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.
We do have a Equine Facilitated Learning exercise called ‘The Journey Ride’ which is an ending ceremony which involves trust, communication and energy exchange whilst sat on a horse bare back (or bare back saddle). There are no reins for the rider, a head collar for lead walker (there are side walkers for client safety). We walk around the arena or field to music or the drum. This ceremony completes a programme of work between the horses and client. We only conduct this exercise if the horse wants to and the client a suitable weight for the horse.
Personally, Livvy rode Gunner for hacking and endurance rides. Unfortunately, he had a leg injury early in 2017. Depending how he recovers and how he feels, he may continue to ride or he may retire.
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. The herd live as a mixed herd; currently 5 geldings, 5 mares. If weather allows our horses live out 24/7, we have not had a winter on the levels yet so we shall see how wet things get. Diet wise, they select various meadow grasses in the fields which provide seasonal forage such as cleavers, thistles, nettles etc. They are lucky to have very mature hedgerows that surround most fields, so can find blackberries, rosehips, elderberries etc. We supplement with hay and haylage when needed and they have salt licks and mineral licks placed around the fields. Occasionally they have some seasonal fruit and veg like carrots and apples and we attempt to place them around the field without being detected (there is always someone watching though).
We bought one laminitic pony, Epona, who can now generally live out with the herd. Our holistic vet advised she can be on grass if we manage things. We still check for a pulse regularly. During her rehabilitation with her buddy Logan, she lived out 24/7 in a straw like field which had been eaten down by the others. Now joined up with the main herd, if the grass is lush due to weather conditions she may still come in for half the day/night. Epona responds well to The Equine Touch which has helped her regulate her own body systems. She has started to lose weight and more often than not can be out 24/7 as time goes on. We are monitoring Logan and his health, he has Equine Cushing’s Disease so is on Pergalide and a diet to support that. Lastly, one of our ex-race horses needs a wall to help him get up so won’t sleep lying down in the field. So he generally comes in most night times, although some summer nights he chooses to stay out and snooze upright. When he does comes in, this is our chance to feed him up a bit and give him something extra to support his hooves. We also have a range of holistic therapies between us.
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. Why? We have domesticated, selectively bred and in some cases genetically modified our oldest friend. We have also ‘domesticated’ the world around us, with our homes in villages, towns and cities. Pasture is harder to come by and bridal tracks are being lost. Horses once the only form of transport are generally not safe on our roads anymore. As a result of all that came before we now have a responsibility to provide 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 to have a raised track around the farm’s perimeter, which would help us winter out (as we are on the levels) and it would be useful for the other two liveries on the farm to have a track to ride on to avoid the dangerous road outside the farm. We rent the land.
Being a herd of ten, they move around constantly and have the space needed for any herd dynamics to play out. So our ‘system’ of meadow fields and 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?
One of ex-racehorses is shod, whilst the others are barefoot. We have a fully qualified and experienced farrier we know and trust who works with all our herd. He helped one of our ponies who came to us in front shoes, with seedy toe and a laminitic history, recently diagnosed with Cushing’s. After one pair of remedial shoes, treatment for seedy toe and feed supplements he went barefoot. Each of our horses are individual cases, we have not found a one size fits all approach works. Our boy who is shod 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 be ego based and arrogant on our part. Therefore we accept in his case he needs shoes.
Supporting Other Horse Owners
We have found empowering horse owners, inspiring them and sharing good practice is such a positive energy and one we love to engage with. In contrast, unhelpful criticism and a narrow minded attitude tends to persecute and dis-empower others. Dis-empowerment leads to a loss of confidence after which point many a horse owner gives up keeping horses. Sadly there is already a surplus of horses to good homes available. So be the reason someone feels empowered to keep their horse and do their best by them.