Learning to ‘bend’ so that I don’t break!

I’ve started to write this blog in my head so many times but not yet had the opportunity to ‘put pen to paper’ – or as I do more often these days, put fingertips to keys! 

Each inner draft has seen the content shift and change, reflecting my sense that everything around me is shifting and changing as we move from winter into spring.

This has been very evident in the weather that we’ve been experiencing this month. 

The weekend of the 15th / 16th saw further storms with very strong winds.  Sadly, after all the hard work and care that my wonderful husband put into repairing our field shelter, when the previous storm had put it on its roof, this time the wind took it, twisted it and ripped it apart beyond repair:

The very next day the sun came out and it hasn’t stopped shining since!  We’ve had some truly glorious days and as the external storms have subsided, it has allowed some of the inner unsettled feelings to calm.

One of the factors contributing to my inner turmoil was the fact that my non-horsey husband and Dax had a serious clash, resulting in Tim saying that the horse had to go. 

Tim is nervous around these big animals and Dax, being a typical hand-reared horse, has little sense of boundaries.  When he comes too close, Tim gets nervous and Dax, being a sensitive animal, picks up on this and gets anxious in return.  Sadly, his response to this is to get defensive, which in his case means threatening with teeth.  Tim tried to reinforce his space by pushing Dax away, but Dax is a horse who just pushes back.  This, understandably, left Tim feeling very vulnerable and afraid for his safety. 

I’ve actually found that Dax responds better when the energies around him are kept calm.  If he starts to get a bit over excited, the best way to deal with it is to distract him and to walk away, to give him the space to feel safe again and to calm himself.  This can be challenging though when faced with an apparently very angry horse!

The need to rehome this beautiful boy, who I had hoped would be with us for the rest of his life, and who has taken a huge part of my heart, has hit me hard.  

Unfortunately, his owner is not in a position to take him back and so I’ve been trying to find him a good and understanding home, as otherwise he will have to be put to sleep.  However, I’m finding that this is far from an easy task when the horse in question is a non-ridden 8-year-old gelding with some behavioural issues.  I’ve found it a very depressing and frustrating process as everyone I’ve approached has said that they can’t take him, but Tim is pressing for him to go.

But life goes on, even when sometimes it feels like it’s falling apart, and this wonderful place, with its amazing energy, has been working its healing magic on me.

On Thursday I went to a networking meeting in Monmouth where Patricia Carswell spoke of her journey from working as a barrister in London, through burnout and recovery to recreating herself as a freelance journalist and top-class rower.  She was then diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer but following surgery and chemotherapy, is back and looking amazing.

Listening to her speak, helped to crystallise some thoughts that have been running around in my head and I thought I’d share them here. 

I’m coming to see, with much greater clarity, the value of flexibility.  For many years I was someone who could have been described as a ‘control freak’.  I liked to feel that I had a handle on each situation, and I needed to know where things were going and what was going to happen next.  I definitely didn’t like to feel out of control! 

I thought that being ‘in control’ would be less stressful and give me a greater sense of security.  However, particularly since moving here, I’ve realised that any sense of ‘control’ I had was just an illusion!  Also, that trying to hold on to that control was more stressful and left me feeling more overwhelmed and exhausted.  It must have been very difficult for those around me too!

I’m now coming to appreciate the value of being able to ‘bend’ and ‘flow’ rather than clinging rigidly to the things that I think will keep me safe.  As Confucius said:

It’s funny that I’ve ‘known’ these things for a while in my head, even believed them, but it’s as my wonderful boss from my first job used to say: ‘It’s not until it makes that 10-inch drop from your head to your heart that you really know it’.

I’d like to close with a quote that Patricia Carswell used at the end of her presentation as I thought it was very poignant and ‘on point’:

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Sunday – my day of rest

This week’s blog is a day late as yesterday was the Open Day to relaunch Equenergy here in our new site in South Wales! Thankfully we were blessed with good weather and, as it’s been dry here for a couple of weeks, the mud has mostly gone which made showing people round this magical place much easier and more pleasant.

I was very excited at the prospect of meeting the visitors and seeing their reaction to this space. It has completely captivated me and I hoped that others would feel the same way too. I wasn’t disappointed! Everyone loved it and commented on how still it is, and how lovely it was to hear all the birdsong, with no background drone of traffic.

Several people had contacted me to say that they would love to come along, but unfortunately already had other plans for the day, so I will be having more of these events in the future. Watch this space, and/or my Facebook page and website for updates.

Today, I’m looking forward to enjoying some ‘down time’. The sun is shining from a brilliant blue sky so I think a walk and some time with the horses is in order!

What are your plans for the day?

What is your favourite way to unwind, and can you make some space for that, either today or at some point during the week?

Whatever you’re up to, I hope you too can enjoy a wonderful, relaxing Sunday.

Guest Blog – Is your horse Spring ready? (part 1)

This month I’m exited to share this great piece by Catherine Howes of UniquEquine Equine Therapy. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive article on the points to consider when supporting your horse in getting ready for Spring. Part 2 follows next week and includes a great offer, so you won’t want to miss it!

For the majority of horses, the winter routine and lifestyle is quite different to that of the summer months.

With the shorter days and colder weather there are many environmental and management factors that come into play that affect our horses… and in more ways than we may first think.

These include:

  • Reduced activity – turnout/ exercise
  • Less interaction with others – socialising/ grooming etc
  • More time wearing rugs
  • Change in diet
  • Less time in a grazing posture
  • Ground conditions
  • Less sunlight

Each of these will have a small to significant impact on your horse, depending on the individual and their circumstances. However, there are things we can do as horse owners to counterbalance and minimise these issues, and keep our horses happy and healthy into spring.

Reduced activity means the body is used less. The muscles, ligaments, tendons all become shortened and less elastic. The joints open and close less and go through less range of motion.

This all leads to stiffness, reduced mobility and the potential for injury is increased.

Alongside this other systems slow down… metabolism – leading to potential weight gain. The circulatory system is less active, so the feed of nutrients and oxygen in the blood is slowed. This can affect healing and detoxing in the body.

Less interaction with others has varying results for our horses.

The stimulation provided by the social interaction is so important to horses. Socialising/ grooming/ playing/ observing …even the ability to ‘be’ in their place in the pecking order.

Depending on their management, they may have contact with others, and take the opportunity to mutual groom. This isn’t always simply about ‘itching that scratch’ but can be a way for them to help each other out with a sore or tight spot.

Although it can look as though horses do very little other than graze, being flight animals they are constantly aware of and reacting to their environment.

So, not only does their physical activity become lessened, but also their mental stimulation.

I am sure many of you are already thinking ‘No wonder horses have stable vices…’

So, the more that can be done to keep the horse’s brain as well as it’s body active, the better for both physical and psychological reasons.

A few ways of doing this are –

  • As much turn out as possible, or as your horse is happy with – not all like being out in the dark and cold!
  • Regular exercise – ridden/ in hand/ lunging/ long reining/ loose schooled/ led from another etc.
  • Grooming – a fantastic activity, and quite underrated for physical and mental health.
    • It improves blood flow, relieves tension and increases relaxation.
    • Brushing your horse mimics the mutual grooming  interaction between horses.  
    • It gives an opportunity to get to know and monitor changes to your horse’s body.  
    • Grooming is a lovely bonding and connecting experience.
  • Hand grazing – if there is no opportunity for turnout, lead your horse to a tasty patch of grass and let it graze, especially if there are hedgerows and other greenery for him to forage, and he can pick out what he wants and needs.
  • If you horse is stabled, try to ensure that a constant (or regularly replenished) source of forage is available. This is better for their digestion rather than to have long gaps with nothing to eat – an empty stomach is more susceptible to ulcers. It also helps to relieve boredom.

Horses are very sociable animals, and are herd animals. Even if they seem ‘ok’ on their own, many of them will internally stress if kept in solitude. Having another equine, or even a goat/ sheep/ alpaca (!) will have a huge influence on your horse’s well being. As mentioned earlier, they are flight animals and so constantly are in a degree of fear, even though they’ve never seen a predator in their field, they rely on other members of their herd to alert them of any danger. If they are alone, they never have the down time and relaxation they do in a group when someone else is on watch.

Throughout our colder, wetter months we often choose, or need, to rug our horses. Whether it is for warmth and protection against the elements, maintaining condition or simply cleanliness, most horses wear rugs.

I wholly appreciate these needs and think that, on the whole, with the environment horses are in, rugs are helpful and have many benefits.

However, there are a few downsides to wearing them, especially for prolonged periods:

  • Pressure – usually on the withers. It is essential that this area is checked regularly for sores, heat, irritation, hair loss etc. Frequently removing the rug, and, if necessary, interchanging them as the weight and cut of the rug will put pressure on different areas.
  • The shoulders are another area that is prone to rubbing.
  • Restricted movement – even with the best fitting rug, the horse’s movement will be slightly reduced or altered. With poorly fitting, tight, heavy or multiple rugs, this is significantly worsened.

Also inevitable over these months, is the change in diet.

The nutritional value in the grass will decrease in winter. Apart from potential weight loss and the loss of some nutrients, horses don’t tend to display too many ill-effects from this reduction. However, with the warmer weather, sunshine and longer daylight hours, comes rich grass… delicious, sugary ‘goodness’! And the horses love it!

This brings it’s own cluster of potential problems –

  • Laminitis
  • Colic
  • Azoturia
  • Weight gain
  • Behavioural issues.

With the reduced hours of turn out, horses adopt the grazing posture far less. They are anatomically and physiologically designed to spend hours a day with their neck and back open, head down with their jaw in a vertical position.

In their natural environment horses will cover 30 – 40 miles per day. Much of this will be at the walk, foraging and grazing, meandering along. This is done in the aforementioned posture. This posture keeps the horse’s body in great shape

topline naturally open, allowing more range of movement in the axial and appendicular skeleton and also the jaw is in correct alignment. In this position, the horse will be less susceptible to unnatural, uneven and problematic tooth wear.

With the head down and the jaw vertical to the ground the upper and lower jaw line up at their optimal position. Biting and chewing is easier, the correct alignment also means that the TMJ (temperomandibular joint) is working as it is designed, so there is less compression/tension, and the masseter (large muscle covering the lower jaw) is less worked.

The masseter is the strongest muscle in the horse’s body (per square inch) and is a huge pattern setter. Therefore, if this is affected negatively, it will have significant knock on/ secondary effects throughout the body.

Stabled horses are frequently fed from nets, or above the ground which takes away their natural posture and function. If we can recreate as much of this natural positioning for our horses, we can eliminate many issues.

Hay / feed given on the floor, while messy, is so much better for their body. If they waste some in their bed, try feeding less initially until they get the idea!

Also the positioning of their food is relevant.

Ground conditions can be testing … this last 8 months or so we have seen the driest, hottest summer in years. With this glorious weather, came the hard ground….and it was relentless!

While in many ways it was absolute bliss for horses and their owners, the going did take its toll. As a therapist I saw many horses still showing signs of being jarred up right into the winter months. I also found horses struggling with more muscle / body fatigue related issues as the hard ground was a constant source of concussion. Added to this, horses were lying down for less time outdoors, as it just isn’t comfortable lying on ground that hard!

Following that, the inevitable happened and the rain came… bringing with it slippery, greasy conditions; and the increased risk of overstrain, tears, etc to muscles and other soft tissues.

Both the jarring up, and the decreased range of motion from less activity can heighten the chance of injury. Therefore, it is important for us to reduce these risks as much as we can.

Therapy for your horse – to identify and alleviate any issues they are having – includes:

  • Stretching
  • Exercise
  • Grooming
  • Regular turnout
  • Prevention of getting too cold
  • Good diet

Like us, less exposure to the sun can cause the horse to feel subdued, depressed and lethargic.

The sun has physical and psychological benefits…  Vitamin D absorption, warmth on stiff / aching muscles and that feel good factor as well.

When there is a sunny day, take off the rug for a while, or even just the neck cover.. allow your horse to feel the sun’s rays on their skin.

Therapy for your horse can provide many benefits…

  • Improved relaxation
  • Improved comfort
  • Improved circulation
  • Improved immunity
  • Improved digestive heath and metabolism
  • Improved nerve function
  • Improved muscle tone/ evenness/ mass
  • Improved range of motion
  • Improved flow of energy around the body
  • Improved connection with body, mind and soul

Therapy can also

  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce chance of injury
  • Aid recovery and rehabilitation
  • Release emotional trauma

It is also a great way to have your horse monitored if treated routinely; issues can be detected and dealt with quickly and more easily.