What do you do with your horses once they don’t do the therapy work?
Our horses were with us long before our business. Our business may come and go, but our horses are here for life.
We are well aware we may become crazy old horse ladies (if we are not already).
Do we ride our horses?
No. We are not a riding establishment. Most of our ponies and horses have come our way due to injuries, they are veterans, or simply do not wish to be ridden anymore.
Personally, Livvy rode Gunner for hacking and endurance rides. He had a leg injury early in 2017 and had most of the year off recovering. They have been a few short hacks since November 2017.
How do we keep our horses?
We rent some of the 16 acres of farm land owned by Lyn Palmer who is an Equine Touch Instructor. We moved to this farm in April 2017 with seven horses and over the next six months we progressed to having twelve horses. They were in two herds that lived next door to each other. Our first herd is a mixed herd of eight: three geldings (Danny, Gunner, Jac) and five mares (Ulha, Prada, Epona, Hope and Grace). Our second herd is a mixed herd of 4: two geldings (Logan and Rio) and two mares (Polly and Blossom).
When the Somerset levels allow, they live out 24/7 (except Gunner who needs a stable at night so he can use the wall to get up after a proper sleep). The winter has been very wet and we have had to bring them off the land for the time being. We have two communal living areas, several stables and can use a few places such as the arena for them to have a leg stretch.
Do any of your horses have health issues?
Epona, is prone to laminitis but can now generally live out with the herd. Since we bought her in May 2017, we gradually changed her routine from being in a stable for approx. 16-18 hours to living out 24/7 with the herd. She slowly lost her shoulder fat pads and although has a bit more weight to lose she runs around much more with fellow Dartmoor’s who are a few years younger than her so are keeping her fit. We removed the grazing muzzle she came in and the overeating behaviour actually stopped when she realised she wasn’t coming off the grass. She now does other things such as sleeping flat out or snoozing upright, bosses others around and mutually grooms her favourite pony Grace. We do still check for a pulse regularly and we know her the first sign of any laminitic issue is in her breathing. She has responded well to The Equine Touch which seems to have helped her regulate her own body system and a key reason we have managed to keep her out. She tends to come up to request a body balance when she needs one as she knows quicker than we do if something is amiss.
Logan had ‘health issues’ when we bought him in May 2017, he had treatment for seedy toe and our farrier recognised him from a previous owner and warned he was prone to laminitis. He was shod and those shoes were replaced with remedial ones to support the seedy toe, after which he has been able to go barefoot. His muscle definition changed by living out 24/7 rather than stabled for 16-18 hours, particularly his bottom. When he gets into trot he glides. His behaviour had changed from fear aggression to being more relaxed. Sadly when he was introduced into the main herd, he clashed badly with Ulha which didn’t settle. Logan began to sweat excessively and his coat grew to look like he may have Cushing’s within weeks of being in the herd, even though Ulha was taken out for a bit. A blood test confirmed he had PPID (Cushing’s). As the vet recommended we put him on a Prascend tablet a day, out of the herd and subsequent blood tests have confirmed his hormone levels are back within normal range with this dosage. We have been lucky he has never lost his appetite so giving him a pill was easy. Logan now lives with three other in a smaller herd and we shall see what happens in the Spring in terms of bringing the two herds together.
Polly has had a knee operation in the past after she snapped the ligament from her patella so we are mindful of this, although she trots around with the others with no signs of bother.
Jac is blind in his left eye due to cataracts when younger, this had gone unnoticed most of his life as he had managed to adapt incredibly well. He can see shadows but in winter or indoors when it is darker he can not see anything so we are mindful about his impaired vision.
Rio has a bit of arthritis due to his previous career as a polo pony and he ended up as body condition 1.5 before he was discovered and rehabilitated by Claudia (our extended team). He was then rehomed with us and now keeps the Gypsy cobs company.
What do you feed your horses?
They live out, so select what the meadows and hedgerows provide throughout the growing months. Gunner comes in at night so has haylage/hay, and a feed of chaff/nuts/cool-stance for breakfast and supper. Outside of the growing months they are all given hay/haylage and most are given a morning feed of chaff, maybe pony nuts and cool-stance. We are not worried if they lose a bit of weight/condition over winter as this is normal for wild horses and as a result they seem to handle Spring’s grass much better. Apples and carrots are given ad-hoc. The thoroughbreds sometimes need two feeds a day if they lose too much condition.
Do you use supplements?
Yes, although vets and nutritionists have varying opinions on how useful they are. Gunner, Logan and Blossom also have gut balancer at the moment. Gunner has farrier aid/linseed to support his hooves. Polly has a supplement to help her joints.
All horses regularly self select herbs, clays and essential oils; rosehips, arnica and peppermint are firm favourites and occasionally barley grass powder.
Livvy had six horses/ponies, Georgie had one when they joined up businesses in April 2016. There were two ponies at the farm they both moved to and a month later they bought them as their owner couldn’t look after them anymore. Another horse joined about 2 months after that looking for a forever home/as a companion horse for another horse at the farm but ended up with paintedhorse. A month later, two more arrived on retirement livery with us as their owner had suffered a sudden health issue and could no longer do they physical work involved in looking after horses.
How old are your horses?
Our veterans over 15 are Rio, Jac (both 19), Gunner, Danny (both 18) and Polly (aged 16). Our middle rangers are Ulha, Prada and Blossom (all 10), Logan who is allegedly 10 but the dentist suggests 12 and Epona is 8. Our youngsters are Grace and Hope (both 2).
Do you rug your horses?
Gunner has a light weight jacket on as and when required in the wetter and colder months, he is one of our more sensitive thoroughbreds. As the only one stabled, he also has his stable PJ’s when the nights are colder as it is drafty in the barn. Our other thoroughbreds/crosses are a bit more hardy than Gunner but have rugs on when they start feeling the colder/wetter weather. Logan a Gypsy Cob with Cushing’s/PPID, has a compromised coat so this winter had to be rugged. Our two retirement liveries (Polly and Blossom) have rugs at their owners request. Rio who is a little on the slimmer side going into winter also has a rug. The rest of the herd are native breeds such as Welsh, Dartmoor or Cob so grow amazing coats which are designed for our UK climate.
Why don’t you have a track system if you are ‘keeping horses naturally’?
If we are honest its not ‘natural’ for us to keep equines at all; fenced in a track system, fenced in a field, shut in a stable or otherwise, but we do. As a result of all that came before, we now have a responsibility to provide our domesticated friends a living space as natural as possible with the FAWC Five Freedoms in mind and working with what resources we have.
Whilst it would be beneficial for us all to have a raised track around the farm’s perimeter, as it would help us winter out on the Somerset levels, we rent the land.
When living out our herds both move around constantly and they have the space needed for any herd dynamics to play out. So our ‘system’ of meadow fields and field rotation works for us, our horses are happy and therefore we are. If they weren’t we would change things. Keeping horses is not a one size fits all and we feel its important to keep an open mind about what works for each individual, their situation, resources, finances and so on.
If you are ‘natural’ why are your horses shod?
Gunner is shod, the others are barefoot. Each of our horses are individual cases, we have not found a one size fits all approach works. Gunner is a veteran, has a long history of crumbling hooves despite diet/supplements and his shoes therefore help his well-being and position in the herd. We feel we would be dismissing his welfare for the sake of proving barefoot is best, which would feel ego based and arrogant on our part. Therefore we accept in his case he needs shoes. We have a fully qualified and experienced farrier we know and trust who works with all our herd.
Supporting Other Horse Owners
We have found empowering horse owners, inspiring them and sharing good practice is such a positive energy and one we prefer to engage with. Unhelpful criticism and a closed mind/attitude tends to persecute and dis-empower other people; consequently this can lead to a loss of confidence after which point many a horse owner can give up keeping horses. As we know, there is already a surplus of horses requiring good homes to those that are available. Be the reason someone feels empowered to keep their horse and do their best by them.