I have often felt that horsemanship is so much more than riding, a subject which I’ll elaborate on in another post soon. Many people – even those who don’t do their horses’ daily feeding and mucking out chores – will know what I’m talking about, but until you keep your horses at home and have to organise everything that happens to them and is necessary for their happiness, it’s hard to understand the full extent of all the details that need paying attention to.
Horsemanship is so much more than horses. As a horsewoman I’ve found that hammering in a nail, fixing a fence, digging a hole (or at least knowing somebody who’s better at digging a hole than you) and carrying poles around are skills just as invaluable as picking out a hoof or putting a bridle back together.
This has become even more evident as I start to fix up the horse facilities a little better on the farm. We started with nothing; the horses hung out in the pasture with the dairy cows and schooling was conducted, somewhat haphazardly, in a squirrel-hole-ridden corner of the pasture where you had to dodge cowpats and navigate around the odd stray Jersey en route to the jumps (of which there were two, constructed of tyres and sticks). Such was the start of Arwen’s jumping education. It wasn’t ideal, but it was something, and it sure made me grateful for everything I have now.
We eventually selected a 40m x 60m rectangle that was on a relatively flattish piece of ground and didn’t have any cows on it, got rid of the worst of the weeds and relocated the tyres and sticks to this new arena. Apart from having to move its boundaries around a little as fences were put up and the lunging ring built, it remains my arena today.
We also built a 15m lungeing ring (which I adore) and a couple of paddocks reserved exclusively for equids. (Benji the donkey shares Arwen, Thunder, and Siobhan’s paddock). Later on we made three tiny paddocks for individual feeding, and then fenced off half of Skye and Magic’s paddock and turned it into a pasture.
All of them are little steps forward, with a few more on the horizon. With the first frosts, the horse pasture all died; there’s still a lot of dry grass which can be grazed as standing hay but I doubt it’ll last all winter. Enter oats. Whilst oats are usually fed as a grain, I’ve heard that oat hay is very good for horses and so if it’s grazed before it goes to seed, I’m guessing it’ll make decent winter forage. Our soil is also very conducive to growing oats – we had a bumper crop a few years back – and the seed was readily available, so oats it is.
Being in a summer rainfall area I couldn’t exactly just toss it out and leave the rest to Nature, so a line of sprinklers has been set up down the middle of the pasture. It looks quite picturesque, although the snorting, running horses didn’t agree with me at first.
The arena itself has also started to become something of a problem. It has served me very well in backing youngsters and teaching them the basics, but it’s finally starting to let me down now that my riding – and my horses – are becoming more advanced. Being on a slight downhill, it’s almost impossible for a horse to balance perfectly in it for more than two or three strides at a time. Its footing, whilst firm and without holes or rocks, is also grass; fine when it’s a green, springy mat but not so fine when it’s dry and very slippery. It’s starting to impact the horses’ performance and hold them back, and so it’s definitely time for an upgrade: levelling it first, and then running a disc over it to turn over the sandy soil. It’s not river sand, but it’ll do just fine.
Arena upgrades have already taken place in the form of these wonderful jumps. They’re second hand and a look a little rough, but a wire brush and a coat of paint will restore most of them them pretty much to mint condition. I had had a guts full of dragging tyres around and, as I moved up the heights and increased the amount of jumps, I kind of ran out of tyres. Now I have these beauties, which I adore, and which Arwen hates, but she’ll get over it.
I might still be a long way off from my starry-eyed dreams of white rail fences enclosing rolling miles of kikuyu and ryegrass pastures, an stable block akin to the one in Lord of the Rings and sand arenas basking in the sun, but we’re also a long way from where we started.
The ponies themselves are doing fine. Somebody bit Magic in the back, resulting in a superficial but painful scrape just sore enough to prevent putting a saddle on it. He’s had a nice holiday. Skye is still lame; more on that in a later post, but she’s well enough in herself, just not rideable. Arwen, apart from an old coronet injury that’s growing out of the wall of her hoof now and is rather unsightly, is doing swimmingly well. We have a show coming up which is very exciting – I’ll have to do a show prep post sometime this week. Baby Thunder is his usual wonderful cuddly teddybear self; I eventually got really, really tired of his tufty, rubbed-out mane and took a pair of scissors to it. It broke my heart to hog it, since I know it can hang down to his shoulder in its full-length glory, but it’s better than the tufts. It works well for him; he looks very handsome and grown up now. I left his forelock, obviously, because it almost reaches his nostrils and is the apple of my eye.
Everybody got measured today since half my horses are still growing and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all the young horses grew at least an inch. Arwen, who was last measured at the age of five or six and stood 14.2hh, is now 14.3 1/2. Magic also put on an inch and went from 15.1hh to 15.2hh, and Thunder had a tremendous growth spurt and grew up all the way from 14.3hh to a comfortable 15.1hh. I’m terribly proud of him, since his sire was 15.1 and Skye is only 14.2hh, so he’s ready to outdo both his parents. It must mean that Skye throws whoppers because none of his half-siblings are quite so tall and he was her first baby. Tempting to put her to a 17hh warmblood and see what kind of a giant comes out there…
That’s all from me for now. More coherent posts to follow!