Saturday, 31 December 2011


I needed to take some pictures of himself today as I suspect his saddle doesn't fit any more and some kind people offered to give me their opinion.  He hasn't rolled for several days so I thought I'd just flick the dust off him this morning and take the dry mud off his legs so I'd have a nice clean horse for the photo session at lunch time.

You can guess what happened can't you??

I took some without the saddle as well, so just for reference here's a muddy Mr M at 498kg:

We've been out for a 20 minute walk today, his frogs have got thrushy again thanks to all the mud, but his walk is still completely regular on tarmac, so we'll keep treating with gentle road work and hibiscrub.  Just for reference, here's the worst one (near hind) today.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry Crimble

Weigh-in day was a day late this week, but the tape this morning was right on the top of the 498kg band, which I'm happy with.  I've had a nice horsey Boxing day - this morning I spent an hour gently working through his mane and tail with a comb.  His mane still looks like a bad David Bowie wig, but at least the dreadlocks are gone.  Then this afternoon I'd planned to go and poop scoop the bottom field, but the wind was so strong it snatched the shovel out of my hands and flung it half way across the field, so I abandoned that idea and went and had half an hour of scritchies in the shelter instead.

I asked for Kelly Marks' Perfect Manners and Perfect Confidence for Christmas.  I've read Perfect Manners today and it's made me realise that we've made some quite large steps forward this year - a lot of the exercises that she recommends are things we do now that he wouldn't do at the beginning of the year, like respecting my personal space, moving his feet when asked, yielding to pressure and so on. 

I've been thinking that it might be an idea to do some long reining and work in hand to gently start building up his muscles rather than just plonking a saddle plus 10 stone of me on top, so I've got the two in-hand schooling books by Hinrichs and Hilberger on order from Amazon as well as the new Enlightened Equitation book.  The idea is that we can walk down to the beach, which will give his feet some road time (they're going to need a trim next month unless I start getting some tarmac miles in), do a little bit of work on the sand and then walk back home, gradually increasing the length of time I ask him to work - and if I can eventually long rein him down and back then I *hope* that will translate to less/no napping when I try hacking out again.

It's a good theory...

Thursday, 22 December 2011


We had a first this morning - first time Merlin has ever refused a bucket of food.  And this is a horse who'll happily eat buckets laced with wormer, antibiotics, bute and all sorts of other things that horses normally turn their noses up at.

Brewers Yeast, however, seems to be a step too far! 

I finished the Total Eclipse last night and mistakenly assumed that since I was adding three of the four ingredients in it to his bucket, it wouldn't be a problem.  However, the BY smells a lot stronger as a straight than it does made up as TE (I'm wondering if they actually use Yea-Sacc instead) and though I was ready to dive right in to his breakfast (it smelt like Marmite), Merlin gave it a long hard sniff, tried a bit and promptly spat it out, pulling the most hysterical faces.

Lesson learned, I'll just add the linseed tonight, then if he eats that I'll try linseed and magox in the morning and once that's going down OK, add the yeast back a granule or two at a time.

In other news, it's 11C here today and he's happily naked.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Weighty issues

It seems that as Merlin loses weight, I'm gaining it!  I daren't get on the scales at the moment, but none of my size 10 clothes fit properly at the moment which is Not A Good Thing.  I really have to get running again.  M is now in the middle of the 498kg band and, as decided last week, will have an extra handful of beet in his bucket from now on, which means he's on:

1 x handful of Greengold
4 x handfuls of SpeediBeet
2 x tablespoons of Total Eclipse

soaked in about 1.5l of water.  The Total Eclipse has nearly gone and I have micronised linseed, brewer's yeast and heavy magnesium oxide ready to take its place - basically Total Eclipse without the seaweed.  I'll get them decanted into suitable mouse-proof containers with the right-sized scoops tomorrow.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The food chain

The UKNHCP forum reckoned if it ain't broke, don't fix it, so we're carrying on with the Greengold.  I'll get another bag ordered for when I'm next down at the dentist in Inverness.  Merlin has a definite order of preference with food at the moment.  Grass is at the bottom of the food chain since the beginning of November, he'll make sure his haynet is empty before he goes in search of the green stuff.  There's always HorseHage hidden in his net somewhere and whether it's top, middle or bottom, that'll get carefully picked out and eaten before the drier hay.  And if, like this evening, I've done his haynet in advance so he could tuck in as soon as I took him into his shelter, he'll even abandon HorseHage in favour of his feed skip. 

He has lost a little weight now, we're at the top of the 498kg band.  His moobs have shrunk and there's a suggestion of shoulder starting to appear, but I still can't feel ribs and he still has fat pads on his bum.  It's supposed to be a fairly mild week this week and then cold again the week after, so I shall continue to feed him the same this week and then add another handful of beet both ends of the day next week and up the HH to hay ratio if required, as he still has weight to lose.

I have another forum to thank this week: HHO or Horse and Hound Online.  We were forecast gale/storm force winds on Thursday night and I posted to ask whether I should keep Merlin in (as there's a byre roof breaking up up-wind of the field) or leave him out as normal to make his own decisions.  Every single reply said leave him out and I'm so grateful to them because his very solid 18x12 field shelter, which weighs a couple of tons, migrated TWO FEET south.  I can't get the mats to fit back inside, so I've cobbled them together in a new configuration which only leaves a little bit of bare floor but at least has no lumps he can trip over.  Mick thought we might be able to move it back with a land anchor and a pulley system, but the ground's too soft behind it and we just ended up dragging the land anchor out!  Once it freezes solid again he's going to take his Navara down there with chains and hooks and pull it square. 

We went for our only clop of the week this morning and he was really pleased to be out and about again; ears pricked and a really good even stride.  We did the mile to the health centre and back which was obviously no problem for his feet, so we'll start adding on a few minutes on the Polouriscaig track, which is stony, and see how he does with that.  Feet are still smelling better despite the mud.  I nearly, nearly, nearly tacked him up and got on this afternoon, but I think he would have thought going out twice in one day was taking the piss and I had to catch up on the post-snow poo picking in the bottom field.

It's been an expensive week though, he's running out of Total Eclipse so I've got micronised linseed, brewer's yeast and magnesium oxide ordered from Pro Earth on eBay, then got a bag of Speedibeet from CLB because Hilltop Horses weren't sure if their delivery was going to arrive in time for me to have one from them, went to Hilltop the following day and it had, so got another bag of beet and two bales of shavings.  £85 in short order, but at least that's all the feed I'll need until I run out of linseed in about 3 months' time.  Next purchase will be an Enlightened Equitation forum subscription - I've rejoined the forum there as well after a 10+ year absence.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Winter weather has finally hit - more strong winds, bringing snow. 

Merlin is perky about it all, he's warm under his middle-warmth rug, he's dry in his shelter and he's munching his way through nets of hay and HorseHage.  He still has the freedom to go out into the fields if he wants to, but the ground is so saturated that the drainage ditch alongside the field shelter has overflowed, meaning there's a moat around the exit (the shelter itself is dry, it sits on a little mound of hardcore) and since he's a wuss about water he's more or less voluntarily stabled himself.  Unlike last year, when he was in with the gate shut, he's not pacing round the shelter or weaving, possibly because he can still go out and stand outside if he wants to, it's his decision to stay in.

This morning's weigh-in was still 504kg, but with the weather getting worse over the next few days, he's getting four handfuls of speedi beet in his evening bucket instead of three.  He's still looking great on this feeding regime, though I'm wondering whether to take out the Greengold and replace it with grass nuts - the more I read about lucerne/alfalfa and horses, the less I like, though he doesn't seem to react to it.  I shall ask the UKNHCP forum for their thoughts.

We only managed to get out twice this week, Monday and Tuesday, but I'm still squirting his frogs every other day.  One foot (the right fore, aka 'the dodgy one') still has a slight smell, but the rest are looking and smelling better.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wild, wild weather

It's been a bit blowy up here for the last couple of days.  There's a bit of traditional Scottish understatement for you - the wind hit gusts of 93mph at 5am this morning and we've had hail on and off since Friday.  I have caved and started rugging, though he might have preferred me not to last night, as I came down this morning to find one of the leg straps had gone and the rug was twisted three quarters underneath him...

Amazingly, it's not affected the exercise schedule too badly; we managed to get out 5 days out of 7 last week and although we had to give it a miss today, I'm hopeful that we might get out for another plod through the village tomorrow.  He's really enjoying it and he's become so much better to lead - he now walks steadily beside me or slightly behind me, compared to when I was walking him in hand over the summer and he was dragging me up hills.  The only thing we've come across so far that he really doesn't like the look of is the concrete area at the salmon station, which is immensely frustrating as it's got a ramp that would make a perfect mounting block - he won't even set foot on it at the moment, but we're working on it...

He had his weekly weigh in this morning and he's still on 504kg.  He's now getting a haynet morning and night, but his bucket hasn't changed from one handful of Greengold, three handfuls of speedibeet and two spoonfuls of Total Eclipse.

The frogs have stopped peeling and are starting to look a little better.  One thing I did notice yesterday, as we got back from our walk, was that he strode confidently over the gravel at the top of the drive rather than slowing down and picking his way over it.  A good sign.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Plodding along

I can't believe it, but due to the unseasonably warm weather, Merlin is still grazing the top two fields during the day - last year they were too waterlogged from the end of September onwards.  He goes down the hill at night in case the weather turns and he needs his shelter, but he's still out without a rug 24/7 and his skin is so much better for it.

He's now been on the Speedi-beet/Greengold/Total Eclipse combo for a month and his weight is still stable at 504kg.  I took him for a plod down to the salmon station yesterday, which is the longest walk we've done, and even though we met four quad bikes and three cars he didn't bat an eyelid.  The only thing which needed a Long Hard Stare was Ronald's sheep, which are brown and white with horns, unlike the NCCs he lives with. 

I finally got going with the hibiscrub yesterday morning and he didn't object to having his frogs brushed at all.  I'm going to waste an awful lot doing it with a bucket every time though, so I'm going to get a spray mister bottle which I can make up a litre at a time in and keep it by the top gate for when we come back in from our walks, as his feet are usually spotless by the time he's been down the road and back.  He's starting to slough bits of frog off, hopefully this is the start of healthier, fatter frogs...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tipping point

More for my own reference than anything else, but this morning was the first dry and not-too-windy morning that Merlin chose to stay inside his shelter after breakfast and eat his haynet rather than going back out to the grass.  Looks like the goodness is finally leaving it.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Plodding along

Smack in the middle of the 504kg band when I weighed him this evening, so the weight has restabilised.

Ross Barker ( came out to have a look at his feet on Sunday morning.  His verdict was that Merlin is about 75% of the way to having perfect barefoot hooves - his soles are thick, his hoof wall is thick and there are no rings in his feet, indicating his digestive system is pretty good as well.  What we need to work on are his frogs and his digital cushions and that will come with regular work on harder surfaces, though in an older horse like Merlin the digital cushion can be very slow to build up.  Ross also suggested getting some hibiscrub to disinfect the central sulcus every week or so because they can be prone to infection in the wetter half of the year. 

The weather stymied us for getting out for our plods last week and next week we may get the snowstorm currently bothering north America, so I'd better get him out and about a bit this week if I can.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

New diet

I've decided to try taking sugar and cereals out of his diet, since the skin lumps came back and he got very grouchy immediately after being fed (or possibly skin sensitive - didn't like being touched after he'd eaten, fine the rest of the time).  So with some help from the barefoot community, the Feet First book and the very helpful advisors at Simple System, we've moved over to a non-molassed beet (currently Speedibeet, though I'll be trying to get Purabeet when I can, it's cheaper), Greengold (a non-molassed lucerne) and a supplement called Total Eclipse (linseed, magnesium oxide, brewers' yeast and seaweed). 

We're still in the process of switching, he has a trickle of Leisure Mix still which is being reduced daily and he'll be off it completely by about Wednesday.  A bit too early to report on results, but he does seem less grumpy and he's licking his skip clean every meal which is a relief - a lot of horses refuse to touch non-sugared stuff if they've been used to the sweetness.  I think once the TE has run out I'll buy the ingredients and mix my own - I suspect that with being coastal the iodine content of the grazing will be pretty high and I shouldn't need to supplement seaweed.  Going to get a forage analysis done in the spring.

His weight touched the 510kg band 10 days ago, but he was back in the 504kg band this morning.  With the way the weather's going I suspect he'll start to lose it again now, if it gets too quick then I'll up the quantities of beet and lucerne and possibly add in something like Blue Bag grass nuts, though he's always got hay available.

As far as the exercise plan goes we did really well the first week, but this week has been horrible weather-wise - lots of rain and some strong winds and there's just no point in trying to walk him in hand in that, he spins round to turn his bum to the weather and refuses to move.  I was going to take him out this afternoon, but fell asleep on the sofa - I seem to be constantly knackered at the moment :o( 

There's a  UKNHCP-qualified trimmer coming next Sunday to do his feet instead of the normal farrier.  It'll be interesting to hear what he has to say.  I suspect it'll be toes too long and heels slightly under-run and more roadwork required. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Scan day

I played it safe this morning and shut Merlin in his stable while he was eating breakfast.  Not because I thought I wouldn't catch him, but because it was very showery and I didn't want to present the vets with a wet horse that was 90% mud and sheep shit. So despite fresh shavings and a big haynet, he wasn't in the best of moods when I went down to fetch him.

He took one look at the trailer and decided that he didn't want anything to do with it, thank you very much.  He wasn't scared, he didn't back off or seem nervous of it, he just stood on the drive and told us if we thought he was stepping forwards we had another think coming.  Carrots didn't change his mind, Leisure Mix didn't change his mind, but the moment I picked up a lunge whip and pointed it at his hindquarters he was straight up the ramp and in.

He'd sweated up by the time we got into Thurso.  I walked him around the car park to cool him down while the vets set the scanner up and he disrupted a small animal consultation by pulling faces through the window and tried to eat their sycamore tree.  He was very look-y, which was only to be expected - the car park is next to a builders' merchant and the station, so there's quite a lot of noise and bustle - but when the big corrugated iron doors to the large animal treatment area clanged back, he walked inside very calmly.

A friend had told me that her horses were fine with cordless clippers but not with mains powered ones.  This time Hamish had brought cordless ones and was able to do most of the back of his right leg from the knee downwards with no need of sedation, though there was a little bit of tap dancing when he felt the blades.  Bridget twitched him to sedate him and it worked like a dream, he stood like an absolute rock as the needle went in and then snoozed off with his head in my arms while they finished shaving his leg and put the gel on.

After 10 minutes of running the scanner up and down the area in question, all three vets agreed that there was nothing wrong with his tendons, not even any sign of old damage, and said there was no point in scanning the other one for comparison or doing the x-rays since he was sound and charging about his field quite happily.  They've said he can start light work - only walk, only straight lines and only firm surfaces, ideally tarmac, so my walking plan will be absolutely perfect. 

Bridget woke him up by pulling a section of his mane for me and flicking his nose while Mick backed the trailer up and put the ramp down.  Apparently it's the first time they've ever seen a horse brace himself against the doorway trying to stay AT the vet!  But with five of us he was in pretty quickly and he travelled much, much better on the way home, no sweat at all. 

So all's well that ends well and now I have to figure out how to teach him to hack out alone.  Time to find someone to teach me how to long-rein I think...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

I've got a theory...

Anyone else now singing 'that it's a demon, a dancing demon - no, something isn't right there' gets bonus points :o)

It's vet day on Tuesday, which I'm getting increasingly apprehensive about, so I've been reading, reading and reading some more and have come up with the following hypothesis:

- as the ground started to dry up and he moved into the top fields (away from the rocky track down to the bottom field and the gravel around the field shelter) his frogs started to contract.  They are slightly but noticeably narrower than they were in March.  This made it less comfortable for him to walk on them and he started to land more toe-first.  Landing toe first puts more stress on the ligaments and this was exacerbated by starting to bring him back into work.  Voila, one lame horse.

If it was a really serious tendon issue, I don't think he would have come sound from hopping lame in 3 days.  Currently his right fore is very, very slightly swollen at the fetlock, but you have to really look hard to see the difference - it's maybe 3 or 4mm. 

Anyway, if I'm right, and the scans and x-rays show nothing major, then I'm going to start walking him out in hand on the road on a schedule something like this (5 days out of 7 each week):
Week 1 - to the road fork and back (0.25 miles)
Week 2 - to the Pouloriscaig track and back (0.45 miles)
Week 3 - to the salmon station and back (0.7 miles)
Week 4 - to the medical centre and back (1 mile)
Week 5 - down to the medical centre, back past the house to the road fork and home (1.25 miles)
Week 6 - down to the medical centre, back past the house to the Pouloriscaig track, up to the gate (on stony track rather than tarmac) and home (1.5 miles)
Week 7 - as week 6, but extended to the salmon station (1.75 miles)
Week 8 - as week 7, but add in the loop down past John Angy's house (2 miles)
Week 9 - tack up, walk week 8 backwards, get on at medical centre and ride half mile home.  Increase over the week to riding the whole route.  If that goes OK (previous attempts at hacking have not been spectacularly successful...) then work out some hacking routes which go over lots of different surfaces (the farm tracks and route up to Pouloriscaig spring to mind, as does the beach).

Of course, I've picked possibly the worst time of year to start this - we're losing 5 minutes of daylight every day and retail is about to hit silly season, but if I can get the work in at this time of year then it'll be a doddle to do in the lighter half :o)

No breakfast-induced bouncing this morning, so I hope his system has adjusted, but I probably need to look at the amount of sugar in his diet.  Going to try double-rinsing his beet to get as much of the molasses out as possible.

Friday, 7 October 2011


He's been gradually weaned back on to two meals a day since Monday - I had about 2 scoops of Leisure Mix left in the bin, so it got trickled on in slightly larger amounts each day and he's now on half a scoop morning and night, together with two handfuls of soaked beet pellets.

It's like feeding a 3-y-o on blue Smarties.  About 10 minutes after he's eaten he takes off around the field in a total IT'S GOOD TO BE ALIVE!!!!! trot-canter-buck-gallop circuit before snorting his way back over to me to see if I've magically refilled his feed skip.  No swelling on the dodgy leg as a result.

He should settle down in another week, he did something similar when he re-started on feed last year, but if he doesn't I'm going to email D&H and ask if they've changed the mix!

Still unrugged - going to start keeping a record of this as well.  He's using his shelter at night and going through about a third of a haynet while he's in, but he's warm at the base of his ears and between his front legs every morning and evening and his skin is much, much better this year through his coat change.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Winter feeding

The weight tape this morning was just touching the top of the 498kg band, so it's time to start feeding him again as he drops weight extremely rapidly once it gets cold and I don't want to be back where we were last year when he got very skinny in January.  So although his perfect weight is about 480kg I'm going to start him on 2 handfuls of sugar beet pellets, soaked, morning and night from tomorrow and I'll pick up some D&H Leisure Mix when I'm in town on Thursday, he can have half a scoop of that on top.

I took him out of the top field this morning because the wind picked up overnight and we're due some rain as well, so he's back in the bottom two where he can use the field shelter if he wants.  I tied him up, groomed him and picked his feet out before I let him go - FIVE minutes later I hear hoof beats and there's a very muddy horse standing behind me, beaming from ear to ear, going 'Look what I did!!!'  He then did his best Tigger impression all over the bottom fields (about 2 acres), cantering up from the bottom one and showing off with his lovely floating trot while I watched through my fingers, dreading seeing him pull up lame.  But he was completely sound and when I checked him again half an hour later his fetlock looked completely normal.  Promising :o)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pony weightwatchers

Weigh in day and the tape still says 504kg.  Steady is good :o)  The weather has turned, so he's back in the bottom two fields again - his restricted turnout finished last week and so far (touch wood) he's been back on full space turnout with no problems, despite a bit of bouncing.

As per the horse listener's suggestion he's currently unrugged and the improvement in his skin has been amazing.  Virtually no dandruffy lumps and he's been warm whenever I've checked him, so he'll stay naked for as long as we can manage.  He's got a field shelter with a bed down, water and a haynet if he wants it, but he's been preferring to stay outside, albeit he seems to be attempting to thatch himself by rolling in sheep shit...

I've started running again this week.  I only intended to run 5 miles, split 1.25, 1, 1.25, 1.5, but ended up running 1.25, 1 and 5.15 after I discovered a runner doing 40 marathons in 40 days was coming past the village and wanted company.  I'm planning 6 miles next week, 1.5, 1, 1.5, 2.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Scan day

Or not.

Merlin's fetlock was still slightly puffy after a bit of unscheduled bouncing when he was turned out, so the vet started off with a thorough examination of the leg in question and then got me to trot Merlin up.  He plugged in the clippers to shave the back of Merlin's legs (I'd run an extension cable out to the field for the scanner) and Merlin's eyes came out on stalks, he pulled his 'WTF???!' face and started river-dancing.  Obviously they make a different sound to Mick's beard trimmer!  So the vet went back to his car to get a twitch and a sedative and by the time he'd walked the length of the garden and let himself back into the field he'd changed his mind about doing it.

The reasons are as follows: the tendons above the fetlock feel perfectly normal, the portable scanner isn't brilliant for fetlocks and feet and he thinks we're going to need x-rays as well, as the diagnosis is veering back towards arthritis again.  So we've arranged to take Merlin to Thurso on the afternoon of October 11th, which is the first date that both equine specialists and my husband (needed to drive the tow vehicle!) are all available.  He'll be sedated, scanned and x-rayed and hopefully we'll finally get to find out what's going on in there.

The farrier managed to get to us yesterday, which was fantastically quick, so the feet have been sorted out :o)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Knobber horse

'Knobber horse' is an affectionate expression pinched from the Horse and Hound forums for when your horse has done something idiotic. I would call it 'having a donkey moment' except that would be an insult to donkeys...

Anyway, we were due some rough weather last Friday night so I went and caught Merlin to put him in for the night. He was being a git to lead, stopping every few strides to put his head down and graze, and by the time we'd got down into the third field I was thoroughly annoyed by it so I grabbed the leadrope about 18" under his chin, hauled his head up and marched off. He planted his feet and threw his head up - and discovered that the velcro on his field safe headcollar comes undone if he does that. He buggered off to the tasty grass and I was left with a dangling headcollar. Just the day I didn't want him to be trotting as well, because I'd forgotten to turn the fence on earlier, he'd done the splits to get at fresh grass and his right fore had started to fill again.

I stomped up to the house, grabbed some carrots, caught him and put him in, but he'd obviously decided this was a good trick because when I brought him in tonight he tried exactly the same stunt again. What he hadn't realised was that he was in an ordinary headcollar rather than the field-safe job and all he managed to do was stand on his own back feet and rip a bit of hoof wall which is now flapping like a hangnail - there's too much still attached for me to twist off and I haven't got anything tough enough to nip it off.

I'll call the farrier in the morning...

Friday, 9 September 2011


I thought it would be sensible to check with Merlin's previous owner whether he'd ever been clipped or not and the answer was not as far as she knew. So this morning I borrowed Mick's beard trimmer, took it out to the field and switched it on while Merlin was standing next to me.

There was a lot of ear waggling and he took a couple of steps back, but after 20 minutes of switching it on and off randomly while I was shovelling muck he was ignoring it and he didn't seem bothered when I put the hand with the trimmer in against his neck so he could feel the vibrations, though he did step away after 15 seconds.

All good anyway - if he has been clipped in the past it certainly wasn't a bad experience for him. I'll keep the trimmer in my pocket and hopefully come next Thursday he'll be completely unbothered when they shave his legs.

Monday, 5 September 2011

We have a date :o)

15th September, here, and apparently he'll need his legs shaved! Can you get equine legwarmers...?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Weigh in day

504kg - 7kg off :o) Strip grazing from May next year I think...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Another month

Still not much to report on the horse front (busy month for us, we got married!). He's chomped his way through field 2 now and I moved him up into field 1 this morning. He's back on a tiny square because he's in 4" lush grass and if we get a September flush up here then the sugar content is going to go through the roof.

The leg seems to be much better, he's bounced on it a couple of times after he's been in overnight and he's sound in trot, striding out well in walk and seems to be landing heel first again, all of which are good signs. Still trying to organise the scans, the current situation is that the new portable large animal scanners at Thurso and Wick won't show enough detail, but Wick still has their old one which will. Last time Bridget (the equine specialist vet who'll be doing the scans) spoke to Wick it wasn't working, so she's trying to get hold of them to find out what the situation is and if it's fixed she'll borrow it and come out to us, which will be a LOT easier than hauling Merlin into Thurso.

Currently wondering what to do about my insurance, since the renewal has come through. It's gone up to £32.99 a month, which isn't bad given he's now officially a veteran, but there are now exclusions on his front right fetlock (and I haven't even put a claim in for that yet!!) and his rear right hock, so I'm not entirely sure I wouldn't be better off putting £30 a month in a savings account instead. If he was going to be prone to laminitis it would have shown up this summer and since he ate half a bin of unsoaked beet shreds at a previous home with no ill effects, his digestive system is pretty robust as well. One to think about.

Weigh in day for him tomorrow, if he hasn't gained weight he'll be the only member of the family who didn't in August!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Not much to report...

...other than the weight tape said 511kg this morning (up from 498kg a month ago) - just goes to show how looks can be deceiving because his moobs have gone down and I actually thought he'd lost a bit.

Still, we're nearly at the end of the good grass season and he's not going to hit the 550kg mark this year (which was roughly what he weighed when he arrived last summer). The plan for this winter is less rugs, less stabling and more food - he really doesn't enjoy being in and usually tries to take chunks out of you when you rug him unless it's really, really cold, so I shall fence off the flat section between the field shelter and the water trough, put a big round bale of hay behind the shelter, stuff him with Build Up as it gets colder, slather his heels in pig oil and see how he does. Last year I rugged him too much too early and he never really grew a proper winter coat - apparently the average temperature in Hungary in winter is 0 to -15C and I doubt very much he was rugged and stabled there...

He's still bored though, he chased the dogs this morning while I was picking up - my fault, his section has got slowly larger as I've moved him up the field so he had enough space for a few strides of canter. Back down to a small square now, with a chute down to the water trough. Once I'd put the dogs back in the house we had a soppy scratching session - I've got long-ish nails at the moment which he really seems to like. I worked my way up the underneath of his neck on both sides and he stuck his head in the air and stretched and stretched and stretched before dropping it down to groom my shoulders in return.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day Four in the Big Brother House...

...and the inmate is bored, bored, bored, bored, BORED! He's stayed quiet enough to remain turned out, which is good, but the swelling's almost vanished, he's sound and he can't understand why he's restricted to a 10m by 10m square of grass when there's a WHOLE FIELD to eat!

I did at least manage to wrangle him into a rug this morning. When I tried on Saturday night (because there was rain forecast) I had to give up after all three attempts to do the front straps up resulted in him pinning back his ears and lunging at me with bared teeth. It had just started to rain this morning and he was distracted by the new bit of grass (I'd just moved his fence), so he didn't object at all.

September 16th seems a very long time away.

Friday, 22 July 2011


Well, that's it, Merlin is officially retiring.

On Wednesday the two horses in the empty croft next door were bombing up and down because their owner had come and taken away the mini Shetland which had been in with them. It wound Merlin up and I stood and watched from the gate as he raced down the field on the other side of the fence to him. He looked slightly unlevel in trot and when he broke into canter his stride was distinctly choppy, but he walked back up the field sound so I made a mental note to loose school him as soon as possible and have a proper look.

I didn't get it done on Wednesday and spent yesterday in Inverness. He was sound yesterday evening but when I came out this morning he was in obvious pain on the right fore again, hopping lame and not wanting to put much weight on it. The vets made me second call of the morning and Guy turned up with his box of tricks. The fetlock had swollen right up again (cold water earlier hadn't helped at all). No reaction to the hoof tester, so Guy had a gentle feel around the swelling. It was an oedema (fluid swelling) and underneath it the larger of the two tendons in that part of the leg was quite badly swollen.

So I have an initial five days of very strong anti-inflammatories and a prescription of two months TOTAL rest followed by six months of near-total rest and the advice that I can probably forget about riding him again. Guy has agreed that we can try keeping him out on a very, very small sectioned off bit of field, but if he starts bouncing about when it stops hurting then he's going to have to go on box rest for the first two months which will not make him a happy chappy. We'll make a decision about scans and x-rays once he's more sound - there's a portable x-ray machine which can be brought out here, but the portable scanner isn't high-resolution enough for horse legs, so we'd have to take him to Thurso for a scan. He's insured for up to £3,500 of vet bills anyway, so whatever the vets recommend he needs, he'll have.

He seems a little more comfortable this evening (he'll have his second dose of AIs in a couple of hours), I'm just crossing everything I have that we can get him sound enough to enjoy a long and happy retirement pottering around our fields.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A visit from the horse listener

This isn't something I would usually spend money on, but my down-to-earth, sceptical, crofting neighbours were having her out for the third year in a row and said she was uncannily accurate, so I thought I'd ask her for a session with Merlin and the dogs. This is what came out.

She started by pressing gently along his back and he nearly collapsed underneath her, which was a big surprise to me because I do the same thing regularly to check there aren't any sore spots and he's never even flicked an ear at it. She explained that it was to do with her energy and that he has a strong memory of having a permanently sore back, he's not always had saddles which fitted.

She got images of lots of other horses pulling things, lots of circles, endless circles, trees without tops, just trunks, endless featureless blue outside them - this kept coming through over and over again and she couldn't work out what it was. Then she got someone standing on his back and a horse doing fancy steps and we worked out he was trying to communicate a circus! He had a horribly severe bit and a saddle Isobel didn't recognise, there were donkeys there too and grey horses with huge necks.

He was gelded without anaesthetic. He says I'm soft with him and he doesn't mind me riding him but if he's not in the mood for doing something he won't (true). He doesn't like doing circles (true). There was a dark horse who wouldn't leave him alone, ever (Mac, last summer) and a grey pony he likes (Corky) that parades up and down the fence. There was a sad grey horse at the dealer yard (true, his best friend there was a grey who died).

He doesn't like children much. The postman likes to gossip with me (true!). He had two long journies of 12 hours or more (true). A needle got stuck in his neck and he span around in his box (Isobel said the vet looked like Keith from the Inverness vets - trying to check on this) and he'd had a lesson in an indoor school (Isobel says possibly James Gunn's place in Halkirk) where a girl fell off over his left shoulder, but it wasn't his fault (checking this with previous owner). He bucked with previous owners (true). He doesn't like jumping, he does like hacking but only on grass (true, the one bit of our failed beach hack he was relaxed on was when we were on the grass track heading inland). He doesn't like any pressure on his mouth (true).

His back feet sometimes get sore and he doesn't like gravel (true). He doesn't like being in his shelter, he prefers to stand behind it (true), and he doesn't like rugs (true) though appreciates that they're sometimes necessary in winter. He LOVES food (true). He can't always be bothered standing to have his feet picked out (true), but some days he just wants to be pampered (true). The farrier is nice but slow (true - he has an apprentice with him at the moment who's very careful). The dealer yard was busy and his stable had a drip in it.

He says I've been busy lately and haven't had as much time for him (true), but I like to watch him (true) and I like to watch the sea (true). He can't be bothered with humans to a great extent, he doesn't understand what they want of him a lot of the time and he's stopped really wanting to try (true, though this is slowly improving, he's much more of a people horse than he was a year ago). He knows Mick is a little nervous around him (true) and says he doesn't see Mick as much as me (true).

She has suggested trying clicker training with him, he's a horse who thinks in boxes and once he's happy with a box it's difficult to push him through the boundary into the next one (true) - CT may help with this.

By the end of the session he looked far more relaxed and when she pressed along his back again he didn't turn a hair. He's walking out more freely and this morning he cantered up the hill to say hello, which he hasn't done since he went lame.

All in all, if you hear that Isobel Hogton is coming to your area, do book a session for your horse, it's absolutely fascinating. She's based in Scotland but covers the whole country. (And yes, the dogs were just as interesting and both of them slept like logs last night!)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hooray for farriers!

As per the previous post, I asked the farrier to have a really good look at Merlin's foot yesterday afternoon and after a lot of prodding he found a tiny compression towards the heel. I did ask if this was farrier-speak for "You're not picking his feet out properly" but he told me not to feel too bad about it, it was so small that if he hadn't been looking out for it and using a knife to clean the foot he might well have missed it himself. He cut it out - even cut out the hole is smaller than a 5p - and said that although it wasn't big enough to have caused the initial lameness it certainly would have accounted for his reluctance to put his heel down first.

It's been caught before the hoof started to crack and before any infection got in - he said that untreated it would almost certainly have gone septic - which is good news. Merlin was very careful about walking back down the field after his trim and I saw him standing in that mountain-goat-on-a-rock position when I checked on him last thing, but he walked out more comfortably and this morning he was only slightly unlevel and happily trotted up to the gate when he saw me :o)

So, fingers crossed, we've found the source of the problem and a couple more days of rest and relaxation will see him right. If this fog clears I'm going to give him a bath this afternoon - the newly shorn sheep are sleeping in his field shelter most nights, so when he goes in there and kicks them out he ends up lying in their mess and he has an enormous stable stain which three days of brushing hasn't got out.

His weight is between the 490kg and 498kg marks on the weight tape, so that's 6kg-ish on in 2 weeks. He's on one of my tiny handfuls of beet, soaked, with a scoop of garlic in the morning and nothing else but grass. I think I'm going to have to man up and start riding him in the school again once he's sound, just to help him stay under the 500kg mark.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Still lame...

...and it's all my fault :o( He was almost better, but last Thursday he had a totally avoidable freak accident and we're back to square one. For the past couple of weeks Merlin has been spending two to three hours a day on the rich grass in the second field before going back down to the short-cropped third field and because he'd much rather stay in the second field he's been tricky to catch so I've been leaving him in a headcollar.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

On Thursday I switched the hose on to fill up the water bath in the third field and as far as we can work out he must have had his head in it at the time and spooked, because an hour later when I went down to check him before taking Mick out for his birthday dinner, I found the bath pulled about 10 feet across the field and Merlin's headcollar dangling from the taps :o(

I was very, very, VERY lucky that other than two small gouged bits of skin where the headcollar dug in and a graze on his shoulder he was absolutely fine - that could easily have been a broken neck.

Matters were complicated by us leaving at 7am the following morning for a 1300 mile round trip to see the Foo Fighters at Milton Keynes, but fortunately my very horsey neighbours were animal sitting and Merlin still had four sachets of bute to go from the original prescription, so I left them a letter authorising them to make decisions on my behalf and agreeing to pay for any treatment they and the vet deemed necessary, just in case.

He had his final sachet on Tuesday morning and 24 hours later was still clearing favouring the left leg over the right. The vet and I decided that the best course of action was another 8 days of bute, which he started on yesterday morning, and then another call out if the problem hasn't gone/nearly gone at the end of that. They've put him on a half dose because they want him to feel it enough that he doesn't go bouncing around the field thinking he's fine, but he does seem a lot more comfortable within half an hour of having it in the mornings.

Watching him today he's happy to take the weight on that leg when he's grazing and is looking a lot more sound on the flat. I'm seriously considering halving the roped-off space in the second field and putting him in there full time, because he's much better on the flat than on the sloped sections in the third field (which needs a rest anyway). He's definitely putting that right fore down toe-first though, whereas the left is landing normally. The farrier is out this afternoon to trim him (shoes have been off since November), so I shall ask him to take a look at the heel and if not then I'm guessing possibly he's pulled something in the back of the leg somewhere when he was dragging the bath :o( No heat or swelling in it though.

Hopefully time and vets will sort him out - whenever I start worrying about it again I remind myself that when I strained an ankle running on softer sand than I should have it took two months for it to stop hurting, so as long as he continues to improve, however slowly, I shall continue to thank whatever gods were watching over him last Thursday.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Update on the patient

He was still lame this morning, although came nearly sound after I sponged half a bucket of cold water over it. I phoned the vet for advice when they opened and they gave me the choice of either carrying on with just the cold water for 2 days and having a call out if it wasn't better or having someone out to see him today. Since I knew I'd just sit at my desk and worry about him without a second opinion (normally I'd have asked my vastly experienced neighbours, but they're away in Edinburgh) I opted for the call out and Guy duly turned up two hours later with a large cardboard box containing pretty much everything that might be needed to diagnose and treat a lame horse.

Merlin took one look at him and went 'YOU'RE THE VET WHO JABBED ME LAST SUMMER!!!' and promptly stomped off to the furthest corner of the field. Sometimes in this mood it can take me 15 minutes or so to catch him, but I'd put him in the strip grazing in the second field, so there wasn't too much space for him to mess about in and he gave in quickly with bad grace for a carrot.

Guy gave the leg a thorough check over from the shoulder to the hoof, but concluded that the problem was only in the fetlock and he'd either bashed it or strained it although there's a very, very slim outside chance it's the onset of arthritis - if it happens again that's an option that will be explored further.

Since Merlin doesn't do jabs without a twitch, Guy decided not to traumatise him and left me with instructions to give him 2 x 2 sachets of painkillers plus 1.5 sachets of antibiotics today, then another 3 days of the same dose of ABs and another 8 days (or as required) of 1 x sachet of painkillers per day. When I checked on him an hour after the first lot of painkillers he was moving MUCH more easily and this evening he was feeling well enough to trot a few paces towards a sheep that was eyeing up his supper. The swelling has gone down to the point where it's just a little bit puffy on the inside but you have to look quite hard to see the difference between the two legs.

Would it have been OK if I'd just carried on with the water? Probably, but he was obviously so much more comfortable with the painkillers in him that I think I did the right thing by getting the vet. Fingers crossed that's it sorted now and we won't need another visit.

Sunday, 26 June 2011


The decision's been made for me, for a few days at least. Went to open the gate for Merlin to have his 2 hours in the second field (I need to rest the bottom two fields but the top two are too lush for him to be on full time, so he and six sheep are on a strip for a couple of hours a day until it's grazed down enough for them to move up) and noticed he was nodding when he walked - swollen front right fetlock, poor boy.

It's a little bit warm and a little bit puffy, but he's happy enough to walk on it and take his weight on it as the front leg while grazing, so I'll keep it cold-hosed tonight and tomorrow morning and then if it's not improved by late morning I'll get the vet. I can't see any sign of a wound, my best guess is that he's charged up the hill and put his foot in one of the two new rabbit scrapes I noticed last night.

Put the weight tape on him this morning, bang in the middle between 484kg and 490kg, so he's put a bit on. He's on less grass though, now that the bottom field is shut off ready for spraying - maybe 2/3rds of an acre shared with the sheep plus the abovementioned 2 hours on richer grass.

UPDATE: 2 hours later, the swelling has reduced and the limp is almost gone :o) Looks like it had only just happened when I went down. Fingers crossed with more cold water he'll be more or less fine by tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Doing the obvious

You know, it strikes me that I have a horse who doesn't really enjoy being ridden and I have me who hasn't really fallen back in love with riding. There is an obvious solution to this one... There's plenty of stuff I can do with him from the ground and it takes the pressure off both of us.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pushing the edges of confidence

At the bottom of our fields is a beach. It's half a mile of golden sand and there's rarely anyone on it. For a few weeks now I've been looking at it and thinking that I really should start riding on it, but I've wimped out every single time.

Tuesday it rained, so I didn't ride. Wednesday was gorgeous, but I was off into town to visit the waxing salon and let's just say that certain bits of me were too sensitive to even THINK about riding! Thursday I just plain wimped out to the point where I spent the afternoon in my pyjamas on the sofa eating chocolate and shivering.

So when the sun beamed down on me this morning I got my gung-ho head on and after giving Merlin an hour to digest his very tiny breakfast of a handful of soaked beet and a tennis-ball sized handful of chaff, I went down to the field to catch him.

He clocked the jods and boots and had other ideas. Five minutes of unscheduled loose schooling later he decided that cantering round the field was harder work than being caught and let me stick his headcollar on in return for a bit of carrot. He perked up when we didn't take our normal route to the school next door but went through the back garden, through the gate separating our house from the croft on the other side (before we had our own drive, the only access to our house was down their driveway and we still have a right of way) and then down through the fields to the gate at the bottom.

He'd behaved extremely well up to that point, but while I was re-tying the gate he gave me a massive head-butt, my arm jerked and I got a really deep scratch on my finger from the barbed wire strands wrapped round the gatepost. Bleeding quite hard, I led him down the quad tracks to the seat made out of a plank nailed to two old buoys I was going to use as a mounting block. And he was a prat. Swung out, wouldn't stand near it, stepped over it, turned his back on it, tried to graze round it - I had my schooling whip with me and even tapping him over wasn't working. Eventually he got close enough for me to give it a go and I hopped on.

Before I had a chance to pick up my reins, he turned round and power-walked off in the direction we'd come from, away from the beach. I got him to halt, but when I tried to turn him back round he stuck his head in the air, napped and then carried on in the opposite direction to the one I wanted to go in. So I thought I'd go with it, carried on riding him up the path by the stream and for a minute or so it was all quite relaxed until he realised he'd missed the quad tracks and had gone past the field. He stopped and spun, leaving me hanging out sideways with my head far closer to his knees than his ears and about 50:50 odds between being able to get back into the saddle or sliding in an inelegant heap to the ground.

Managed to sit back up (yay!) and as soon as he felt me get my balance back he trotted back down the path. I got him to walk and to stay on the path rather than cutting straight across the meadow as it's riddled with rabbit holes. He spotted the quad tracks from this direction and headed up them. I made him stop and got him to turn. He battled me and turned back again and we yo-yo'd up and down the path with his stride getting shorter and shorter and his head going ever more skywards until he grabbed hold of his bit and essentially ran away with me in walk - VERY embarrassing!

He stood at the gate looking round at me with the smuggest expression on his face and 'what are you going to do about THAT?' ears. If I'd been the confident rider I was years ago, I'd have hauled him round, given him a smack and booted him all the way back down the path to the beach. As my brain was going OhShitOhShitOhShit, all I managed to do was turn him round again and make him walk a few steps away from the gate before jumping off.

At this point he thought he'd won. Nope. The reins went over his head and we did the hack I'd intended to do on horseback in hand instead. He was marched round the beach for 20 minutes and then marched back up the hill, past his field (I'd got angry by this point!) and straight into the neighbours' school. The look on his face was a picture!

He wasn't too much of a pain with the mounting block and I told myself if I rode two circuits on each rein, in walk, that would be enough to settle my nerves and my brain would remember it as finishing on a good experience. And guess what? He was as good as gold.

So, lessons to be learnt from today? Well, I think I tried to take too big a step. I should have tried hacking him around the top two fields rather than going straight to the beach - if he'd napped there, which he probably would have, I'd have been happier giving him a boot because there was only about an acre and a bit of space for him to bugger about in rather than half a mile of open sand and my neighbour was doing her garden so was within earshot if anything disasterous happened. But even three months ago I would have jumped off straight after the spin rather than carrying on trying to sort the issue and I certainly wouldn't have got back on in the school. I'd have left it, cried my eyes out and probably not ridden again for another six months. So there are definite improvements, I just have to remember not to try and canter before I can walk, as it were.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Rider fitness

It's not just Merlin who needs to get fit, it's me as well. I thought I was actually quite fit - I managed to run the Inverness half marathon this year - but my aching stomach muscles this morning were a sign that although I might be generally fairly fit I'm not at all riding fit.

At least the right muscles were aching. Sore stomach muscles and a lack of sore inner thigh muscles means that I was starting to use my core yesterday which is a good sign.

I haven't run properly since 1st May, when I did a 9 mile run on holiday in Northumbria and thanks to a combination of running on a beach and lanes with steep cambers managed to knacker my left foot. I tried doing a mile at home 11 days later, to see if I'd be able to jog around the Castle of Mey 10k, but it was aching when I finished and by the time I'd been round Tesco the following morning I was sore from foot to thigh. I eventually went to see the practise nurse, who gave me a tubigrip and a tube of ibuprofen gel and after a couple of days without the tubigrip with no pain I decided to put it back on and do a gentle mile up and down the road. Even though I took it slowly I couldn't have gone too much further, my fitness has really dropped, but I'm pleased to report that two hours later there are no adverse effects :o)

6th June - 1 mile - 11 mins 59 secs

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A little more progress

I weighed him again this morning with the tape right up behind his front legs - 478kg. I'm still not sure it's accurate, after all a 15.2hh Thoroughbred weighs around 450kg and Merlin's MUCH chunkier, but at least it gives me a number and I can see if his weight is going up or (hopefully) down. At the moment he's getting one handful of sugar beet pellets (soaked) with a tennis-ball-size handful of chaff twice a day. In the morning he has a 15g scoop of garlic powder to help keep the flies away (he comes up in big lumps from midge bites) and if he's been ridden or lunged he has a small handful of Dodson & Horrell Leisure Mix as a treat. It's odd how a horse who can live off fresh air in summer goes so thin in winter - by the end of January he was on four Stubbs scoops of Build Up a day and still losing weight.

Anyway, the poor horse is currently in shock at being ridden twice in two days. I nearly, nearly took him down to the beach, but the wind picked up and I thought he probably wouldn't appreciate sand blowing in his face, so once I'd caught him (unsurprisingly he wasn't too keen on coming near me when he saw the headcollar, but he's a sucker for a carrot...) we went into next door's school again. It only took two attempts to get him lined up by the mounting block and he was good as gold for me after that :o)

We did five minutes' warm up in walk, including a couple of passable 20m circles, changing rein on weight aids and then tried a bit of trot. Not a success. He's willing enough to go forwards off the leg, but he finds trotting in the school hard work because it's deeper going than he's used to and my riding muscles haven't been used in 7 years, so I'm terribly unbalanced. I kept it short and sweet, a few steps at a time, just round a corner or along a short side and when I felt a little bit more confident pushed him on to do a whole circuit of the school. The biggest problem was that I kept tensing my inner thighs which tilted me out of balance. When I remembered to wrap my lower leg, keep my heels down and not over-rise it was much smoother. When I gave him a long rein he stretched down, so although he's not working in an outline yet he's starting to work the right muscles. He was working lower than yesterday though.

I hopped off at that point because I thought the saddle had slipped a bit. I repositioned it and he stood perfectly at the block for me to get back on, so lots and lots of praise for that :o)

And then it went marginally pear-shaped. Mick opened the back door to let the dogs out and Merlin did the tiniest of tiny spooks - it was literally a step sideways and two steps of canter, but I let out a big girly shriek! Bless him, the moment he heard it he stopped immediately, which has given me a lot of confidence in him :o) I know, from the way my brain works, that if I'd cut the session short I would have let that tiny spook build up in my mind, so I pushed him on and we did lots of trot and finished with a very short canter across the diagonal before cooling down on a long rein again.

He can have a day off tomorrow because it's my busy work day, but I'm still going to go and catch him and groom him, just so he doesn't get the idea that being caught always means work.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


The F stands for 'flipping' of course... ;o)

Found a new lunge line in Thurso today and picked up a weight tape as well because he's definitely starting to look podgy - though when I put it round him this evening, it came up at 470kg. Think I didn't have it far up enough, I'd put it round his girth area rather than right up behind the forelegs. I'll try again tomorrow and see what the reading is there.

So as you might guess from the title, I rode today. He was being an eejit about lining up with the mounting block again and as we were shuffling around my neighbour appeared round the corner (it's his and his wife's manege) and asked if I'd mind if he had a sit on Merlin. Not at all, I'd welcome the help :o) He went and got his hat and boots and with his much firmer no-nonsense approach to things was on board at the second attempt and working a very surprised Merlin! After 10 minutes of walk, trot and canter and very few steering issues, he jumped off and I hopped on - MUCH easier :o) Now that someone's made it clear to him he can be made to work it was as if he'd just rolled his eyes and decided to stop pushing the boundaries so hard.

We've got a long way to go, I don't feel balanced enough to canter him, but I got some really nice walk-trot transitions today where he just went with a small squeeze of my leg. I need to get him fitter and then start asking him to work longer and lower because he's still a bit like a giraffe at the moment. Definite progress today though.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

And start again

Oh dear, two week breaks in the schedule aren't going to do him or me any favours are they? But weather and work have conspired against us, so this evening was the first time in a fortnight I'd taken him out of his field. He lunged well on both reins, responded to most of my voice commands and all was good until I let the lunge rein go slack so he could walk through the gate in the electric fence and turn while I closed it - he trod on the loose lunge and the clip broke. That's possibly a 100-mile round trip to Wick at the weekend then, unless there's one in CLB in Thurso. Still, it means I have no excuse now, I'll have to man up and ride tomorrow!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Back up the hill

He wasn't particularly happy about being caught again today, but allowed himself to be tempted into the field shelter with a carrot where I closed the gate behind him. We went for an in-hand bimble up the hill again, he was very forwards until he slipped twice coming back down after which he decided that walking at my pace might be a good idea. On the way back we went past his field, down to the fork in the road, turned and came back again - I don't want him learning to zip straight back down the drive the moment we pass it because therein lies the road to him tanking off homewards!

First thing he did when he was back in his field? Have a really good roll to put back all the mud I'd groomed off him before we went out... Tomorrow I'm planning to ride again if the weather permits and he hasn't twanged anything when he slipped.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Working in the rain

Merlin had a day off yesterday - Monday will always be his regular day off because I'm normally busy with work that day. Today I wanted to lunge him again to see if discovering the ability to walk on the lunge was a one-off or whether it marked a new change in attitude.

It was just starting to spot with rain as I stepped out of the back door. Merlin eyed me suspiciously as I walked up to him, took his piece of carrot and then buggered off smartly before I could put a headcollar on him. Ten minutes of loose schooling(!) later he finally consented to be caught and by the time he was booted, bridled and up in the school it was raining steadily.

I made sure we started on the left rein today since that's his easy side, and he was brilliant. Calm walk, a few transitions from walk to halt to walk to trot to walk to halt, lots of praise and a carrot treat.

Mick arrived home at that point so I warned him he might be needed again as we swapped to the other rein, but no - same again, a calm walk, a few transitions, good as gold, so we ended it there and I took Merlin back down the hill for his supper.

I think the improvement is less to do with my l33t horz skillz and more to do with him not being bothered to mess about because of the rain, but it's good to see all the same :o)

Sunday, 15 May 2011

What we've done to date

Last week I gave myself a good talking to and told myself that I was going to stop being a wimp and get on with it. The grass is coming through, Merlin is getting podgy and I either had to start exercising him or put him on strip grazing. Neither option was going to make him particularly happy with me, but I took up running so I could carry on eating cake and I decided to take the same approach with my horse. This week we've done the following:

Thursday 12th May
Rode. For a very low value of 'rode'. One of the things we've been having major problems with is steering; he's learnt that if he sets his neck and opens his mouth he can choose what direction he goes in and there's not a lot I can do about it. The bridle he came with has a loop for a flash strap and I've seen photos of him being ridden in Hungary in a flash, so I bought a strap last time I was in Inverness and this was the first time I'd tried him in it.

Tacked up, led him up to the school (my VERY lovely neighbours knocked a hole in the wall between our fields so I could get through to their manege easily) and took 10 minutes to get him lined up with the mounting block. I led him up to it, jumped on the lowest step as his head came level with it, he stopped and when I asked him to step forwards, he swung his quarters out so he was facing me. I hopped off the block, asked him to step over and he moved on, past the block. Eventually we got it right, so lots of praise once I was on board, especially because he stood still while I tightened the girth.

And then, a miracle! Nearly a whole circuit in walk without any arguement about direction! Then we got back to the mounting block, he decided it needed a Hard Stare and stopped dead while he looked at it. After that it was really tough to get him going again and then he started arguing about direction again - even though he couldn't open his mouth, he could still walk round like a giraffe with his head bent in the direction he wanted to go. So the flash might have initially helped the steering, but I also gained a handbrake and reverse gear!

In the middle of it, I got about 60 seconds of really nice walk - he mouthed his bit (he's in a French link snaffle), stretched down and started to swing through from behind. Then something caught his eye in the valley and he went back to doing giraffe impressions again.

Friday 13th May
We went for an in-hand wander around the village. Merlin is unshod and his feet are great, but he's not used to roadwork and the farrier had suggested that five minutes on the road every so often would help him harden them even further. Just over the road from us is part of the village common grazings, a steep hill which has the young sheep on it in winter. At this time of year it's empty, so we mooched over and walked straight up it on the grass rather than taking the stonier track. I don't know who was breathing harder at the top, him or me! Eventually I'll be hacking him up here, but a) I didn't want to ask him to do it with 10 stone of me on top and b) I've been told he's not brilliant at hacking out alone.

We went across the top of the hill and back down through a different gap between two croft houses, past the Grazings Clerk's cows. There's a cow in there with last year's and this year's calves, the calves came cantering over to the fence to see what was coming past and over-protective mum saw a possible threat and came charging over after them. Merlin grew about a hand and did a bit of piaffe - we were so close to the fence that he probably couldn't see it was there - but went past them after having a good look.

Back home down the village road, which surprised a few people. They're used to seeing me running or sometimes walking the dogs, but a horse on a rope is something new!

Saturday 14th May
Day off. Had a nice half hour with him in his field shelter just scratching up and down the roots of his mane while he went gooey.

Sunday 15th May
I was planning to ride today, but two bars of chocolate and a bag of Kettle chips tells me that it's PMT time and after an unfortunate experience last year I don't ride when I'm hormonal - it's better for both of us. Lunging, however, I can cope with, so I put his bridle on (minus the flash strap, that's gone back in the odds and sods box) and because Mick had lit the incinerator, decided to lunge him in the field.

Bit of history here. We first tried lunging him when he was on loan and he only had two speeds - stopped if the lunge whip was on the ground or flat out wall of death if it was pointed in his direction. His owner told me that he was scared of whips, so I carried the lunge whip with me the following morning when I went to feed him and he didn't bat an eyelid. I rubbed it all over him. Not a flicker. Back in the school - wall of death. The most I'd ever got out of him in the past was half a cirle of walk, but someone on HHO (Horse & Hound Online) suggested going back to basics and lunging and long-reining, so we need to get it cracked.

We had the expected warp-speed take off and by the time he'd come back to a stop I was so dizzy that I swapped reins straight away. Amazingly I got walk from the off, calmly, obediently, for two whole circles. Lots of praise and then stop for a bit of carrot for being such a good boy :o) Tried it back on the other rein - disaster. He kept coming to stand in front of me with a slightly confused expression on his face and nothing would persuade him that he needed to be away from me and side on, so I took him up to the school, despite the incinerator, to see if having the fence there would help.

Nope. Totally non-plussed horse. After about 10 minutes of trying to communicate what I wanted him to do without success, Mick appeared at the back door and I commandered his help. He came over and led Merlin round, letting him walk on his own for a few steps and then taking the reins again when Merlin tried to turn in. Two circuits, lots of praise and a carrot and then back onto the left rein for another couple of circuits under his own steam before we called it a day.

What's this then?

This is a training blog for my horse, Merlin. I want to keep a record of what we do so I can look back and hopefully see progress being made.

For anyone stumbling on this blog by chance, I'm Caroline. I'm 35 and I live on a croft on the north coast of Scotland. Merlin is a 16 year old 15.3hh Hungarian horse (Magyar Felver, according to his passport, which means half bred or part bred Hungarian) who came to stay with me temporarily last summer and never left. I bought him in January this year.

We've got a great relationship on the ground, but under saddle it all seems to go wrong. I'm not the most confident rider and he's learnt from his previous homes that if he takes the piss he gets out of doing any work, so he's spent the last four years (ever since he was imported to the UK) doing not a lot. Back, teeth and saddle have all been checked, so I just have to man up and learn to deal with it :o)