You know how it is, we’re all busy and the last thing we want to do is peel off a huge pile of rugs (it’s winter after all) and stand around and brush off mud for hours and hours. The mud dust ends up flicking in your eyes, the grease is embedded underneath your nails and two horses in your arms feel like they are about to fall off.
Today I stopped running from job to job and actually spent well over an hour standing just grooming both horses, I felt calm and there was such a nice connection and appreciation from both horses (admittedly there were treats involved) but still it was enjoyed. Naturally being the knowledge addict I am, I wanted to look in to some of the additional benefits of grooming your horse, and have then elaborated on them.
Grooming doesn’t just make your horse look gorgeous. it’s actually also proven to be a genuine health booster. Vigorous (depending on how long your arms can last) grooming promotes circulation, massages muscles, sloughs off dead skin cells, and stimulates the production of beneficial oils. It also enables you to spot emerging lumps, swellings, or skin issues so you can deal with them early for best results.
This part of the benefits I have added in ‘off the cuff’. As someone that has dealt with mental health issues for some time (anxiety in boat loads) I can honestly tell you that I have never felt calmer, there was nothing else to focus on but grooming, which is rare in this day and age of social media dinging at you 24-7. After grooming two horses I felt really relaxed, great that I had done it for them as they enjoy it and just had a general good wellbeing vibe,
From researching (which is basically a technical term for googling) it’s also proven to be amazing for your horses mental health. They find it relaxing, it only improves the bond you have with your horse and if they are a tense horse (which one of mine is, she’s like a ball of nerves) it’s a great way to help them relax those tighter muscles. You know you see horses grooming their friends over fences when they are turned out, well it’s the same when we groom them (one of my horses actually insists on grooming me back, which more often than not involves my ponytail ending up in his mouth).
Getting to Know Your Horse
As I mentioned in the previous point one of the horses I have is incredibly nervous. By working with a bush and touching her whole body I’m starting to understand which parts of her body she is most anxious about. This puts you in good stead to not go rushing in with a boot on a leg they are a bit touchy about and thus keeps everything calm in situations where it could turn in to a quick spin, a boot and an unplanned trip to A&E (We’ve all been there).
A Shiny Horse Makes for a Happy Owner
An entirely selfish one here, as a horse owner (but hey this blog is about honesty). Having given my horses a lovely groom leaving them shining and knot free, this actually makes me feel really happy and bright. Much like a tidy car (which sadly I can’t relate to) or coming home to a tidy house (this one I can, thanks to my mild OCD) It sets you up for a quick preparation before riding the next day and a positive feeling switching the lights off at the end of the day.
I’ve not covered the common point of ‘it keeps them clean’ because lets face it we all know that. This was just a post to transfer my happiness earlier in to a bit more exploration in to the ‘Real’ benefits of grooming. To be fair thinking about it, if I have a nice hot bath and give myself a ‘groom’ I always step out of the bathroom with a touch more pizazz.
Loosing a horse in any capacity is utterly gut wrenching. Today I went through my first ‘shoot’ ordeal and after spending the whole of last night in to the early hours trying to prepare myself for what to expect (which FYI there is very little) it seemed appropriate while fresh in my mind to write my own account of the entire process for anyone about to go through it.
Thankfully this was not my own horse it was a good friend of mine who became a livery client on the yard, but needless to say three weeks of care for him created a bond that still created a lot of upset today.
There remains a great debate in the Equestrian world about ‘the best way’ to euthanise (Injection or Bullet) and from speaking to both a vet and the lady that performs the ‘shoot and disposal’ today there is no right or wrong way it’s personal preference for both the owner and the horse.
This gorgeous boy had the decision made by his owners no more than a week ago so we had nice amount of time to be able to plan thoroughly and leave no stone unturned before his departure. I would highly recommend (if it’s possible) having a photoshoot done or even just getting a friend with an iPhone to capture some special photos of you and your horse, this is something (as I’m an equine photographer) that I did for them only a few days ago. It’s a way to revisit the happy memories of your bond with your horse.
Lots of places provide jewellery where you can incorporate parts of your horses Mane or tail to keep as a memory (here is one I recommend https://www.asheswithart.co.uk though bear in mind this is not cheap) if budget is an issue before now I have just kept a horseshoe and framed it myself or jest kept a clump of tail on the mantle piece for comfort.
This morning his owners came down and spend an hour with him feeding him his absolute favourite treats, in his case this was marshmallows (who knew horses liked them). This is your chance to overload them sugar or carrots and make them feel really loved and special before we say goodbye.
We decided that as he had been predominantly stabled for his time with us that he would have the run of the arena with some haylage there as an option for the remaining few hours of his life. His owners understandably made the decision to leave after saying goodbye so the reins were handed to me.
We turned him out in the arena with the sun shining on his back (It’s like It came out especially) and I spent about half an hour in the arena with him taking some extra video clips for his owners whilst he mooched and basked.
We used an incredible woman called Lizzy who runs a company called ‘Earth 2 Heaven’ based in the South West. She arrived in perfect time and honestly I didn’t know what to expect but she was so compassionate and respectful. Like I said this is the first time I have had a horse shot, previous experiences were all injection based euthanasia so I was internally very anxious not knowing what to expect.
Lizzie arrived, abandoned her car and trailer and focused entirely on meeting the horse and putting him at ease with a good wedge of polos. (I asked her all of questions afterwards which have helped me to piece together this blog) Her aim is to keep the horses as calm as possible, and in her words she will never shoot a frightened horse. She left him, went back to the car to get her pistol and again went over to him with more polos, a few minutes were spent clicking the unloaded gun to prepare him and to make sure he didn’t flinch from her.
At this point I handed the lead rope over to her and walked a few metres behind her. A few more minutes passed and I started to feel the suspense. I made the decision to turn away but did turn back just as she pulled the trigger. I reacted in a combination of panic and upset when I heard the bang and turned away again but quickly pulled myself back together and returned, I think it was more shock than anything. What comforted me in the aftermath was hearing that by the time we have heard the bang the horse is already gone, so they feel nothing, no pain, no fear, the last thing he will her remembered was eating polos and the sun shining on his back.
When a horse dies their body will react, he fell to the ground but there was still a fair bit of movement in his limbs as he went down but Lizzie repeated that he had already gone and it was his nerves and organs shutting down. Very quickly he lay motionless on his side.
I want to give an honest account of this so I will talk about the blood, there was some. Where the bullet entered his head there was a small squirt of blood that continued to flow out until he was moved from when he laid, it wasn’t stomach turning (unless I just have a strong stomach) but I would rather be honest than someone else going through this and being unprepared.
He laid motionless whilst we pulled ourselves together, Lizzie checked his eyes to make sure he was fully gone and I felt a huge pang of relief, but at the same time total disbelief that only minutes ago he was standing happily living and breathing and now he was crumpled to nothing in the sand. This is something I still need to process. I guess the power of playing god is not something we are born to understand.
The next part of the process is not part I recommend being part of. Horses are incredibly big creatures and moving a limp 600kg body is not a graceful or peaceful experience. Lizzie has a winch built in to the trailer so she can wrap their legs and pull them in to the trailer with little to no actual physical strength needed. Thankfully I made the decision to walk away as this somehow felt more awful than the shot itself.
Within 15 minutes or so he was loaded and the trailer was shut, I cleared up the blood left In the sand in the arena and we continued to chat whilst I asked her a million questions (my natural response in a situation I don’t fully understand or feel uncomfortable in is to try and understand it)
‘Don’t you get upset when you have to shoot these horses’ – every single time, It’s not something you can ever get used to and it is heartbreaking even though you don’t know the horse. BUT, more often than not I am putting a horse out of misery or pain so deep down I know I am doing the right thing.
‘How many horses to you have to shoot per day’ – I shoot every single day of the week ranging from 3 horses to 5 per day. I daren’t take a day off because if a horse needs to be put out of it’s misery, I need to be there.
‘Have you ever missed?’ – I’ve been doing this for 30 years seven days per week and only twice has a horse moved so erratically I have had to take a second shot, so on that basis, no.
These are a few of the questions I asked in my desperate attempt to make sense of the situation and Lizzie kindly answered. The more we talked the more I felt at peace with it all.
After Lizzie left, I contacted the owners to let them know that he had gone peacefully and sent them the video clips I had taken prior to Lizzie arriving. I spent a good hour just still trying to internally process everything and then had to turn my attention to the other horses, who predictably remained oblivious and unaffected by the ordeal.
What comforted me the most was the Robin that frequents the yard was closer than ever and whilst I was tending to the other horses came right in to the American barn, hopping from door to door, I’m not superstitious but this did make me smile knowing this could be related in some magical way.
I know this is probably not the most uplifting of blog subjects but I was filled with anxiety last night desperately trying to find an article, a video, anything that could take me through the process step by step, so naturally I knew it was on me to create something people could find and read to ease their anxiety if they find themselves in my situation.
So much love as always and if you are reading this with a loss of your own on the cards, my thoughts are with you.
Theres no denying if you’re not an equestrian you WILL NOT GET IT.
This felt like the right post to start my new blog with. At the grand old age of 36 (I swear I feel older because I have been broken by horses so many times) there is no denying that I have lost count of the amount of people that have stood entirely dumbstruck with some of the life choices ‘equestrians’ make. Maybe you’re here because you’re trying to understand your equestrian mad friend/child/girlfriend.
Maybe you are horse mad yourself and just need a reminder that you are not alone and they way you behave is TOTALLY normal for an equestrian.
Our Horses are like our Children
I have a daughter, a beautiful sassy nine year old to be precise. BUT my horses still fit in to the category of being my babies (entirely on a par with biological children). Judge away but if your a horse owner you will get it. Our horses are literally our everything and they will be spoken about and treated in the same way actual children or family members are. I can’t explain it, it just works that way. They keep us safe (most of the time) and we repay them with all our our money, energy, sanity and love.
Equestrian Broke Vs. Normal Broke
Huge vets bills, normal living expenses, competition entries and the general day to day running of a horse will leave you utterly broke, like literally putting £10 of fuel in your car at a time. However ‘Equestrian broke’ always finds a way to buy the limited edition L’Mieux saddle pad when it suddenly appears in your Instagram feed. Normal broke you’d be living on beans, scraping together pennies to cover the utility bills, but when it comes to a matchy matchy selection on any kind of offer there is just no way you won’t find a way. EDF can wait a little longer for their electricity payment when your horse NEEDS that cornflower blue matchy set for their next Instagram selfie.
Competitions come before any social gatherings
If you’ve just starting dating a horsey girl or guy LISTEN TO THIS ONE. Your plans will always be out of the window if a last minute competition comes up on My Riding Life. Being social and sitting round the dinner table for prolonged periods of time is not an option for an Equestrian. Keep social interaction short and sweet, there is always something we would rather be doing, even if we pretend there’s not. And even cleaning your horses sheath (penis) is a preferable option over forced family time. Always be prepared to be stood up if god forbid something is wrong with the horse. I have literally missed important family gatherings to sit on poo watch after a bout of colic.
Be Prepared we Smell
And it’s not of roses. Horses sh*t (a lot) and wee (a lot) and haylage (this is the stuff we put in nets for endless hours) this really stinks. Once we’re in the warm the concoction of faded shit/piss and haylage smells a bit like vomit. We don’t smell it, much like a smoker is utterly immune to the stench they project. Don’t make a fuss, it’s our life, remember we will always put the horses first so get some Vicks round your nostrils and suck it up, lay safe in the knowledge that we will leave you before we leave the horse. We also don’t understand the concept of separating clothes. I have been known to muck out in high heels prior to a client meeting or a night out, with literally no sh*ts given.
We don’t do lie ins
Most people work the 9-5 weekly grind then enjoy lazing around in bed until late on the weekend. NOPE unless we are really sick or physically can’t stand (which would take broken legs) we will be at the yard with the horses at the crack of dawn and not staying in bed for cuddles and spooning. If you try and stop us we will become irrational and spend even longer at the yard. I like to blame it on needing the fresh air when I wake up, but it’s actually just a really good excuse for being entirely antisocial and spending more time with my horses.
Yard Time Vs. Real Time
Honestly it’s impressive, how it’s not in the Guinness Book of World Records I’ll never know. ‘I’ll be a couple of hours’ or ‘I’m just whizzing down to pop the horses to bed’ is not something you want to take too literally. we will be HOURS, once your at the yard you are in an alternate universe where clocks don’t exist, time doesn’t matter and hours pass just gazing at your horse over the stable door, scrolling through equestrian Instagram accounts or just taking 345 selfies with your horse to get the perfect one.
We will put our Horses health before our own
I have literally been thrown forcefully off a horse, broken my shoulder (in a number of places) been told by a medical professional to rest, ignored all advice and gone straight home to muck out. As an equestrian the equine physio, vet, Chiro, dentist comes as a priority over our own welfare. As stated above it takes an awful lot to floor an equestrian, normally some kind of sedative or smashed up limbs.
My horses manes and tails are brushed daily and plaited, I barely remember the last time I washed my hair or changed my pants. This will never change so just get used to it.
If you are an equestrian and you can relate to all of the above, CONGRATULATIONS, you are normal and Hey, we should be friends.
If you are dating, parent to or friends with an Equestrian, I suggest you reread al the above and get used to the fact you will ALWAYS be second best.
Thanks so much for reading my first blog. I would love to know what you thought and stay tuned for more.