Friday, 30 December 2016

Avoid winter hacking hazards

Fewer daylight hours and often unpleasant weather can make hacking more of a chore than a pleasure at this time of year, but one those lovely bright winter days, both you and your horse will benefit from time out of the arena and the chance to relax on a favourite, but still safe, ride.

It's important to choose a  route that you and your horse both know well, as that way you won't suddenly find yourselves having to negotiate a flooded dip, or very boggy footing that you didn't know would be there.
Snow doesn't mean you can't ride out, but makes it even more imperative that you know the terrain you are riding over, as potholes, slopes and small obstacles can be easily hidden and cause your horse to stumble or even fall, perhaps with an associated injury.

Winter Tip
Using a generous layer of grease - vaseline works well - inside your horse's hooves will help to prevent snow sticking to his feet like 'stilts'.

If there is a good snow cover, why not think of riding around your own fields, as it offers a quick and fun way to exercise without risking black ice on the road. If the snow is deep, don't be tempted to do too much, as hacking through snow is very hard work for your horse!
Ice is always dangerous, so check the weather forecast and if it's going to freeze and there is a risk of ice forming, that's a clear signal not to ride. High winds aren't fun either and even sensible horses can be seriously unnerved on a windy day, especially if the light conditions are poor. If your horse is worried in the wind, stay at  home!
When conditions on the roads are frost free though, hacking can offer the opportunity to not only keep your horse in work when your arena might be too wet, or you are both bored of going round in circles, but you can even keep up some of his schooling. Lateral work in walk, like leg-yielding and shoulder-in are all useful and you can even practise halts! 

Winter Tip
Always, always use high-visibility gear for both you and your horse – the more easily you can be seen by drivers, the safer you will be.

Hacking out in winter, especially if your horse is clipped, can be cold, so both of you need to wrap up warm, as a cold horse will inevitably be more 'skittish' to ride.
Thermal under layers, thick socks and good gloves are must for you and a snood will make all the difference to keeping your neck warm! For your horse, especially if it is raining and even more so if he’s clipped, an exercise rug that is windproof will be much appreciated; if it's hi-viz, even better!
Knee boots are always a good idea on the road and asking your farrier to fit road nails will help provide grip and reduce the risk of slipping on tarmac. Make sure you time your ride so that you aren't out in poor light at either end of the day and tell someone your planned route so that if you have a problem, help will know where to look.

Fun roll in the snow
When you get back from your ride, if there is lying snow then remember that most horses LOVE a roll in fresh snow, so even if your horse is clipped, turning out briefly will give him the opportunity to enjoy a good 'wriggle' in the snow, helping to 'clean' his coat at the same time! You'll have a really content horse to bring in, ready for you to rug up him up warmly and leave him to enjoy tucking into his hay or haylage.

So whilst winter can be a difficult time in many ways, with a little planning and preparation, you can look forward to some lovely seasonal hacks in the company of your horse and friends and make the most of our beautiful countryside.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Practical, but Oh So Wearable

Well that's another year done and dusted and winter wardrobes are in daily use. Equine's panel of testers have been busy trying out a range of practical and functional winter wear and the full report of 27 items appears in the December issue of the magazine. Here are just two of them to give you as taster!

Equisafety – Unisex Aspey™© Jacket
The company says: 100% waterproof, lightweight and breathable. Innovative pull down warning triangle fastens at the sides of the jacket, and can be rolled back into the collar when not needed; an inside zipped pocket; mobile phone pocket; funky soft lining and cuffs that curve over hand for extra protection against the elements 360° of reflection and fluorescent properties; strong two-way front zip and two large, hidden pockets. Machine washable. Orange, Pink or Yellow. Sizes: XS-XXXL. RRP: £89.99.
Our tester, Chris Grant, says: My first impression of this coat was its great quality and style. Its outer material is very robust and both windproof and waterproof. The jacket is a great bright colour (I tested the Orange) which can be seen for miles and has excellent wide reflective strips, which are strategically placed across the jacket to give maximum effect when picked up in car lights. The jacket’s black vents at the side are a great contrast to the bright colour at the front and are cleverly back located to give the jacket a fitted look without being restrictive. It has a lovely silky lining which makes it extra comfortable and I especially like the deep and easy zipped pockets, of which it has a good number, for carrying those essentials such as the mobile phone. Although its sizing came up small, it's a comfy jacket to wear and certainly a safe and practical coat.

Toggi – Caledon Country Boots.

The company says: Waterproof and breathable, this shorter boot features an Acquastop® membrane, for day-long dryness. The all-terrain thermo rubber sole unit will keep you safe with its fantastic grip in all weather conditions, whilst the removable foot bed allows for easy cleaning or replacement. Bitter Chocolate. Sizes: 4(36)- 8.5(43). RRP: £160.00.

Our tester, Denise Richardson, says: What a very stylish and practical pair of boots that come in a dark chocolate colour. They have an excellent grip sole, are waterproof, fleece lining means they are warm and comfortable, and have elasticated bit at the top back of the boots, for an easy pull on. They look a bit like rigger boots and are as practical too. I’ve worn them on the farm yard and around the stables, and they can stand a lot of muck and mud!! However, they are easily cleaned with warm water and leather conditioner. I’ve worn them with my jeans to nip to the local shop and to a recent fireworks display! I wouldn’t ride in them as I think the grips are more suited to outdoor yard work or gardening.

The Big Test of of Practical Winter Wear was published in full in the December issue of Equine. You can read the digital edition from this link -

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

5 practical tips for travelling horses in winter

Driving in bad weather adds stress to any journey, but if you’re travelling with horses, minimising the risks is just basic commonsense. Before you even leave the yard, check your route for delays and allow extra time ‘just in case’ an incident slows you down. Being properly prepared means just that – so take the time to run through this simple checklist to ensure you minimise the risk of potential problems and give yourself peace of mind.

Tyres & pressures
Check all tyres for tread depth. At least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter, certainly no less than 2mm. The legal requirement is 1.6mm of tread across the central 75% of the tyre. Also check the tyre pressures are at recommended levels. It’s simply not true that reducing tyre pressures gives more grip in snow.

Engine coolant & screen wash
Ensure that the anti-freeze level in your coolant tank is checked. It’s usually a job for your garage, as it can be difficult to do yourself. If there isn’t enough anti-freeze in the coolant liquid and temperatures are low enough, the liquid can freeze and expand and could cause engine damage and/or the engine to overheat. If the radiator is frozen, your vehicle could begin to overheat shortly after you leave home. Stop the car and let the radiator thaw out, then the coolant can circulate around the engine as it should.
Keep your screenwash topped up with an appropriate antifreeze solution and ensure your wipers aren’t frozen to the screen when you set off.

Driving safely in snow and ice
It’s simple; if there is snow and ice about, stay at home. It isn’t safe, as horses are a ‘moving load’ and accidents are always best avoided.

Going wading
If you have to drive through standing water and aren’t sure of the depth, be aware that water can enter the engine through the air intake which is usually situated around the front bumper. Any water that enters via the air intake can cause engine damage. If you don’t know the depth, don’t be tempted!

Expect the unexpected
Preparation for winter driving includes a longer list of items to carry in your vehicle than during the warmer months. Here’s a list to keep handy:-
Here’s a short list of what to carry in your vehicle besides an ice scraper and de-icer.
Ice scraper and de-icer
Fully charged mobile and ideally, a car charger
Torch; make sure it works!
High visibility jacket
Robust footwear, ideally wellies or long, waterproof boots
First aid kit for your and your horses
Spare wheel inflated correctly for both your towing vehicle and trailer
Hazard warning triangle; two is better, one for each direction
Jump leads
Tow rope
Spare bulbs

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Reasons You Need a New Riding Hat

Staying safe when riding and handling horses and ponies encompasses many different considerations, but arguably the most important is the requirement to wear a so called ‘hard hat’ at all times.
So when the Clarkson family, recipients of The Equine Bursary for 2016, went along to Houghton Equestrian at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland to be fitted with new Champion Ventair helmets, it was an ideal opportunity to learn more about how to ensure your new riding hat not only fits, but looks great and feels comfortable too.
The enthusiastic and expert staff at Houghton Equestrian have a large and airy space dedicated to riding hats and before beginning to fit the new hats, Catherine Willoughby explained that they always start by establishing what the riders do with their horses and at what levels, which helps to decide on which hats would be the right choice.

Georgina Clarkson is the first family member to be fitted and Hayley Cook starts by asking her to put her hair where and how it would normally be when she’s riding, before measuring in centimeters around the widest part of her head and brow which she explains; “just gives us a guide as to which size to try first.”

With the 59cm Ventair helmet in place, Catherine comments; “We put it on front to back and this is feeling pretty snug; we’re almost looking for a feeling of suction in the hat. We check it’s sitting nicely down on the brow, see how much grip it has on the head and that it covers the back of the head.”

Then it’s onto how tight the chin strap should be and checking that it looks snug enough, before she asks Georgina about pressure around her temples or the back of her head. The final step is ask another member of staff for a second opinion – looking again for that suction. Finally, Georgina is advised that the padding in the hat will release a little as it settles down, at which time she will be able to adjust the straps to ensure the fit remains just as comfortable.
Catherine confirms; “The Champion Ventair is a helmet that complies with all current standards and as it doesn’t have a peak it is good for cross country.”
Asked about how often riders should be thinking of changing their riding hats, Catherine explains; “When a hat is on the rider’s head, we’re looking for eyebrow movement without the hat moving. For any rider, there’s nothing worse than having to keep pushing your hat up again and again! If you have a prominent brow, the padding in your riding hat is going to ‘give’ more quickly -  Champion recommends every 3-5 years (depending on usage )and ALWAYS after a fall in which the head may have suffered an impact. If you ride regularly, the padding will slowly compress but it can be quite difficult for us if a customer has had a hat for a long time and it has been sliding around on their head, as they say a new, correctly fitting hat is too tight!

“It’s more obvious that you need to replace your hat if you fall off and crack the outer shell, but even if you can’t see any damage, the air bubbles in the protective foam inside the shell will have compressed and the protection it offers will be reduced. Even dropping it onto concrete can reduce the protection!”

Next it’s onto Jack Clarkson, who much to everyone’s amusement, is also asked: “is this how you normally wear your hair?” before his head is measured at nearly 60 centimetres.
Trying on a smaller 59 centimetre helmet demonstrates clearly what the difference is when the fit is not correct.
A different 59cm Champion hat with a peak is also too small as it sits too high on Jack’s head.

Hayley then re-measures Jack as 60 centimetres but says; “We can sometimes get a slightly different measurement by different staff and one reason for that is when people have a wider forehead or a head that isn’t round, then exactly where we put the tape can suggest a slightly different size.”

Barbie Clarkson is the final family member to be fitted and with her hair tied in a  neat pony tail as is usual for riding, Rebecca Storey measures her head as between 57 and 58 centimetres. With the 57 centimetre feeling too tight however, Barbie tries the 58 centimetre and says: “This feels fine; like it’s got a good contact all the way round my head. It feels really nice and light and it’s also a very nice looking hat and I’m looking forward to wearing it.

Whilst Hayley explains that Champion hats benefit from ‘squidgy’ padding in the front of the hat to maximise comfort and Georgina comments; “It’s definitely more comfortable than my previous cross country hat”, Barbie is trying a 59 centimetre peaked hat, which although just one size bigger, drops down over her eyes! It moves on her head, there is room for two fingers at the back of the head and just a light push sees it down and resting on her ears. It clearly doesn’t fit correctly.

Hayley also reveals that family members commonly have similarly shaped heads and that it’s not uncommon to find that children have had their riding hats for quite some time – and they can become uncomfortable and move due to a lack of grip from the compressed foam lining.

Catherine adds; “Sometimes we’re asked to fit a hat to people who are on a budget, but we can’t always oblige if the hats don’t fit. We’ve all only got one head so there’s no sense in taking a ‘shortcut’ with your riding hat.”

There's more about Rider Safety in the May 2016 issue of Equine. Subscribe securely online at and save over 30% with an annual (11 issue) subscription costing just £20.00.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Roadwork; is hacking out still safe?

There's a petition going around currently, asking for support to make the 15mph speed limit when passing horses on the highway to be made law.
In theory, it would potentially reduce 'near misses' and accidents to almost zero, but in practice, how would it really work?
Hi-viz gear is vital for hacking on the roads
Anyone who hacks on rural roads will know all about the following:
1. Car drivers in a huge hurry, who don't understand that horses will sink into very wet verges, or worse, fall into ditches, if they move off the tarmac. So they whizz by, far too close, revving engines as gears change and if something is coming the other way - well all riders who ride on the roads have experienced that particular heart-stopping moment!
2. Tractor drivers - and if they are agricultural contracters they are more than likely to be talking on the mobile phone to their workmate, dad or the boss about what time it is and where they need to be by when. Not looking where they're going - no they aren't - and quite happy to flout the mobile phone laws. If they have a huge implement or slurry tanker on the back, it's another potential accident in the making. On very narrow roads, there can hardly be room to pass at all!
3. Lorries - delivery drivers in vehicles that are truly too large for small rural roads and who live in urban areas, so lack even basic rural 'commonsense'. Often lost, they are best described as portable roadblocks and whenever they meet another vehicle, the verges are mashed up and there is slippery mud all over the road...

So with this backdrop and the obvious disregard of the mobile phone laws by too many drivers in rural areas - is it realistic to think that a 15mph law is going to make any SIGNIFICANT difference to equine road safety?
The individuals who are the current problem won't see any need to change their behaviour, because they aren't considerate drivers now! A new law could not be policed, unless perhaps a large herd of police horses went hacking in 'plain clothes' all over the country, but wearing a hat camera could help you with the legal fight after the worst has happened. If you're lucky and there's a near miss, how much notice is going to be taken though, given how far the already meagre police resources are stretched. Whatever develops, the game of 'roulette' that accompanies hacking on the roads unfortunately looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

There's some pratical advice for those who do hack out at this time of year in the December issue of Equine magazine. Read the digital edition online at