping horses and their riders, both in the Middle East and Europe, before moving back to the UK and her native Scotland. She now trains riders at every level, from Pony Club to affiliated event riders, with a focus on the jumping disciplines.

Many moons ago, when I was just starting out on my career as a Riding Instructor, I recall I dared to pass comment and judgement about saddles and their fit. It seemed easier to remark on the crookedness of the rider or the horse’s unbalanced way of going and blame it all on the saddle.

When I think of those times I positively cringe. “What was I thinking of ?!”

It was a bit like asking a Dental Nurse to carry out complex deep root canal treatment. I simply was neither qualified nor knowledgeable enough to advise at all. Saddle Fitting was not my area of expertise. Therefore I learnt the hard way, by being proven wrong. There is nothing worse than having to apologise for giving incorrect advice and eating a large slice of humble pie.

Decades on I am certainly older and dare I say a little wiser when it comes to clients’ questions about their saddle. I simply refer them to a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter.

These people understand how saddles are constructed, most can adjust the flocking or totally re-flock your saddle if necessary. They know what types of trees are available and what may suit your horse. They know the different ways that a panel can be made to facilitate a good fit and where girth straps could be fitted to achieve maximum position and comfort. They have access to a good quality and varied stock of saddles. They understand the importance of balance in the saddle and how to achieve this along with how a horse might change in his carriage or way of going when ridden. They are able to tell if your saddle is of good or poor quality and assess its suitability for use. They know which pads could help your horse and which could harm him. In addition, they have to abide by a code of conduct, have a complaints procedure with the Society of Master Saddlers if things do go wrong and they have insurance cover. The list of what they know about fitting saddles is encyclopaedic!

In fact, they can be trusted to sort most problems, replace, adjust or adapt your saddle to allow you to carry on enjoying your riding with the re-assurance you have done right by your horse, who will be eternally grateful to you.

Now, I ask you. Do you think that your instructor has all of these attributes? I think not!

One such expert is Kay Hastilow , Master Saddler and Master Saddle Fitter (pictured left). Kay has launched an informative 2-part video series distilling her 50 years of experience into what is an unrivalled resource for all Riders and Trainers interested in Saddles and Saddle Fitting.

The first video looks at Conformation and Movement of the Horse, Types of Tree and their Influence, Different Panels and the Position of Girth Straps.

The second video explains How to Assess a Saddle for Soundness, Straightness and Safety, Recognising a Good Fit, the Balance of a Saddle, When Saddles Move and finally, Rider Influences.

I cannot recommend these videos highly enough. If you have any questions about any aspect of saddle fitting then look no further...

Monday, 11 March 2019

Royal International Qualifiers at Northumberland County

The Northumberland County Show, held on Bank Holiday Monday, 27th May, set in the beautiful parkland of Bywell Hall in the Tyne Valley, features hundreds of competitive livestock classes for horses, cattle, sheep, alpacas, pigs, fur and feather, and many more. The Equine Section is renowned for its quality and variety, with a huge range of competitions, challenging courses, superb judges and excellent location.

BSPS Pony Competitions have always featured strongly at the Northumberland County Show. After a record attendance the show’s commentator, Mrs Jo Jefferson, Mr and Mrs Baxter from The Wooden Horse Company, the show’s course builders, plus several high profile competitors, approached the organisers with an idea. They all felt the show was of such quality and prestige that it warranted a request to become a Royal Qualifier. This prestigious honour is rarely granted on a first application, however, Head of Equine, Mandy Charlton told us, “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded Royal International Qualifiers in five classes of our Kirkley Hall Working Hunter Pony Section. This is a real coup, and enhances our status as one of the premier equestrian events in the north.”

The classes include WHP Nursery Stakes, WHP 133cm, WHP 143cm, WHP 153cm and Open Intermediate WHP 158cm. This is the last qualifier of the season, so it promises to be an exciting day. Entries are open this week and competitors should go to the show’s website to view the Equine Schedule and to enter any classes online before the closing date of 26th April.

The Stratstone British Showjumping Arena offers classes from Novice Open 90cm up to the prestigious National Open 1.3m with the opportunity to qualify for the British National Championship with two double clear rounds.  The Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) Section continues in its popularity, with showing and ridden classes and a Championship competition. Traditional favourites such as the Mountain and Moorland Section, Side Saddle, CHAPS and Hunter classes attract hopeful competitors from across the country.

There are many things to see and do around the show field. This year the Northumberland County Show is celebrating the Forestry Commission’s Centenary year with awe-inspiring Axemen, pole climbing and fire walking. Visitors of all ages will enjoy and forest themed art competitions, meeting Forestry Wildlife Rangers and wildlife experts; there is a display of vintage forestry vehicles and equipment, a Mountain Rescue truck, a rally car and historic vans and lorries. The Gruffalo will be there and little ones will love the Zog Trail through the woods. The Forestry Commission is giving away free trees to the public and staff from nearby Kielder Forest will be promoting their outdoor activities and holidays.

With live music and great food; fun fair; Cumberland Wrestling; Children’s Area with mini-tanks, pony and donkey rides, climbing wall; gun dog scurry; tug of war; owl encounter; and over 350 trade stands, there’s something for everyone. For tickets, schedules and information visit and join in the conversation on facebook