Let them compete…!

by Linda Chamberlain

Meet the Ambassadors of a world-wide association which is launched this week in a bid to end discrimination against riders of bitless horses who are banned from some equestrian competitions.

The World Bitless Association will be campaigning to allow horses ridden in modern, humane bitless bridles to be judged on an equal basis to bitted horses. Its focus will be primarily on compassionate training whether a horse is ridden in a bitless bridle or bitted since shameful treatment of a horse is not acceptable, whatever tack it is wearing.

The bitless movement has been growing rapidly in the last few years as more and more riders realise they don’t need the forcible ‘brakes’ of a bit in their horse’s mouth; they simply need to communicate and gently train their horse. There is also evidence that a bit can cause damage to the horse’s tender mouth even if it is used softly.

Sadly, the governing bodies of many equestrian competitions remain deaf to the changes and keep bitless, and sometimes barefoot, horses out of some classes.

The fledgling organisation already has the support of some bridle manufacturers for its ambassador initiative which awards rosettes to bitless equestrians competing around the world. And some pioneering riders are sporting huge smiles as their approach to riding is recognised.

The gallery of ambassadors on the WBA website shows how well bit-free competitors can do given the chance.

Here is Lomax ridden by Aaliyah at a show in the UK this year where the pair won 15 rosettes, two trophies and a £10 prize – barefoot and bitless.

I remember Lomax whose transformation from a rather poor and bedraggled pony to a glossy equine was shared on Facebook’s Barefoot Horse Owner’s Group a couple of years ago.

It’s wonderful to see him doing so well and setting such a good example – what a shame that he was the only bitless horse at the show. But there are other brilliant ambassadors.

Another horse, Tara, (below left) is a good example. Many riders might be sceptical they could manage their equine in a challenging situation such as a cross country event.

Rider, Daniee, said the horse went round the course like a pro wearing an Orbitless bridle.

‘It was also only our second cross country ever! She was impeccably behaved the whole time and lots of people were interested in our bridle and asking questions.

‘Tara was nervous about the water jump and had to follow a human helper through for some confidence so we got eliminated, although lots of other horses were also eliminated here because it was a very scary water jump, going through the water into a dark wooded area! But she flew round the rest of the course like a pro, showing everyone that you don’t need a bit to be in control in cross country!’

It’s in the world of dressage that bitless riders can face the most discrimination and much controversy surrounds one of the stated reasons by the authorities – that bitless riders are not able to show that their horse is ‘on the bit’ as required.

Lower levels of competition are able to take a more relaxed approach.

It is heartening to see the only bitless rider at an event in Tasmania (Fiona on Cavalier Crusader) clinched a winning  test with a score of 71 per cent. The horse was ridden in a Transcend bridle.

Brittany riding Skye’s the Limit won a rosette with no bridle at all – wish I had done that when I was younger! She has been competing all year without a bridle and hopes to qualify for year-end awards. Surely, spectators would be queuing up to see such a brilliant performance.

Below left you can see Polly-Ann riding Dakota in the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association in France. She said: ‘It was my first ever riding competition at the age of 59. Got second place in Novice ridden class. Dakota is a QH aged 16. It was his first ever competition as well. I was the only rider bitless in the novice class.’

Then there is Tam riding Blue (below right) in Brocconoc, Cornwall, UK, during a grade 140k endurance ride.

And Joanne with Marina competing in endurance in South Africa.

Check out more about the ambassadors scheme and the aims of the WBA on its website – only £15 a year to join! It’s lovely to see so many comfortable horses, ridden without gadgets and unnecessary bits of metal. I think the public will love to see more riders like this in showgrounds across the world – much more impressive to see someone achieve so well, with much less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day they will be allowed to compete unfettered by rules and regulations which sometimes exclude them – most notably for the UK in some ridden showing classes and dressage. But the prejudice seeps into places you wouldn’t expect. I still remember the day that my daughter was banned from a Pony Club show for riding her pony in a hackamore. There are better bitless bridles around now and the hackamore is admittedly harsh but the irony hasn’t left me. There was no ban on young riders using spurs, whips or the harshest bits and we had to watch on the sidelines as they strutted their stuff.

 

FREE ADVERTISING

A couple of articles ago, a few readers alerted me to some derision on Facebook. Apparently my pages carry wordpress adverts from betting companies. I would like point out that I don’t receive this massive amount of revenue but I do find it mildly amusing. I don’t see the ads as I have an ad blocker at work on my lap top but, since I sometimes write about barefoot race horses, no doubt the betting industry was attracted. Or perhaps it’s because this blog has had more than 300,000 views since its launch. This has got me thinking – it would be great to carry some FREE ADS that are helpful to horses. So if you have a product, an event or a service that is good for the horse I would love to include it in a list after each blog. Please get in touch via Facebook (see link below) – unlike betting, you have nothing to lose.

HERE ARE the first free ads – Barefoot Horse Magazine issue 19 in print and digital is out now. Full of brilliant articles on navicular, the link between diet and laminitis, hoof boot news, the benefits of special plants. Check it out.

And have you found Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook? – for the best support and advice on riding without shoes.  There are now 23,000 members – an awful lot of bare hooves.

The Total Contact Saddle is a unique treeless saddle that has just reached the shortlist for the Saddle Research Trust Awards for 2018. Get more info about the saddle at its website total-contact.co.uk

The WBA’s Ambassador scheme is sponsored by Transcend, Orbitless, Light Rider and NuturalX bitless bridles.

MY BOOKS

My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. 

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘I originally bought this book from Linda at a horse show a couple of years ago but only just got round to reading it. I wish I had read it ages ago! I was absolutely gripped from the first page. It is brilliantly written, well researched, and told with compassion.’ – Amazon UK reader.

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! 

 

 

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Olympic shame tarnishes the gold…

by Linda Chamberlain

Has dressage become a blood sport?

No animal is hunted but the world has witnessed this equestrian discipline’s fall from grace at the Rio Olympics and social media networks have been buzzing with allegations of cruelty. There have been pictures of horses foaming and drooling, their mouths full of harsh metal bits and their noses clamped shut with tight nosebands.

Parzival in the World Equestrian Games 2010

And there have been reports of blood.

Horses have been shown with their tongues hanging out awkwardly – their faces alarmed and full of pain. Their sides marked from the prick of the spur.  Their heads pulled into their chests where no equine feels comfortable.

Showjumping has also been criticised after two riders were eliminated – one for excessive whipping, another for the heavy use of spurs.

Gold medals have been won but the glow of victory has failed to warm the hearts of animal lovers who say equestrian ‘sport’ has gone too far.

Jo Macarthur from the Norfolk Horse Training Club, this week attacked the treatment of Olympic equines. She said:

‘Human athletes made mistakes; they did not get whipped by their coaches afterwards.

‘In addition to forced head carriage we witnessed excessive whipping for non-performance and punishment for not achieving the rider’s objective, which is totally unacceptable. ’

Ironically, Andrew Finding from the British Equestrian Federation which governs the sport in the UK, had warned campaigners last year not to use welfare as an issue in its campaign to get bitless bridles accepted in dressage competition.

It would take an effort of Olympian proportions to leave the issue aside. It seems that in Rio all athletes are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Jo said: ‘In the 21st century, it is shameful that abuse of the horse continues in every Olympic discipline. Most shocking to many riders is the continued refusal by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports to allow the softer option of the modern bitless bridle in dressage where the horses are supposedly trained to the lightest signal of the human seat and hands.’

The spotlight in Rio fell on dressage especially because of one horse – Parzival (pictured above at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 when he was also in the spotlight), ridden by the Dutch team member, Adelinde Cornelissen. She withdrew this highly talented horse part way through her performance in Rio. His jaw was patently uncomfortable and swollen, saliva was dripping onto the arena floor and his poor tongue was hanging from the side of his mouth.

The reason was an insect bite. Vets had not been able to reduce the toxins it caused in time. She took the heartbreaking decision to pull out in a highly public way in mid-test and was hailed as the ultimate Olympian for putting her horse before her own competitive interests.

Then came the backlash on social media.

Doubt was put on the cause. A fractured jaw was mentioned. Why did he even enter the ring? Harsh bits and hard hands were blamed. Adelinde denied.

Frankly, I respect the libel laws – I believe her. The horse was bitten. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Also…frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Parzival 3ParzivalParzival (left, in Rio) is just one horse. And there are countless others whose noses are constricted. Whose tongues are seen to be blue; others who have dripped with blood. So many who are trained using methods called Rollkur or LDR (low, deep, round) where the flexion of the horse’s neck is aggressively achieved. Rollkur is banned by the FEI but LDR is not as long as the horse has an unspecified break every ten minutes.

Parzival 4In the UK (and elsewhere) there have been vigorous campaigns to persuade the governing bodies controlling dressage to allow horses in competition wearing bitless bridles.

This is one ban, you see, that the authorities have enforced. A competitor mentioned on Facebook was eliminated at a competition because although his horse was wearing a bit, the reins were attached to the noseband.

They are not having it.

Top level talks last year between the Norfolk training group, plus bitless campaigners from the group A Bit More CHOICE, and British Dressage, the British Equestrian Federation, the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare failed to convince the authorities that bitted and bitless horses could be judged together.

Jo said: ‘Metal bits are not seen in human ballet dancers’ mouths to exact precise or flowing, light movements, nor are they necessary for control or communication with horses. Norfolk Horse Training Club and CHOICE campaign continue to lobby the British Dressage, British Equestrian Federation and FEI to make the rule change that is being called for on grounds of fairness for the horse, especially after some of the unacceptable antics in Rio.

Dressage - without spurs or bit

Dressage – without spurs or bit

‘A high number of disqualification and withdrawals on welfare grounds during the Rio equestrian disciplines has created a backlash on social media with storms of protest over tight nosebands with horses clearly exhibiting signs of stress and pain, evidenced by excessive foaming of the mouth and terrified facial expressions.’

The British Equestrian Federation didn’t want welfare in the sport to become an issue for campaigners to exploit. The trouble is there is no cosy place for cruelty to hide.

A horse bleeds in Rio and minutes later the animal-loving world sheds a tear.

IN OTHER NEWS

1imageTrimmer Nick Hill and holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova will be running practical training courses on the horses’ hoof and how to trim. They are based in Bulgaria and are offering the chance to accompany them on their rounds for up to a week and gain hands-on experience.

Nick Hill 12For those experienced in hoof care, ‘You will see everything from straight forward trimming cases to pathologically deformed hooves. We will walk you through the process of bringing the equine back to equilibrium through treatment, diet, environmental changes and barefoot trimming. Amongst the regular clients there are always emergency cases that need our help, which you will be able to see and assess with us.

‘We will be travelling extensively around Bulgaria, spending each day in a different area of the country. The price includes three meals per day (all dietary requirements catered for) and accommodation. Travelling is done by car. Students pay for their own flight tickets to Bulgaria.’

They are interested in taking a couple of students at a time but will also be offering tailor-made short courses for those without experience.

For more info – contact Nick Hill on Facebook.

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love. I’m relatively new to bitless riding but have been a barefoot advocate for a long time. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. Since then I have transitioned quite a few animals including my lovely retired mare, Carrie, who suffered from navicular and was due to be put to sleep when I took her on. She features on the front cover of my book – A Barefoot Journey – which tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The best book I have ever read, everything was so interesting. And gave the courage to be barefoot and proud of it!!! I always felt the same in my heart but this book just backed up everything I thought. Thank you for writing such an amazing book’ – Amazon reader.

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who warned against strong bits and exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from Bracy himself – ‘A horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of chord.’

REVIEW FOR THE FIRST VET

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline. I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. I’m more than half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

 

Saving the hoof…the Marvellous way!

by Linda Chamberlain

I’m writing this in December. It’s sunny, my sleeves are rolled up and my horses haven’t worn rugs in ages.

Climate change! Is it sinister…or a sheer pleasure? We might laugh; we might even enjoy it unless our house has been flooded or our horses have been rescued from swollen rivers.

But when I go to check my little herd later without my jacket on I have good reason to worry.

3 horses on track

Because the grass is still growing steadily, the sugar content remains high and if your horse is barefoot like mine there is no hiding the symptoms it may cause behind a metal shoe. Rich grass is thought to be the cause of footiness in some barefooters. It does the same to a shod horse but you might not notice due to the numbing effect of the shoe. It also causes separation at the white line and if this worsens you have a serious condition called laminitis to deal with.

There is said to be an epidemic of laminitis in the UK at the moment. My own horse is still recovering from an episode so my ears were flapping last weekend when I had the chance to discuss the latest ideas on horse keeping with some serious experts.

I was signing and selling books at the Westcountry Equine Fair on the stand of Barefoot Horse Magazine and Hoofing Marvellous, the umbrella title of a very interesting group of trimmers who between them cover a massive part of the south west and beyond.

HM logo

barefoot horse magThe mild, wet climate of the UK doesn’t make it easy to keep a barefoot horse who should ideally be living out 24/7. The land can get sodden and unless you’ve created some nice, dry areas of hard standing or all-weather tracks you are facing problems when the mud arrives.

But there is another worry and I would be very interested to hear whether readers of this blog in other countries have the same concern.

 

Rye grass. 

Here’s a picture of it. Looks innocent enough, doesn’t it?

HM rye grass

Gary Hinton, who covers Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Dorset for HM, warned: ‘It has between 300 and 600 times more sugar than other grasses, even when dried.’

HM gary hinton

Rye grass is great if you have your sights on record milk yields but a nightmare for a horse and his feet. It’s quite possibly the single biggest reason why some people find it so hard to ride without metal. The UK is heaving with it and it can be hard to find fields or hay made from more suitable mixed meadow grasses.

My trimmers were full of brilliant advice – no wonder, they were inundated by crowds of people around their stand at the show in Exeter. Barefoot is really catching on and everyone needed information; they wanted to learn.

HM - sophie bennettsSophie Bennetts, who is hoping to set up a livery yard in Cornwall for barefooters, seemed to know pretty much all there was to know about hoof boots.

 

Caroline Wang-Andresen, a trimmer who covers Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, was unequivocal – track your field if you can. Then you can reduce your grass but increase your horse’s movement. Ideally, you should scrape off the grass and replace with stone or other surfaces and feed hay 24/7. But not any old hay – avoid rye grass, even if dried.

HM Caroline

On my return home, I checked my own hay supply and found one or two pieces of rye but a predominance of other grasses so decided not to panic! I had been promised it was organic meadow hay.

Tracking fields, removing grass and replacing with all-weather surfaces might sound crazy but there’s another reason for caution when it comes to the green stuff. Climate change.

I usually deem it safe to turn my horses onto their winter pasture in November; the horse that goes crazy on rich grass seems to hold her head together and the two that become footy appear to cope. Not this year, though. I have only one horse out on it for a few hours a day. For the rest of the time they are confined to the yard and a strip of muddy field while Sophie sorts out her laminitis. We are slowly getting there. It’s not ideal and I wish something better for them. I’m about to investigate making more all-weather areas and will report back…

In the meantime, let me tell you about another of those awesome Hoofing Marvellous trimmers – Lindsay Setchell. Here she is showing me how to ride and stay in the saddle. I’m a troublesome pupil, sadly.

Lindsay Setchell

Not only does Lindsay trim hooves but she edits the only magazine in Britain dedicated to the barefoot horse. This publication passed an important milestone recently – it went into print as well as digital. I write for Barefoot Horse Magazine occasionally myself but it is full of articles from horse owners telling their stories.

The magazine was born from a newsletter Lindsay sent out to clients and now it’s a full-colour phenomenon!

Check it out here. And Hoofing Marvellous…herebarefoot horse mag

HM Kim TaylorAs trimmer, Kim Taylor, said at the show: ‘There is such a different attitude towards barefoot this year. It’s really changing.’

Such good news…let’s face it, you might not be able to reverse the change in the climate single handed but you can try barefoot and reduce your horse’s footprint on the world…

I’m trying to think how it might help the climate – it will certainly help your horse.

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-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt 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 40 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘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!’ It was lovely to meet so many readers at the Equine Show last weekend. Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

The Barefaced Ban

by Linda Chamberlain

Riders have hit back at ludicrous claims in a national magazine which said barefoot horses were prone to slipping and rarely left the schooling arena.

A letter in The Showing Journal sparked the row and prompted the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook to write back shouting ‘nonsense’.

Here’s the original letter and the editor’s response so you can see it for yourself.

The Showing Journal

Sadly, these opinions have their grip on the world of showing at the moment. Barefoot horses are banned from many hunter classes because judges, who ironically often wear the traditional bowler hat with no strap rather than a safety helmet, refuse to ride animals without shoes. They fear they are not safe; they will slip and so won’t let them in the ring.

I’m a lover of irony and there’s more of it in this story – you can hunt barefoot or shod, risking your neck over treacherous ground and high hedges – but you can’t enter the hallowed, but safe, show arena and do a few circuits of the level grass on a show hunter without shoes.

And yet barefoot horses are succeeding in many more dangerous equine sports. Our members are competing in endurance, cross country and show jumping and their horses are winning rosettes rather than falling all over the place. Just take a look at Claire Alldritt’s story of her journeys across Scotland on a barefoot animal – here’s a link to my earlier blog.

Becky Chapman, pictured below, is another wonderful example. She was a winner before the ban on a talented heavyweight show hunter called Mac at a very muddy Horse of the Year Show in 2008 – she says he was the only horse that wasn’t slipping!

She explains: ‘I stopped competing due to the stupidity of the ban and my disillusionment with that world. Due to ethical reasons I no longer compete either of my wonderful barefoot mares.’

Becky Chapman

Once a horse has recovered from the damaging effects of shoeing, he fares much better in wet conditions than his shod companions. He is far superior in the snow and there is a greatly reduced risk of tendon and ligament injuries without the anchoring effect of a metal shoe. Less damage from concussion, too.  Frankly, the ban is a mystery. Bowler hats are traditional and allowed; barefoot is very definitely neither.

My letter from the Barefoot Horse Owners Group managed to appear on The Showing Journal’s Facebook page until it was removed along with other pro-barefoot responses. The only answer I’ve had so far was an email from the editor thanking me and looking forward to receiving my letter. A comment from the Showing Journal on Facebook  – which has also been taken down – acknowledged that both barefoot and shod horses have been known to slip.

There is a similar oddity in the world of dressage with its hostility to riders who choose bitless – see my earlier blog A Bit Much. Did I say hostility? Well, they actually ban bitless horses.

No wonder there is so much talk among the barefoot-and-bitless community about establishing events separately from the traditional competition circuit. More news of this in a later blog…

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS      BOOK NEWS     BOOK NEWS

A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available onAmazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, 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, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

Many thanks to reader Nicola Jones for this lovely feedback – ‘After reading your Barefoot Journey I have finally found the confidence and the oomph to go it alone! I plucked up the courage to ask a local farmer if he had a field for me.. and he does! I feel no fear, just excitement at getting my relationship (with my horses) back on track.’

Trail-blazing rider…

by Linda Chamberlain

Claire Alldritt remembers the moment that a sheer drop on a Scottish mountain nearly claimed her horse.

She was alone amid some of the most inhospitable terrain in the country. It was too dangerous to ride on the narrow path and so she was leading Yogi on a long rein. Her pack horse called Swift was tied to Yogi’s saddle and the three of them were taking care. Everything was fine…until everything went wrong.

Claire Aldritt 5

Yogi must have missed his footing.

‘One moment he was there. The next, he was gone. He had just stepped off the edge!’

What happened next is every rider’s nightmare. Claire was miles from help, her mobile had no signal. She was quite literally on her own.

‘I have no idea where my quick reactions came from but I dropped down on my heels to take the impact and waited for the lead rope to go tight,’ she said. ‘Swift’s lead rope was about to go tight too and in that split second I assumed that this would cause both of them to go over the edge.

Claire Aldritt 3

‘Yogi is heavier than Swift and the physics weren’t in her favour.  I am so lucky that both mine and Swift’s lead ropes went tight at the same time -she had enough sense to brace like I was doing and with me taking the impact on Yogi’s head and her taking it far forward on his saddle (she was tied to the pommel), it spun him round and at the same time stopped his fall.  After what seemed like hours of scrambling (it wasn’t this long but boy did he have to work hard) and me hauling on his head, he made it back up to the track with nothing more than a few small scrapes and bruises.   Double lucky – he was also facing the right way on the track as if both horses had ended up facing each other there would have been no way to sort that out.’

Claire, who is a paramedic with the Scottish Ambulance Service, is an intrepid traveller with her horses. She has ridden across Scotland – coast to coast. She camps overnight in the hills or stays in small bothies and bunkhouses.  When Claire tells her family that she’s going for a bit of a ride, they don’t expect to see her for a few days! Most of the time she travels on her own; sometimes she is with a friend.

Claire Aldritt 7

But that near-miss with Yogi on the mountain taught her some valuable lessons. She no longer ties her pack horse to Yogi’s saddle and she takes something a little more powerful than a mobile phone. A DeLorme inReach satellite device means she can let family know she is safe or call mountain rescue in an emergency.

‘It gives me peace of mind,’ she said.

Claire began her long-distance rides a few years ago. Yogi was reluctant to go out on his own and Swift was young and acted as companion on the lead rein. She became the pack horse and brought the tent as well as equipment to construct a temporary corral for the horses.  If she is riding alone, Claire will check out her route in advance on bike or on foot. She needs to know if the terrain is too treacherous or if there are too many bogs.

Claire Aldritt 6

‘I get very nervous setting off on my own and I am right to be as there is a lot that could go wrong.  Mostly I worry about my horses rather than me.  It is my choice and ambition to be out there so the responsibility for their wellbeing and safety is a heavy one.  I often feel physically sick the morning I set off, but soon settle into the journey.’

Claire’s achievements are awe inspiring. Only recently she and her friend, Ellen Klaveness, won a new competition called the Golden Hoof after riding for 120 miles. They even got press coverage! What is even more amazing, though, is that this is managed in spite of a debilitating illness. Claire suffers from Lyme disease caught from a tick bite and has periods of flu-like symptoms, aching legs and memory loss. She has struggled against these symptoms for three years but was only diagnosed recently.

Claire Alldritt

Most of us might stay at home but the draw of the hills is irresistible.

‘It’s a challenge,’ she explained. ‘The rhythm you find with your horses; the closeness and the communication. I am not saying they can talk like we can but they communicate all the time and travelling with them 24/7 makes you listen more. Many of my trails involve old drovers’ routes. It’s wonderful to get to remote spots and camp there to enjoy the peace and tranquility while your horses happily munch fresh mountain grass!

There is something else remarkable about this team – the horses are barefoot and bitless. It’s often remarked in conventional horsey circles that ‘barefoot is fine if you don’t want to do much with your horse’.

Not surprisingly no one has said such a thing to Claire’s face.

Both horses wear hoof boots (Renegades) on their front feet unless they are going for a more ‘normal’ ride closer to home. They are trimmed by Claire who is overseen by Nick Hill of Cloverroseequine.  They live out 24/7 on a recently constructed track system made from hard core, stone, mud and poor grass and moss. A wooden stable building provides shelter but they are not shut in. There is also hay available around the clock. This set up is at Claire’s home and replaced their more conventional rented pasture last winter. It is more barefoot friendly as it increases the animals’ movement, strengthens their feet and reduces the amount of high-sugar grass in their diet which is known to cause hoof problems.

‘With my new track system I have seen so many positive changes in their feet. I hope the new environment will toughen them up enough to manage without boots for our longer journeys too.  I have been recently inspired by a trip to Norway to ride with my friend, Ellen.  We rode two barefoot Nordland Ponies over really rocky ground for 160 km. Their feet were absolutely amazing and guess what… they weren’t kept on grass either!’

You’ve already heard one of the low points in Claire long-distance riding but hearing her recount one of the highs makes it possible to understand her motivation.

‘One day in particular I won’t ever forget on my cross Scotland journey.  I was near Lochnagar in Glen Muick near Ballater. It was a lovely sunny morning, we had had a lazy start after a hard mountain day the day before.  We were all relaxed and were proceeding up a trail under the shade of the trees that lined it.  Yogi was on “hands-free mode” –where I don’t need any reins and he is plodding along at a good pace all by himself just following the path.  Swift was also on “hand-free mode” without a lead rope, she just followed on between stopping for the odd bite of grass now and then.   I was literally able to pop my slippers on, put my feet up and read the newspaper yet was still travelling and still making progress.  I was looking forward to our night time destination –a tiny bothy in a beautiful spot with stunning hill views.  The sun was out, the birds were singing and I could hear the babble of a stream running beside the trail.  Apart from my horses’ footsteps I could hear nothing else.  By 11am my hip flask was out and I toasted the fantastic view that appeared as we emerged from the trees.  TOTAL CONTENTMENT!’

Claire Aldritt 1BOOK NEWS       BOOK NEWS         BOOK NEWS

Just published – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

And thanks to reader Neil Platten for this photo taken while he was stuck in a traffic jam. So glad he found something to do during the long, long wait. Press the follow button, everyone,  to keep in touch and leave a comment. I love to hear from you…Neil with BFJ

A Bit Much?

by Linda Chamberlain

This is allowed…

dressage horse

And yet…this is not…

bitless dressage

You might think you’ve misread that or jumbled up the photos but no…bitless bridles are effectively banned in dressage competitions around the world. There is no rule against them as such but judges award points to horses that are ‘submissive’ to the bit and so if you ride without one, you can’t join in. And it doesn’t matter how good your horse is; or how well you ride.

Pressure is mounting across the globe for a re-examination of the rules – there’s already been a relaxation in Holland in lower levels of competition. But you won’t find many more traditional places than the equestrian world which is hostile to change.

A top-level meeting was held last month in the UK following pressure from a group of riders – a David-against-Goliath situation if ever there was one. The group are members of a British Horse Society training club in Norfolk. They have support from their MP, Norman Lamb, who is a former government minister; they ride their horses bitless and it’s a testament to their persistence that the talks took place at all. Round the table were key people from the sport – British Dressage, the British Equestrian Federation, the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare. The horse world is eagerly waiting to hear what will come from those talks and whether the UK will provide a catalyst for change. A press release has yet to be issued.

Dressage, which is proudly sponsored by numerous feed manufacturers, is all about the horse displaying a high level of training. The horse must be ‘on the bit’ – a rough translation 100 years ago from the French ‘dans le main’. Even from my rusty grasp of the Gallic language I know there’s a possible error here because the literal translation means in the hand.

Carl Hester the Olympic dressage rider, is quoted on social media as saying he has no problem competing against those who ride bitless.

But a change would need to come internationally for the system to work because national competitions feed into international ones.  If a bitless horse became a British champion he wouldn’t be able to represent his country on the world dressage stage. I can see that’s a problem but the issue isn’t going away. More and more riders are turning to bitless bridles and finding they can achieve high levels of equitation. Not surprisingly they are frustrated at the exclusion – even at amateur events and local competitions.

There are welfare concerns about using a bit to control a horse but the UK campaign group – A Bit More Choice – is calling for riders to be able to choose what bridle they use; they don’t seek a ban on the bit which is said to be a development of the Bronze Age.  I’ll give you a link to the group’s Facebook page at the end of this blog.

But let’s look at those welfare worries and see whether they are convincing.  Anyone with blood in their veins can look at the two photos above and see that one horse is ridden in a strong bit and is foaming at the mouth. He’s performing to a very high level and the rider has him held between the leg and the hands as the sport requires. Is there pain involved? Your guess is as good as mine.

My other rider (photographed by Sallist Lindqvist) is bitless. There is no foaming, the rider has no spurs but the horse is performing at a high level and it’s a beautiful sight. All appears relaxed and pain free.

Scientific evidence is available from the renowned vet Dr Robert Cook who has developed a cross-under bitless bridle. He’s from the US but graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in the 1950s. He compared skulls of the domestic, ridden horse with those of its wild cousins. The majority of domestic horses showed evidence of bit-induced damage – bone spurs in the jaw. Cook says on his website that the horse’s mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of its anatomy. The application of pressure from a steel rod inserted in this cavity inflicts unnecessary pain and can frighten a horse, he says.

Bracy Clark, who is the subject of my novel The First Vet, was vehemently against the use of strong bits 200 years ago. He was also concerned about metal horse shoes – but that’s another subject. Clark wrote that a ‘horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of cord’.Catherine Campbell - dressage

Helen - 2In the 21st century, should we be using such bits for our sport…or our pleasure…when there is an alternative?

Helen - dressageI asked members of my favourite Barefoot Horse Owner’s Group on Facebook to send me some photos of them Monica - dressageworking barefoot and bitless to illustrate this blog. I’m going to let them all inspire you; I couldn’t leave any out.

The recent talks might offer hope of progress. The rider’s group is hoping to meet MP Norman Lamb again soon and at least a dialogue with the dressage authorities has been opened. If you are a member of British Dressage or the British Horse Society, now is the time to make your views known on bridleKaterine Anne - dressage equality.

Lina Hallberg - dressageDressage is a beautiful art. It’s wonderful to watch but if it wants to win the hearts and minds of today’s forward-thinking horse lovers it might need to leave the Bronze-Age equipment to the history books.

You can find A Bit More Choice on Facebook.

                                                                              * * * * *

BOOK NEWS – just published – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

Christine BlackettThanks to reader Christine Blackett for letting me see one of the highlights of her holiday in South Africa – that’s a good spot to put your feet up for a nice read!

Press the follow button to keep in touch, find me on Facebook or leave a comment here – I love to hear from you. Email me if you would like to receive updates about the books. New one coming – well, just started it! Very excited…

Barred for being bitless…

by Linda Chamberlain

A Royal show gets ready to open its doors – but this is one competitor who will have to stay at home.

Rea 4

Not because the horse isn’t a top performer…and not because the rider isn’t willing and able. Have a look at the photo – Rea Trotman can ride that horse of hers with no hands. Over jumps.

So why does the Retraining of Racehorses Organisation have such a problem with their entry at the Royal Norfolk Show? The animal is barefoot but that’s not a stumbling block for the horse, the rider or the show. No the difficulty, it seems, is the choice of bridle if they want to enter a jump challenge for retrained racehorses.

You see this beautiful thoroughbred, who has won countless races at Ascot, Goodwood and Doncaster, is now ridden with a bitless bridle. His owner has chosen this for him as a kindness because his teeth aren’t as good as they used to be and anyway…he doesn’t need a metal bit, jangling around in his mouth in order for him to understand his rider’s requests.

Rea, who has owned Danegold for the last seven years, read about the harm bits can cause to teeth and jaws, and decided he should never wear one again. As you can see, it hasn’t slowed them down.

They’ve entered plenty of low-key fun shows, showjumping and sponsored rides but Rea thought it was time they stepped up a gear.Rea 6

The Royal Norfolk Show is the biggest agricultural show in the country and the Queen is its patron. More than 1000 horses are expected to enter and over the two days in July about 90,000 people will come to watch the spectacle.

 

It’s a fair bet that those spectators would love to see what can be achieved by a barefoot and bitless horse like Danegold.

And wouldn’t the Queen, were she to attend this year, be impressed  with a wonderful ex-racehorse proving how well these beautiful animals can adjust to life after the track?

The class Rea hoped to enter includes a course of jumps and an individual show. ‘My horse would excel in this class as it is judged on style and performance,’ she said. ‘He is very laid back and well behaved; he deserves to show everyone just how great ex-racers can be.’

She decided to check with the retraining organisation’s officials but was told there were rules against bitless bridles for this class although not for showjumping.  ‘The reasons were shocking,’ she added. ‘They made no sense. Seeing a bitless ex-racer demonstrates complete retraining, which is what the class is all about.’

Rea has much in common with other bitless or barefoot riders who are falling foul of the rules of competitions in the UK.

Rea 3

The rules governing our shows are in a complete muddle. You can participate in extremely dangerous equine activities such as racing, showjumping and hunting without metal applied to your horse’s mouth or feet. But you aren’t allowed to do many dressage competitions without a bit. Rules for working hunter classes insist on both bits and shoes even though you can ride without either if you are hunting across the fields. Many barefoot riders say they are frustrated at the exclusion. One person told me they were stopped from competing in a Pony Club team because a ‘barefoot horse was an unfit horse’.

And just listen to this story from Monica Andreewitch of the Pony Academy in Surrey who teaches children to ride on ponies wearing just a rope halter. She had six children eager and ready to go to a jumping competition and then realised the rope halters might cause a bit of a stir. She checked with the organisers and was told that juniors must ride in a bitted bridle.

‘After pondering and checking with my soul, I decided that I could trust the children with bridles,’ she said. ‘They have independent seats and do not hang onto their halters – so why would it be different in bridles?’

Monica bowed to pressure. The children competed. The ponies weren’t jabbed in their mouths and they did cause a stir thanks to their notable control with long, loose reins. Not everyone can or will comply. For Rea and Danegold, there are dental health issues that cannot be ignored.

Rea 5

But frankly, these competition rules are silly. Or are they about tradition for its own sake?

I can’t help worrying that all this nonsense stems from utter embarrassment. There are a growing number of people who ride like Rea. They have a close connection with their horse. They achieve amazing things without whips or spurs and they do it without hands sometimes and make the rest of us feel like novices again. Imagine feeling like that if you are a judge. Is this the reason such riders are excluded? Are they too good? Too kind? They are not in need of whips, spurs and strong bits – all of which are welcomed with open arms.

The only time I’ve seen a rider booed as she left a showjumping arena was thanks to over use of a whip. A horse refused some jumps in a top competition at Hickstead and was eliminated. The horse was punished severely with a whip. The rider was jeered and humiliated by the crowd. If the public knew of the potential harm caused by shoes and bits, the public would not be amused by the equine world.

 So, here is my message to the rule makers and show organisers. Keep up with this growing equestrian movement towards less coercion and fewer gadgets. Embrace it because it’s good horsemanship; it’s humane and wonderful. Welcome it because the public, and probably the Queen, would love to see it. They would probably cheer!

 

THANKS to everyone for supporting this campaigning blog. My interview with ex-farrier Marc Ferrador last month had more than 30,000 hits in a week! Click on the follow button to keep in touch and leave me a comment as I love to hear from you.

BOOK NEWS – published this week – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback and Kindle.

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberLinks to The First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – Amazon UK. Amazon US.