by Linda Chamberlain
It has been the winter of my discontent…
But perhaps it will be made glorious summer from the things I have learnt.
Yes, that’s me – I haven’t ridden since taking a tumble from my daughter’s horse in the Autumn. My nearest and dearest know this means I’m now much more likely to commit murder…!
You see, my own, much safer horse went down with laminitis at about the same time as the fall and although she has recovered we haven’t got out for a ride.
We haven’t got out because it’s been so muddy that my three horses have been confined to the yard – not the way I like to keep them but at least it’s huge and they are altogether with their ad lib hay. And if anyone thinks I can bring a highly-strung, chestnut mare back into work with that lifestyle they need their head examined.
Retreating from the fields in favour of the yard began in the Autumn with Sophie’s laminitis. She needed zero grass. Once the others had turned some of the grass track into brown track she was allowed out again but then came the rain…and more rain.
Tao, my daughter’s horse, strained an old leg injury in the deep mud. Carrie, our retired 26-year-old mare, got mud fever and needed two bouts of antibiotics when my usual armory of lotions and potions failed to prevent her sore and balding legs from swelling like a granny’s.
Three out of three horses had something wrong with them. It seemed I couldn’t do anything right and only the vet was happy. I wanted to give up…or at least, go on holiday but I couldn’t leave them.
Other horse lovers were struggling thanks to the heavy rain, lush grass and the health issues they cause, but that didn’t make it easier.
Seriously, I thought about moving house. Fields were no good for a laminitic horse, and they all needed movement if they were to get well again.
Yes, of course I took them for walks but it had no impact on the granny legs. Dry, hard ground had never seemed so far away.
I had to find something positive from all this. Number one was feeding them ad lib hay. It was the least I could do for them. Reportedly, horses do well if their forage never runs out but I was sure the greedy one would explode. She didn’t, although she gave it her best shot for the first few days of this regime. Then she calmed down; the other two put on a bit of weight which was welcome. All of them looked well. They were also very contented in spite of the lack of turnout. For weeks, perhaps months, we managed.
But they desperately needed to move more. An hour a day shoveling poop gives a girl plenty of thinking time. I would make some all-weather tracks around the field; I couldn’t be in this situation again. Grass tracks were good but they were better in California.
Sadly, the price was prohibitive and no one could build tracks while the ground was so wet. I came up with another plan – we would fence part of the long driveway that led from the house to the yard. The hard standing/roadway was already there and the only outlay would be the fencing. It could be done quickly, too. Hay put out on a dry parcel of woodland provided a turning space just off the drive and would encourage them to investigate. It was wooded and would give great shelter in summer. The ground seemed to be dry, too.
So, we got it fenced. I led Tao there for a look and the others followed. They bucked, bucked some more and rolled. Then they ran back to the yard full of fear. Were they agoraphobic? Frightened of the cars parked nearby?
The next morning’s gloomy thoughts from Eeyore (that’s me) were – they’re never going to use it; they think it’s haunted and have become emotional cripples. I left the yard gate open after feeding and taking rugs off, feeling a little bit depressed. They could help themselves to the track if they wanted it. I couldn’t do anymore.
So of course, off Sophie went as bold as brass. The others followed, had a roll; ate the hay. No bucking or running for home. Yes, we have mud-free, grass-free turnout!
It’s not much but it’s a start. I have my eye on the rest of the driveway but it’s narrow and I’ll need to use some of the lawn by the house for a turning spot. But who likes mowing? And there’s very little fencing to do.
How do conventional horse keepers cope with animals that are confined far more than mine were? How do they keep them well and rideable? Perhaps they don’t. So many horses are kept in stables during the winter 24/7. It’s a practice I have condemned before since it is so detrimental to the horse’s mental and physical welfare.
My yard measures about 60 feet by 80 feet. It is huge compared to the average stable which is a mere 12 by 12; they can still potter about and be together. I really hope their new piece of track relieves the cabin fever I could see building inside them.
So far, it’s doing a good job. The granny legs are looking more youthful; the swelling is nearly gone. The antibiotics had cleared the secondary infection caused by the mud fever but made no impact on the swelling. Sophie is calmer, more like a rideable horse and Tao is the most content I have ever seen her now that I’m an ad-lib hay advocate. Movement seems as though it will be the key once more. My horses look at me with their ‘I-could-have-told-you-that’ faces.
My thanks to Nikki Freer, Chris Taylor, Zelda Lithgow, Jenny Bradley and Helen Barnes-Short (all members of the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook) for the photos – I’m not the only one who has been wet this year.
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ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. It is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s one of the latest reviews – ‘I work nights & this book made me miss sleep (which is sacred to me) – I could not put it down! I loved the combination of historical fact & romance novel & it is so well written. I’m going to buy the hard copy now – it deserves a place on my bookshelf & will be read again. 10 gold stars Ms Chamberlain!’
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