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. He had a leg injury early in 2017 and had most of the year off recovering. They have been a few short hacks this month (November).
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 twelve horses. We currently have two herds that live next door to each other (depending on weather/how wet field are). 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).
If weather allows they live out 24/7, but we have not had a winter on the levels yet so we shall see how wet things get and they may come into a communal living area for part of the time. One of our horses Gunner has a stable so he can sleep lying down as he needs the support of the wall to get back up, on some summer nights he will opt to stay out and snooze upright.
Do any of your horses have health issues?
Epona, is prone to laminitis and can now generally live out with the herd. She has a stable if needed and we have use of a round pen as a bigger space to keep her moving around. Since we bought her in May 2017, we gradually changed her 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 made the decision to remove the grazing muzzle she came in and the overeating behaviour stopped when she realised she’s not coming off the grass, so 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 but with 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. She tends to come up to request a body balance when she needs one, 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. He muscle definition in his bottom began to change by living out 24/7 rather than stabled for 16-18 hours and his knees clicked less. He looked healthier and his behaviour had changed from fear aggression to relaxed around horses, until he went into our main herd. He seemed to clash with one horse in particular, and they kicked out at each other. He began to sweat excessively and his coat grew to look like he may have Cushing’s within weeks. A blood test confirmed he had PPID and he was put on Pergalide treatment. We are lucky as he eats his feed well so we don’t have to hide his tablet and he still has a good appetite. He is due a second blood test at Christmas to see if his levels are still within the ‘normal range’ as his first blood test indicated. He looks better in himself, having gone through a depressed like stage and come out the other side. He is now in a small herd with others his size and temperament and appears is doing much better.
Polly has had a knee operation in the past having snapped the ligament from her patella so we are mindful of this.
What do you feed your horses?
The live out, so select what the meadow and hedgerows provide. As Gunner comes in at night, he has haylage/hay, and a feed of chaff/nuts/cool-stance for breakfast and supper. When the grass isn’t growing they are all given with hay/haylage and given a morning feed of chaff, 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.
Do you use supplements?
Yes, although vets and nutritionists have varying opinions on how useful they are. Logan has a supplement for Cushings/PPID which has a high content of Chaste berry of which there are scientific studies ongoing as to its usefulness in helping to balance dopamine levels (although he has stopped selecting recently, which is likely to be connected to Pergolide reducing his levels to without the normal range). Logan’s immune system is compromised so he has a gut balancer as a healthy intestine is key to immunity and absorbing any nutrients. Gunner and Blossom also have gut balancer at the moment. Gunner has farrier aid/linseed to support his hooves. 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. 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 us. Lastly, 2 more arrived a month after that 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. Most of our herd are native breeds such as Welsh, Dartmoor and Cob so grow amazing coats and are designed for our UK climate. Logan a Gypsy Cob with Cushing’s/PPID, has had to be shaved this October as his sweat during the day was keeping his coat wet into the colder nights. Since shaved he is dry and warm over night, if this changes we may rug him. Our other thoroughbreds/crosses we monitor over winter (Danny has recently requested a rug at night time).
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 as we are on the levels, additionally it would be useful for the other liveries on the farm to have a track to ride on to avoid the dangerous road outside the farm, we rent the land.
Our herds moves 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 the only one of horses who is shod, the others are barefoot. We have a fully qualified and experienced farrier we know and trust who works with all our herd. He helped Logan (who came to us shod) with his seedy toe due to a laminitic history, gave him lighter remedial shoes and 6 weeks later he was able to go 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.
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.