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

Thursday, 27 September 2018

It's A Love Affair!

It’s crazy, the way we horse owners behave with our horses suggests Don Blazer.

No doubt it’s a love affair. A love affair of the heart, but not often a love affair of the mind. But then, seldom does a love affair have anything to do with rational thinking.  Love affairs are crazy.
And what is crazy?
Crazy is mentally unbalanced, deranged, foolish, wild or fantastic.
That’s the description of a horse owner if ever I saw one!
I guess what I’m saying is we often act crazy because we act with the heart without thinking about our actions.  Our intentions are good, but you know which road is paved with good intentions.
Thought and actions we consider rational are certainly not the thoughts of our horses, and not often what they respond to as rational.
First of all, we reason; horses don’t.  We consider and make judgments as to whether or not a thing is good or bad.  Our horses instinctively know what is good and what is bad.  Eating feeds and tasty roughage is good—being eaten by a predator is bad.  Being comfortable is good.  Being jerked, spurred and worked like crazy for two hours, then put away for three weeks is bad.  And so on and so on.
When do we start being crazy about horses?  When we first fall in love with them. (A very easy thing to do.)  And from then on, the craziness increases almost as rapidly as the number of horses we own.
We are, almost every one of us, crazy when we negotiate to buy a horse.  A horse, I understand, is worth what someone will pay.  It’s impossible to establish a price when it comes to a crazy love affair.  But no matter how in love we are with the horse, we still have to haggle about the price.  We want the price reduced, slashed, cut.
The price you pay for a horse, you already know, is the smallest amount you are going to spend.   You are going to spend more for feed, equipment, shoeing and training and veterinary care of the next few years.   So what is the big deal about £100 or £500 or £50,000 more?
If you like the horse, buy him!
From the moment you buy him, it’s going to get crazier.
Most first time horse owners (and a lot of old-time horse owners for that matter) don’t know how or what to feed a horse.  They don’t have any idea of how many mega calories of digestible energy per day the horse is getting, or when to feed fat versus protein.
But they love buying supplements, coat conditioners, energy boosters and energy reducers.  They don’t know what they do, but mixed together and in twice the amount suggested, it’s got to be good for the horse.  Now that’s crazy.
What about bits and saddles and exercise boots and spurs?  What about leg aids and weight shifts and direct and indirect reins?
It’s crazy to buy all that equipment and put it on a horse and try to ride him and not have a clue about how any of it works, of if it does work.  Horse owners will spend £5,000 on equipment (a lot more if they get half the chance) and not £10 on education.  In a recent survey more than 75 per cent of the respondents who called themselves professionals had never had any formal education—they failed to correctly define a snaffle and a curb.
Shoeing is crazy.  We talk about shoeing as if it is a good thing for the horse.  In some cases it is, when the shoe protects the hoof.  But the instant you put a shoe on a horse, it’s all downhill from there with respect to hoof health.  And too many owners leave shoeing to the farrier.  That’s crazy!  The responsibility lies with the horse’s owner.  Don’t blame the farrier if you don’t know about correct hoof balance.

So am I crazy, or just in love with horses?  Am I crazy to think anyone in love with horses ought to make a commitment to know as much as possible about everything which concerns their horse?
Is it crazy to spend 12 to 16 hours a day working with horses, 365 days a year?   
Is it crazy to spend a rare day off at a horse sale, horse show or horse races?
Is it crazy to be learning something new about horses every day?
Boy, am I lucky to be so crazy!

Visit to earn certification as a horse trainer, riding instructor or stable manager, or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Equine Studies.  All courses online.  

Friday, 24 August 2018

Dinah Discusses - Pony Club Camp

Equine extra’s new contributor has been warmly welcomed, with her experience, wit and wisdom giving an entertaining insight into the life of a semi-retired, very successful competition mare.
Dinah is 19 years old now, still a ‘full up’ 16.1hh and immaculately turned out for all occasions. A beautiful, rich liver chestnut with an attractive full mane and tail, she loves the fact that she can still turn heads and strut her stuff in the arena. A veteran of all three affiliated competition disciplines, Dinah knows a thing or two but absolutely refuses to tolerate unbalanced riders – even on a hack – but she’s rather fond of the gawping youngsters who regularly spook into her whenever they see a dragon!
Her stable is a room with a view and her paddock allows unrestricted observation of all the comings and goings in the busy yard as befits her status. This week Dinah observes ...The Pony Club Camp!

If I was ever given the choice of coming back to this world for a re-run, I think I would choose to come back as the much beloved 12.2hh pony of a 10 year old little girl. One who was a member of a large Pony Club Branch and who enjoyed all that entailed.
Last week we were invaded by just that, hordes of ponies of every colour and type and hordes of little girls (plus some boys) for their annual Pony Club Camp.

The invasion started quietly enough with the arrival of dozens of trailers driven by some stressed looking Mums. They had that look of near exhaustion, of having been up since the crack of dawn trying to organise just what might be needed at Camp and in the end putting everything bar the kitchen sink in, now realising they have to now unpack it all and that they had in fact forgotten two girths and a martingale.

I decided it was a picture of complete but happy chaos, with small children running up and down the yard looking to find if their pony was going to be next door to their’ bestie’, of tiny people trying to lug giant tack boxes and buckets, invariably to the wrong places and then sitting down in a sulk and refusing to help the now even more frazzled Mum to settle in their pony.

Goodness knows how the mothers of siblings coped. I imagine it is a total logistical nightmare where either large quantities of alcohol and/or tray bakes of rocky road are a must to help ease the week along. That probably explained why I could hear what I’ve learned is the clink of the odd wine bottle, hidden discreetly amongst a bag of spare jodhpurs and underwear; they apparently call it a little something to help numb the senses at the end of the day for those Mums brave enough to have volunteered to stay overnight.

But what FUN these little troopers and their ponies had over the following week. The sound of riotous laughter was a daily occurrence. Usually following some poor unsuspecting person falling into a pile of poo or strangely becoming soaked by water. I was soon reminded that water still plays a vital role at camp, as it always has. Water fights, with or without slides, being the main source of amusement at the end of every day. That explained the copious quantities of ‘spare clothes’ required.

The actual riding activities looked great too; there seemed to be lots of galloping about in wide open fields and not always under the strictest control of the ever-so patient and mostly smiling, albeit through sometimes gritted teeth, instructors. When I and my turnout pals joined in, we were definitely NOT popular because those ponies with a sense of humour immediately gate-crashed our party and things were a bit too exciting briefly. I just stuck my head in the grass and wandered off ...

Next day they were in the arena in groups and there always seemed to be ‘that’ child who had selective hearing. The one who never heard “take the grid in trot” – who charged at said grid like ‘The Light Brigade’ leaving the Instructor turning a very of strange colour of grey and speaking in a voice that had gone up a squeak or two.

It seems to take a special type of Instructor to last the three to five days of Pony Club Camp. Many fall by the wayside suffering a variety of ailments. Usually sunstroke with dehydration, brought on by the fear of taking too much fluid on board so that their bladders might not last the duration of the riding sessions – Portaloos are a scarce commodity out in the farthest-flung fields but I still don’t understand why humans need a small box???

In previous years here, some instructors have succumbed to what they call “hypothermia with trench foot” at those rainy camps, but not this year! Also sudden attacks of Laryngitis are common, especially to those who have a troop of would-be Pony Racers. Most instructors though are a hardy bunch who always seem to thoroughly enjoy the whole week. Rising to the challenge of keeping all things ‘PC’, Health and Safety aware and most of all, everyone from parents and Committee members  to children and ponies happy.

Yes, it was a delightful week to observe, so much love and enthusiasm that only ‘horsey’ folk will understand. It seemed, as it always does, that each and every one just immersed themselves into the joy that is a child and their pony. Roll on next year’s Camp - and can I join The Pony Club please?

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