Colleges attacked over horse welfare

by Linda Chamberlain

Students have called for better care of horses used in education after a leading university admitted one of its animals died after a behavioural study went horribly wrong.

A spokesman for Nottingham Trent University said: ‘This was an incredibly sad accident and not caused by neglect or bad practice.’

But ex-students have warned that the incident was among a long list of concerns about the treatment of horses – including whipping, long periods of stabling and working animals too hard for their age and fitness.

The students are among a small but growing number of whistleblowers from around the UK who are calling for better care of horses used on equestrian courses. Some left their studies in disgust, others stayed vowing to do what they can for horses who work in the equestrian industry.

Sammi Hancox (above)  finished her degree in 2016 at Nottingham Trent University in equine sports horse management and coaching and is now a riding teacher who runs her own livery yard.

She said: ‘It was my dream to go there. I felt damaged by the time I left.’

The death of a horse called Woody was among the most shocking for her. Said to be one of the slowest on the yard, Woody was being used for another student’s dissertation into how horses might react to an interactive screen. He was penned into a section of the indoor school and his heart rate was monitored before and after the screen was put on. University staff were present but at some point Woody tried to jump the barrier fencing him in.

The university’s spokeman said Woody broke his leg after changing his mind part way through the attempted jump. A vet was called and he was put to sleep.

What upset Sammi, and others, most was the life Woody led before this happened. One, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘He was so slow that no one could get him moving in a lesson. I remember an instructor using spurs and two schooling whips to get him going but the horse’s legs were swollen and filled up the next day.

She said: ‘The day he died, I saw him lying in the school, covered in a rug. It was very upsetting.’

Sammi added: ‘He appeared to be very ill and yet he was made to jump in lessons. Dying was a release for him.’

Some of the university’s horses came from a rescue centre and students claimed that Woody wasn’t the only one being made, through the excessive use of whips and spurs, to work beyond his capabilities. They claimed the horses were ridden, even if they were lame.

One said: ‘When we complained about lame horses the yard manager said – Well, when you get out of bed in the morning you might have some pain but you have to work with your aches and pains.’

Harsh treatment was common, she said, particularly from riding instructors. ‘One pony ran away when a student was trying to mount. An instructor whipped it repeatedly once it was caught.’

Students didn’t always get a gentle approach either. They were split into groups according to ability and she said they were put in a higher level if they showed they could pull the horse’s head in tight when ridden.

‘I remember an instructor shouting, Get that ****** horse’s head in when someone was riding. That’s how it was. Whips were constantly being used – not least by the instructors. Awful.’

The university spokesman denied the students’ claims. ‘We follow correct principles of equitation and do not use – and have never used – the whip to punish a horse,’ he said. ‘This is completely against equine welfare principles. We have a policy of training the horse, not punishing it.

‘The wellbeing of our horses is our highest priority.  They are never worked if lame, in pain or unwell – and never have been. Our staff are highly experienced and professional and would not allow this. It is also completely against our welfare policy and entirely counterproductive as it would make lameness more difficult to cure. If a horse has any health problem it is always treated appropriately under veterinary advice.

‘Unlike commercial farms, our horses don’t have to ‘earn their keep’ and we give them the time they need to recover from injury. Because of this, and our highly-experienced staff and excellent facilities, we have an excellent record of recovery.’

He said all horses used for teaching were checked by a vet at the beginning of the academic year and again, independently by another vet on behalf of the local authority, before being granted a riding school license. There were also unannounced and planned inspections by the British Horse Society.’

Nottingham Trent made headlines in 2015 for its groundbreaking study into the harm caused by traditional stabling. Researchers measured levels of a stress hormone in those kept in individual stables, group stables and in paddocks. They found that the animals became more stressed and difficult to handle the more isolated they became.

Changes were introduced and the university’s stables are now thought to be the only one in the country that has some horses stabled with a companion. The majority, though, are still individually housed.  According to students their free time in a paddock is minimal although this is denied by the university.

Nottingham Trent isn’t the only university where students and ex-students are making complaints. A former lecturer I spoke to said the hike in fees and the contrast between what is taught in the classroom and the stable yard is causing discontent and challenges.

Stuart Attwood, who was  Team Leader – Higher Education Equine at Hadlow College in Kent, said: ‘This is not an historic issue. In my opinion there is a disconnect between the yard – staff and practices – and the lecturing content and, in some cases the personal views of the lecturers and an increasing number of students.

‘Some further education qualifications are based on British Horse Society values but increasingly degree programs are trying to present a newer approach to riding, handling and training. An increasing number of students (FE and HE) are seeing newer ways of handling horses and riding. They want to learn more of this and may even ride like that outside of college but this enthusiasm is stamped on as the BHS values are held more relevant to getting a job.

‘Students are rightly questioning many aspects of colleges – not just equine – as to the value of these courses and the content and how they are taught. The yard issues are real and students do ask questions, and are starting to challenge things like lack of turnout, feeding, stabling, use of bits and harsh control methods. It’s as if the colleges seem to want to just teach what they feel comfortable with, what the BHS book tells them, what’s convenient rather than newer approaches and views ‘because that’s what the industry wants.’

Another lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that college yard managers commonly treated horses and students harshly. Their job was to produce graduates that the industry needed. Students who were sensitive usually dropped out. Some, who have contacted her, didn’t get further than the open day.

‘The ones who stick it out get sucked into the system; they get hardened and desensitised. They learn to be very tough.’

She said horses have to put up with harsh treatment and very little time out in a field. Colleges have the land but choose not to use it. Lecturers, even those who teach horse welfare, had very little influence and the turnover among teaching staff was high due to disillusionment.

‘They keep the horses as if they are animals that go to bed at night instead of sleeping for just four hours a day. They teach the students that in the classroom but do something else on the yard.’

Sarah is a mature student who is determined to finish her course at Hadlow College but struggles with the way horses are kept.

‘I hate the way they are managed. Yes, I find it hard. There are a lot of sad horses there – they are used as tools.

‘You just have to stand outside the stables at Hadlow and you can smell the urine. And the horse has to spend all day inside.

‘They get minimal turnout. It’s supposed to be for 4 hours a week but they don’t even get that. Staff are reluctant to turn them out because they can’t catch them again! My dad went to prison when I was younger. He had more turnout than those horses.’

She was even more appalled at the condition of the horses being used at Kent Equine Academy where her 17-year-old daughter was doing a diploma. She gave up the course last year, unhappy with the way the horses were treated.

Sarah said: ‘Every time I went to collect her, I saw lame horses. And they were ridden. There were a lot of complaints but students were told to ride them through it. One horse was badly lame. I’m quite blunt sometimes. The member of staff on the yard couldn’t see it was lame so I told one of the tutors and she said ride it more forward. She blamed the rider’s ability.’

I was unable to get a response from the academy – it’s website gives the information that student funding has been lost and the academy is being forced to close this year.

A spokesman for Hadlow College said: ‘We’d like to invite you to the college and our equine yard for a tour to see for yourself the excellent conditions in which our horses are kept.  Their physical and mental welfare is always our priority. The visit would also hopefully provide answers to your questions.’

Lengthy stable confinement is the common denominator in the complaints from students. Allie Gilbert who finished her studies at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire 16 years ago remembers the horses she rode as part of her studies rarely had free time in a field – never in winter when fields were wet. She said the animals were stressed as a result.

She described her dissertation looking at the effectiveness of a calming feed produced by Dodson and Horrell. She tried different things with the horses such as walking towards a lorry and loading – ‘The horses were either like zombies with no zap left in them or they simply legged it. They were impossible to handle. In retrospect, I wish I had spoken out more.’

A spokesman for the university said: ‘Due to Hartpury soil being heavy clay and therefore poaching very quickly, turnout is largely restricted over the winter months when conditions are wet. While we do offer sacrifice paddock turnout, alongside many exercise options (including a sand paddock, two horse walkers, several schools and hacking), we are unable to support those horses who benefit from all-year turnout.  As all horses adapt and cope differently, we appreciate that this environment might not suit every horse.

‘We are clear about turnout when students make initial enquiries about livery at Hartpury. Many horses thrive in this busy atmosphere of a working livery, but we are clear that it is not an environment that will suit every horse. When the ground conditions are suitable, horses do benefit from turnout. This can be overnight, during the day, or both.’

Amelia Phillips (left) did an BHS equestrian course in Cheshire as part of a youth training scheme nearly 30 years ago. She was aged 16 and tried to complain about the conditions for the horses.

‘Nobody listened. I complained to the tutor on site. I complained to the yard manager where I worked and I complained to the tutor who was overseeing my YTS scheme. I was told it was a good yard, very expensive, it was accredited by the BHS!! I was told not to be rude, ignorant or to question those who knew better than I. Most of the other course participants felt the same, except those who really had no experience or other yards to compare to. The whole experience was miserable. I had not one happy day there. That I can see in my mind, the grime, the sweat, the bony protrusions, the gloom, now, 29 years later, quite vividly, speaks volumes.

‘I kid you not, we had to wear our hats with hairnets, long boots with no long sock showing (or we were not getting on), body warmers, long sleeves and gloves, yet the horses were faeces-stained, muscle-free remnants of good animals. Even the tutor looked out of place because she was smart and clean. The yard had a real feel of despair.

‘There has not been a horseless day in the last 30 years of my life and I have never seen a professional, accredited, learning establishment since be so poorly equipped with such down-trodden, distressed, abused horses. I hear about college teachings now ( I am currently helping a young lad studying horse care who came last year for some equine assisted therapy), the material content has not changed. How depressing, when science has moved forward such a long way.’

Sammi Hancox kept a dossier during her time at Nottingham Trent University. While there, she and a fellow student discussed their experiences with an equestrian professional outside the uni and were challenged by college management as a result.

‘I was on my own with this committee from the uni asking me questions,’ she said. ‘They accused me of slandering the university so I told them everything I said was true. No action was taken against me.’

 

My investigation into the students’ concerns was prompted by a simple post on Facebook. It was from a mother seeking support because her distressed daughter wanted to drop out of a college in the Midlands. She couldn’t stand the way the horses were treated and eventually left her course. Sadly, she felt too upset to contribute to this article.

I was struck by the number of students and mothers who shared similar stories on Facebook – some recent, some long ago.

Many horses have a hard-working life, without free-time in a paddock. But what made me investigate the student claims further was the fact that equestrian colleges should be leading the industry, paving the way for improved welfare. Thanks to high tuition fees and government funding they are publicly accountable. They should be responding to the burgeoning interest in alternative ways of keeping and training horses. They should all be listening to the groundbreaking research conducted by one of their own number – Nottingham Trent University – into the harm caused by stabling.

They should be setting up and discovering the rehabilitation and health benefits of track systems (above) – where horses are out 24/7 in a herd and owners report increased fitness and contentment. They should be curious, if not leading the way, on barefoot horse riding.

SOMEONE, PLEASE FIND ME A COLLEGE THAT OWNS A SET OF HOOF BOOTS! For non-equestrians who don’t realise, boots can be taken off after a ride. They can improve hoof health and don’t cause the damage sometimes seen with nailed-on shoes…

Isn’t it time colleges took another direction?

But what do you think? If you’ve been to equestrian college or work in education, why don’t you let me know?

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SEARCH FOR A STAR…I am looking for an agent for my next novel about the mysterious life of the world’s biggest name in horse welfare – Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty. I will keep you informed! In the meantime, I am looking for a Black Beauty look-alike to help me with publicity. I have been inundated with beautiful, black horses on Facebook – check out the post – very exciting…! Please enter if you have a black horse with a white star and a heart of gold…there is a copy of my novel, The First Vet, to be won…

Book links and reviews are below…

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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Trainer with a difference…

by Linda Chamberlain

Sports horses – are they really locked up for their own safety? Are fields such dangerous places that a talented thoroughbred is not allowed near one without a rider? And horseshoes? Surely, these horses work on grass and have no need of them.

Does it have to be like this?

bored - isolated

bored – isolated

Meet Simon Earle, a racehorse trainer, who asked himself those questions ten years ago and came up with answers that set him on a different path to the rest in the industry. His horses are predominantly barefoot and, surprisingly, live for much of the time in a herd. In a field! If you’re not a horse person, you might not realise the significance of this. Believe me, it’s a rare sight and the common regime for talented equines is training followed by stable confinement. It’s rarely questioned and yet the lifestyle causes such stress that ulcers can be found in most race horses. Tendon injuries are regarded as a hazard of racing but Simon has found that taking their shoes off minimises the risk. It sounds as if I’m tempting fate but, since finding a specialist barefoot trimmer eight years ago, not one of his animals has suffered a tendon injury and yet ninety per cent of conventionally-kept racehorses are thought to suffer such a break down, or similar, at some point in their predominantly short careers.

It’s September and Simon’s horses have finished work. At four o’clock they’ve been fed (high fibre, low sugar, vegetable oil and a magnesium supplement) in the American-style barn that will shelter them at night in winter. Now it’s empty and echoes with our footsteps as we walk to the fields where the horses are grazing and socialising. These equines are a friendly crowd. They come to meet us; some check out my bag or the back of my head. One thinks the bag might be worth chewing but is easily dissuaded. There’s the usual herd dynamics to watch out for – that’s my mare, mate. Get lost. A newcomer is chased away and dominance is achieved without violence. Simon picks up their feet for us to examine even though we don’t have a head collar. The horses are so calm and amenable that for ten seconds I kid myself that even I might manage to ride one should it fall into my bag without him noticing. As I mentally choose a favourite, he apologises because I’m seeing their feet at their worst because they’re due for their four-week trim from farrier and barefoot trimmer, Chris Keable. These hooves are healthy and a credit to both men – no thrush, no white-line separation, both are warnings that things are wrong – but some of the horses haven’t been here long and he’s looking for improvement.

They have the usual high price tags that make your eyes water – up to £85,000. That’s enough reason for most owners and trainers to resort to convention and stabling but Simon has seen results from giving his animals a more natural lifestyle. He views the field as a place of health and safety unlike most of his peers explaining that more accidents happen in the stable. He’s undoubtedly thinking of the recent loss of a promising horse nicknamed, Derek, who was put to sleep after an accident in the stable where he had been recovering from an operation.

‘Our horses are trained from the field,’ he says. ‘And they are out together. It’s better for the horse like that. So many come here from other racing yards and their brains are buzzing. To be a racehorse is very stressful. They are pushed to their limit every day.’

 

Free to play

Free to play…

Simon runs a professional yard and there’s no doubt that his horses are also pushed to extremes – he wants winners like any trainer. But their more-natural lifestyle should give his horses an advantage.

He’s already shown that tendon injuries are reduced. He says conventional shoeing plays its part in causing the damage. The farrier endeavours to reduce the number of front shoes pulled off by a hind foot by placing the shoe forward. Eventually the toe becomes long, the heels under run until eventually the foot has migrated changing the break over point and putting strain on the tendon.

‘It’s common sense that if you are weight bearing further forward then the back of the leg takes the strain,’ he says.

I read on the internet how Simon would examine the track after a race to see his horse’s hoof marks and guess what? The barefoot horse doesn’t sink into the ground as much as his shod cousins – less strain on the tendon. He’s also observed that a horse’s stride lengthens without shoes and of course this will help the animal’s heart and his speed.

Simon’s barefoot journey accelerated ten years ago with a retired racehorse called Saucy Night. Frankly, he sounded like pet food and the word retired should have been replaced with finished. He had ulcers, he’d injured his tendons and his feet were a mess. Oh, and he was thin. His career wasn’t successful – not only had he never been placed, he had never passed another horse in his life. A former business partner acquired him and they started repairing him. The shoes were taken off. He was turned out. Slowly he began to recover. Saucy got used to life without shoes. He was put in the horse walker and then ridden. Fast forward to 2005 and a racecourse in Folkestone. Saucy Night made history by becoming the first barefoot winner beating the rest by six lengths. There’s even a You Tube film about him.

Impressed? Saucy continued to make a success of his career before retiring (proper use of the word) a few years later. Simon runs a small yard; he has about a dozen horses, but his most successful horse was Red Not Blue who notched up numerous wins. He had come to him on the verge of retirement at the age of six – he had only one shoe on and after two-weeks of precautionary quarantine was turned out in the field to recover and transition his feet.

 

Red Not Blue - barefoot and winning

                                  Red Not Blue – barefoot and winning

I like Simon’s method – so many of us labour for months, sometimes years over this! But I suppose the pleasure horse has stony tracks to contend with and that’s my excuse. A racehorse trainer doesn’t have the luxury of time and he can’t devote himself to one horse and of course he only needs the animal to compete on grass. So, a newcomer is turned out with the others for six weeks preferably in Spring when the feet are growing strongly. He is trimmed every four weeks and not ridden. Then he’s put in the horse walker to see how those feet are faring. The summer gives the horses a lull from racing so the newly barefoot horse has time to show whether he will cope without shoes. Simon is dismissive of hoof boots because he ‘hasn’t found a good one’ and his attitude to metal shoes is pragmatic. He’ll use them if he has to, he’ll even put them on for a month to give horses a chance to grow some foot but he finds them a pain. They fall off and sometimes they wrench half a foot with them.

Racing, he says, is as conventional as the rest of the horse world. So, I was curious to hear how he was regarded by his peers. Apart from one surprised comment at his first appearance with a barefoot horse he doesn’t get any ribbing and no one has questioned his sanity!

He achieves this enviable situation with a personality that is unchallenging. He does his own thing, in his own quiet way. His horses compete, sometimes they win, and he goes home. What? Not even a little bit of curiosity? I ask.

‘There’s been press coverage. People know what I do,’ he says.

Simon Earle

Simon Earle

Every trainer has a different approach but Simon’s methods are interesting. He favours staff who come from an eventing rather than racing background because, he says, they ride properly. He hastens to qualify the statement, explaining that he wants his horses schooled more than is usual. He wants them working their whole bodies, building up the muscles on their top line and able to sort out their own legs. So if a horse is approaching the final bend in a race, leading with the wrong leg, Simon wants the horse to swap over and not wait for a jockey’s instructions. He also wants the horse to be able to place himself correctly for a jump and so he does a lot of what is known as grid work with them, teaching them to gauge obstacles themselves, minimising the chances of a fall.

Racing, particularly over jumps, has its detractors. It’s hard on the horses. Many are raced at the age of two when they are not fully grown. There are losses and careers can be extremely short. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture of speed and elegance. Hundreds can be lost in a year, still more don’t make the grade or retire without the rebirth made by Saucy Night. What happens to those animals? I don’t ask Simon Earle to defend the sport but what of his own horses?

‘I rehome them and I track them for life,’ he says.

There was a sweet, five-year-old mare in the field who wasn’t up to scratch but I keep myself in check and don’t stick up a hand. Red Not Blue has just gone to a well-known barefoot home.

And two year olds? He doesn’t race them but it’s in character for him not to say much other than it’s not my thing. He favours racing them from the age of five and retiring them at about twelve.

As we leave the fields, we are followed to the gate by a four-year-old bay, one Simon owns himself. He hasn’t raced yet and he has the calm look of a horse who likes humans. ‘He half thinks I’m his mum,’ Simon mutters, rubbing the horse’s face.

Then I remember he’d mentioned Monty Roberts – the innovative trainer from the US who has changed the way many horses are started, not broken, using a method called join up. Simon uses some of Monty’s techniques – of course he does.

 

Some of the racing herd

                         Some of the racing herd

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IMG_3822ABOUT 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. Horsemanship Magazine said – ‘The writing is charming, warm, and (gently) brutally honest about a subject which is so obviously dear to her heart and central to her life. The big issues of hoof trim, equine lifestyle and human understanding are all covered. From the agony of self-doubt to the ecstasy of equine partnership, it is all laid out here, clearly and thoughtfully. It really ought to be required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off.’

A Barefoot Journey is a small but perfectly formed field companion for my novel, The First Vet, inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)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 NovelCoverSociety. 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!’

 

The Stable Regime that Harms

by Linda Chamberlain

These two prisoners have much in common.

 

images[6]

images[2]

They spend much of their day in a small space. They have very little to do. And they have very few companions to share their time with. They are confined and they know the meaning of the word vice.

For the man behind bars vice has been many things. The thieving he got away with in his youth, stolen cigarettes from the corner shop and more recently the knife attack that led to his incarceration.

For the horse –incarceration came before the vice. This is how he lives. The bars were put on the stable door because he’s in the habit of putting his head into the fresh air and rocking from side to side. It’s called weaving and, in the horse world, it’s known as a vice. It doesn’t sound such a great crime, does it, but weaving makes a horse lose condition, it lowers his value and there’s a real danger that other horses on the yard will pick up the habit themselves. It most commonly begins when a horse is stabled – and bored – for long periods.

‘They don’t have anything to do and they don’t have anyone to talk to.’

The government’s chief inspector of prisons was talking about worsening conditions in this country’s goals which have led to an increased suicide rate. But he could have been talking about one of the most prestigious horse livery yards in the country.

I went to see one such yard for myself after writing my controversial blog – They’re athletes, not dinner. I got a guided tour because I wanted somewhere with good facilities for my promising sports horse (in my dreams!) and I wanted to know if 24/7 confinement was as acceptable as I’d alleged.

It was.

It was a pleasantly, sunny day and I was taken to an impressive, American-style barn where there were up to twenty horses in residence. How clean it was! How shining! There was hardly a dropping in sight. Grooms rushed about, everything was polished and I could have visited in white jodhpurs and come home clean. I would have to join a waiting list but, were I to be granted admittance, my horse would be skipped out four times a day, fed three times and exercised once by a rider or in the horse walker. I saw a horse in this very expensive machine going round and round without human intervention and my mind boggled. It’s difficult to understand why people go to such expense and trouble when they could go for a ride or, dare I suggest it, turn the horse out in a field. This splendid facility had very few fields, though. The youngsters were allowed out for a couple of hours but the ridden horses enjoyed the special treatment of central heating in winter, rubber stable mats and the occasional mirror.

‘It helps to settle them,’ I was told. ‘They see themselves and it makes them think they have company.’

‘Ah, such a good idea,’ I enthused. My acting talents were stretched to their limit.

The stables were large units inside a huge barn, their doors looking inwards and the horses could at least see each other even though they couldn’t see the outside world or touch each other. Iron bars made sure there was no danger of that and then my guide pointed out a very positive feature – the drop-down, anti weaving bars on each and every stable door. I looked around and had a quick count. I estimated that half the horses had their bars up. I didn’t see any of them weaving – even with the deterrent of the bars a stressed horse can manage to weave in the stable. This livery yard knows its business and reduces the risk of stable vices with regular feeding and exercise. I’m reminded of a yard that a friend of mine worked at run by some Olympic riders where the fields were notable for their absence. She was a groom and Monday was a day off for many of them so the horses weren’t exercised.

‘That’s the day a lot of the them became ill. We called it tying up day,’ she said. Tying up, or azoturia, is a worrying condition notable among stabled horses who work hard. They get cramp-like symptoms and seize up. ‘A lot of them had ulcers and colic was a constant worry.’

The horses at the livery yard I visited looked healthy; they were passive rather than anxious. Bored but subdued. Horses take confinement amazingly well. Some develop vices but with careful management they accept the life we allow them although I’ve barely mentioned the health problems they endure. The state of their feet, I haven’t touched upon.

So, no fields for most of the very expensive animals here. They are such hazardous places, after all. Horses have been known to run in them, kick and play with each other or eat some grass. I’ve even seen a horse drop to the ground and roll in the mud – in fact, that’s something mine will do every day just for the comfort and joy of it although I fear it might worry some of the owners from the livery yard. Not mud!

It’s lovely to return to my own yard where the horses are appreciating that the sun is warm rather than hot. They’ve spent a bit of time in the field shelter judging by the calling cards they’ve left me and are now on their track, grazing together. They see me and saunter over since it’s getting close to supper time. The others hang back because Carrie is the boss and a flick of her ear warns that she’s to have the first hello with me. She doesn’t linger since I have nothing beyond a stroke and heads to the gate; she’ll wait ‘til the bucket is ready. I check the rest. There are no bites or kicks to worry me but they are dusty from rolling.

‘How did you survive?’ I ask them. ‘You haven’t killed each other. Well done.’

Once we’ve done our greetings, I’m ignored. I feed them, so I’m important but I’m not as vital to them as they are to each other. They follow Carrie across the stony yard to the gate. Tao rubs her face on Carrie’s behind and snorts. Carrie nods her head, frowns. Tao respectfully backs off. They don’t say much but they understand each other.

If only humans understood them as well.
And on a different note…

My thanks to author Janice Preston who has nominated me for an inspiring blog award. Wow, that made me chuffed – and made me check my wardrobe to make sure I had something suitable for a possible awards ceremony at the Savoy. It might not be that sort of award, but still. Now I must dash – I’m off to buy Janice’s new book, Mary and the Marquis. It features a horse so I’m going to read it.

Click on the Follow button at the top of the page to make sure you get notified of my next blog or to hear news of my debut novel, The First Vet, which is being published shortly. Set in the late 18th century, it’s a story of love and corruption and is inspired by the campaigning work of Bracy Clark.

And leave me feedback – I would love to hear from you.

Horsing Around With Usain Bolt

A spoof, by Linda Chamberlain

World-class sprinter Usain Bolt is to learn the secrets of the horse world in a bid to stay at the top of his game.

 

Usain's new shoes

Usain’s new shoes

 

The fastest man in the world was so impressed by the speed and performance of equine Olympians that he has decided to follow in their hoof steps. On the advice of medical experts, he is having a specially-made, metal attachment, much like a horse shoe, fixed to his trainers. The design of the attachment is a closely guarded secret but I can reveal that Bolt plans to wear them 24/7.

His trainers argue that the Jamaican athlete will get used to the metal shoes more quickly if he wears them all the time. They hope they will guard against slipping during competitions and minimise the risk of exasperating a troublesome tendon injury that has setback his training in the past. They also hope he will be able to sprint faster than a horse.

In an exclusive interview, Bolt said: ‘The shoes felt heavy at first and it took a while to get used to them. They’re coming off next week, so that will be a bit of a break.’

‘Oh, for good?’ I asked the 6 foot 5 inch star of the track.

‘No, only while I have my toe nails trimmed.’

Doubters have speculated that running on metal might be harmful for the athlete but Bolt is confident that medical advice is correct. He’s been told that running without them might have a detrimental effect on the physiology of his foot.

‘The doctors know what they’re doing,’ he said. ‘They must be right and those running tracks can be hard, you know.’

Supporters of the shoe say it can relieve many problems of the foot, including arthritic pain – as well as give support to painful heels and protect weak toe nails.

‘It’s true,’ Bolt said. ‘I don’t break my toe nails half as much as I used to.’

The Olympic authorities have given approval and other athletes are expected to copy the innovation. Bolt predicts that very soon there won’t be an athlete in the world without metal shoes.

In another daring move inspired by the horse world, Bolt is dramatically changing his lifestyle. Apart from the many hours spent in training and competition, he is to be confined to what his trainers describe as a focus room. There will be no TV, no space for friends and therefore no distractions. There’s enough room for his bed and he’ll be given an innovative ball to play with which lets out small amounts of food if he rolls it around the floor.

confiend horse

‘We never stop learning,’ said the runner who has been nicknamed Lightning Bolt. ‘You should have seen those horses at the Olympics. They were awesome and they were focused. If it works for them; it should work for me.’

He’s been confined to his focus room for two weeks and his trainers are pleased it is having the desired effect.

‘He can’t wait to get out on the track in the morning,’ said one of his training team. ‘Before the focus room he was much more laid back. Now he just wants to run; he doesn’t want to stop. It’s brilliant. He loves that room. At the end of the training session we put some of his favourite food in there and you should see him rush back in there.’

* * * * *

Apply the ideology to a human and suddenly it makes you question the treatment of horses, doesn’t it?

Apologies to Usain Bolt for the above article. He seemed such a nice guy that I thought he wouldn’t mind his name being used to support a campaign to free equine athletes.

UPDATE

ABOUT ME – THE BOOKS

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. My own horses’ shoes were removed about 17 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. 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.

‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – 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 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 book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘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 campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. 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. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…I’m enjoying the research on this lady! She used to take snuff…xxx