Living in the New Forest…


Living in the New Forest, in a house, not as a rustic you understand, feels like the perfect home to me. Since I wasn’t born here, I will never take it for granted, and still enjoy the trees and the open forest, all the ponies, and other animals that live here. It comes as a surprise to me that many of the people who live here, and certainly those that pass through on their way to work, don’t understand how the Forest works, that the ponies, and the cattle, are all owned by someone, and essential to the conservation of one of the last few large areas of common land in the country; without them the Forest would have to be managed entirely mechanically.

The number of ponies varies from year to year and during the year as foals are born and some of them eventually sold. The New Forest Commoners who own the ponies, have done more than any other breeders of semi-feral native ponies to limit the number of foals by careful management, ensuring a healthier market for them, and preserving the rare bloodlines. This year only fifteen stallions, all inspected and judged for their quality and their blood lines, were turned out for just one month. Given that there are almost 500 Commoners, the agreement of this policy is some feat. Each stallion is turned out in a designated area, although he might migrate, and is limited to three years in the same area to ensure that he doesn’t cover his own offspring. The rest of the time, the stallions are kept at the owner’s own property or together in a large area provided through the auspices of the Verderers Office.

The Commoners acquire the right to de-pasture their animals through their property rather than in their own right, and pay £22 per animal turned out. The vast majority of ponies on the Forest are mares, with some geldings, and young colts which have to be gelded or removed as they reach maturity. The ponies can roam the entire Forest with no limits although they tend to remain within a ‘haunt’ of about two miles. Whilst each Commoner is responsible for the welfare of their own animals this is overseen by four Agisters, and a Head Agister, all employed by the Verderers of the New Forest. The Verderers are a body of ten people, half of which are selected by organisations such as the Forestry Commission, and half elected by the Commoners. They are responsible for ‘protecting the green’ as their name implies, a role which has changed from guardianship of the king’s hunting ground, to protecting the integrity of the Forest. They set by-laws and work with a myriad of organisations which have a vested interest in the Forest. They hold a court at which criminal proceedings no longer take place but instead hear presentments from anyone who wishes on subjects as diverse as the restructuring of old water courses or the admissibility of kite surfing.

Our guest blogger is Sarah Weston, to learn more about her, or to order one of her brilliant books, please visit her website.

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Sue’s Standpoint

‘The difference between a bad dentist and a bad coach is that you only lose your teeth if you go to a bad dentist, but you can lose your life when you ride a horse.’


Congratulations to the British Horse Society on continuing to progress and develop the charity, in particular in relation to safety. Qualifications are extremely important in relation to safety, and the opening quote is from Yogi Breisner in this article:


Anyone who knows me will know how passionate I am about qualifications (or sometimes the lack of) within the field of animal physiotherapy. Anyone can call themselves an animal physiotherapist, and as far as I’m aware anyone can call themselves a riding instructor. As the mother of a 4yr old boy I observed several riding lessons before deciding that actually the best route for us was our own pony. Poor safety and / or poor communication put me off many of the riding schools I visited, although I’d like to shout out for Stourport Riding Centre who were excellent on both. I would have liked him to be a part of SRC, but at an hour away it’s just too far to be practical on a regular basis. I’m sure there are plenty of riding schools that are safe and provide good quality teaching, just as there are plenty of animal physiotherapists who do a great job. Equally I have been at riding schools where the children are riding in trainers or wellies, or where the instructor seems to think it’s ok to humiliate the child. Don’t assume that just because they have a title they are automatically right for you, your child or your horse – listen to your gut instinct as well.


Hopefully the changes to titles of BHS instructors will make it easier to recognise the level of qualification – apparently my BHSAI qualification is now known as BHS Stage 3 in Complete Horsemanship (bit of a mouthful!). And in the world of animal physiotherapy, the Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners is working to make it easier to find practitioners who have qualified to a certain level.


Discussions with friends and clients have repeatedly confirmed to me that having a team around you and your horse that you can trust is invaluable in maintaining confidence, preventing injury and improving performance. I’d love to hear who your valued team consists of, and how you found those people – drop me a message below or email with your story so that she can share it far and wide through our blog.

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Behind the vertical?

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Hilary Clayton was involved in the research into the head and neck position of elite dressage horses in competition between 1992 and 2008. While we would assume that the general level of training and welfare has increased throughout that time, their report made for interesting reading.

In the FEI handbook it states that: “The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the Athlete.” The team evaluated video of the horses and categorised them as on or in front of the vertical, or behind the vertical. The collected canter and collected trot show that the amount of horses behind the vertical has decreased over those 14 years.

However the results for the passage and piaffe show a very different picture. In 1992, 48% of horses in the passage and 45%, in the piaffe, were behind the vertical. By 2008 these figures had risen to 71% of horses being behind the vertical in both the piaffe and passage.

Obviously there are all sorts of conclusions that one could draw from this, but it is worth bearing in mind, that we should always hold the welfare of our horses at the utmost of our minds. It is important that governing bodies regularly review and maintain their own standards to ensure a high level of welfare across the world

(Comparison of the head and neck position of elite dressage horses during top-level competitions in 1992 versus 2008 by Morgan J.J.O. Lashley, Sandra Nauwelaerts, J.C.M. Vernooij, W. Back, and Hilary M. Clayton. Published in The Veterinary Journal, 2014, volume 202, pages 462-465)


Dr Hilary Clayton is the author and producer of “Activate Your Horse’s Core” available from our shop.


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Para point of view…

June kicked off with Leonie’s wedding on the 2nd to Sion, which was a lovely day at the Holt Fleet. I feel partly responsible for them getting together as I remember us swiping through plenty of fish at one of our squad training sessions and Mom and I said he looked nice, the rest is now history, although I did have to have a serious conversation with Leonie about their intentions because I was having nightmares about her getting pregnant and not being able to train me…………she has set my mind at rest though.

The following week was the Gold semi finals at Wellington for the Championships in September, but we decided not to compete as Leonie was going to be on her honeymoon and I didn’t want to go without her, and as I am an individual rider again it is nice to be able to make decisions like that without having to answer to anyone. So instead Sam and I took the opportunity to have a week away in Mallorca while leonie was away, which also gave Prince a well earned week off before preparations for Hartpury.

Ashleigh and sam alcudia

On the 12th June it was back to business as usual, Leonie had already been back a couple of days so had bought Prince back into work before I got on, which was just as well as he was a little fresh apparently after his holiday. Leonie had completed the music for my freestyle so we started playing with the timings etc to get it right. We also looked at getting some electrolytes into Prince as the weather had turned warm and he will need all the help he can get with doing two International competitions so close together in July, we also ordered more supplies of Pharmaquin from BettaLife, which is the joint supplement we give to Prince in his feed. We regularly review everything we do and what we feed, as I think it is really important to ensure all of the horses needs are being fully met if we expect them to perform at their best, and its very reassuring to know that we are feeding the best joint supplement to support Prince’s joints as his training intensifies.  Bettalife are so confident in their supplement that they offer 100% money back guarantee so take a look at their page and order yours now by clicking on the link Bettalife  or here to  win a tub of Pharmaquin 


If you recall my saddle had to be sent of for some repairs last month which have now been done so Jo bought my saddle back out and checked it on the 23rd, which was a relief to have got it back in time to re adjust before the competitions. we also had to look at bits because the mouthpiece we ride Prince in is not legal to use at FEI competitions, which was luckily bought to our attention by one of our lovely stewards luckily. We normally use a hanging cheek with a lozenge in, but none of the fixed cheek snaffles are allowed a lozenge, which seems strange seeing as they are a gentler option, and I contacted the FEI to make certain but it is correct so its really important to check all of the rules thoroughly before these things.

Last week  we squeezed one extra treatment in for Prince with his physiotherapist Sue Palmer, he always feels so much looser after Sue has treated him, so its important to do everything to make sure he is capable of his best performance and this time it was in the comfort of the new treatment room at the yard.

So that’s it, we have prepared as much as we possibly can, so lets hope we do everyone proud at Princes International debut and my first 3* competition, once again a massive thank  you to Frost electroplating as without their generous support, we would not have been able to attend.


Our guest blogger is Ashleigh Jones from Ashleigh Jones Para Dressage.

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Sue’s Standpoint – Encouragement or harassment?

Have you ever had difficulty sticking to your beliefs because of pressure from others around you? If you’re anything like me, the answer is yes! I think the experience of knowing what’s right for you but struggling to go through with that is pretty universal amongst us.


Straight away I’m thinking of a conversation with a client who is feeling pressured to turn her recently laminitic horse  out. She made the decision to keep her in because there is no flexibility turn out at the yard – she either goes out on grass, or not at all. The grass isn’t long enough for a muzzle, and restricted hours of turnout weren’t helping with the weight problem that caused the laminitis. My client is walking her horse out in hand twice a day, but because people are there at different times, they don’t necessarily see that, and what they say to her leads to her feeling guilty about keeping her mare in so much. She’s doing absolutely the right thing, and very much what she (and I) believe to be the best for her mare in her current situation, and yet she’s struggling to keep her resolve.


Another is feeling guilty because she feels the pressure from others around her is pushing her towards jumping bigger fences than she’s comfortable jumping. She wants to drop down a level after a couple of unexpected stops, but is looking for reassurance that it’s the right thing to do because she doesn’t get that from her instructors and yard friends.


Yet another is struggling with the concept of ‘happy hacking’ because she feels that more is expected from her by those who know her. She loves her horse dearly but has had a nasty fall and would like to just take it easy, for now at least.


Note that I’ve said the clients feel as though the pressure / advice around them is pushing them to do something they don’t want to do. That’s very different to saying that they are being pushed into something by those around them. We have a level of control of how we feel in response to someone else’s words or actions. Others cannot ‘make’ us feel a certain way, but we can allow them to do so. This doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t exercise caution and think before we speak! But could we perhaps take more responsibility for how we feel?


Who are these people that are ‘pushing’, ‘bullying’, etc? Could it, in some cases, be you or me? Are we meaning to be encouraging and supportive, but not recognising that to some people, our words and actions are not seen that way?


Do we, in other situations, allow ourselves to be ‘bullied’ into doing something we disagree with because we want to fit into the crowd? Do we go against our beliefs because we think someone else knows better? Will doing what we’re told to do actually help us, if fitting in is our goal?


Could we work on ‘showing up and being seen’, as suggested by Brene Brown? Truly difficult to achieve, in my opinion, and something that I work at every single day. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got any thoughts, or words of encouragement for someone who may be struggling today?

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The Art of Learning

I love learning. I find it endlessly fascinating to find out about things that interest me and to read and to share what I have learnt with others. I like the whole process and that moment when things click into place. But that moment can sometimes come from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best things that I have learnt are ideas or ways of being that I can transfer across from one to scenario to another. So I use tips for how to deal with a toddler on my puppy, and tips for how to house train my puppy on my husband…

I was reflecting the other day on the conversation that always occurs around Monty Roberts. People will always say; my horse won’t … but on being asked if they thought it would do it for Monty, the answer was usually “yes.” This is the training aspect of Brain, Pain, or Training that we refer to, and one of the questions that we ask is “will your horse do what is asked if someone else asks him?” This is not saying that you are bad, or not good, just that you might not have progressed as far in your learning as another individual. If the answer to this is yes, then it is simply a case of training yourself, before you train the horse.

I saw this scenario beautifully illustrated in a dog training class the other day. A lady with a collie said she couldn’t groom her dog, it wouldn’t let her. She handed the dog over to the trainer. 30 seconds later I turned back to see the dog sitting patiently while the dog trainer groomed it. It was a classic “Monty Moment”. It was such a clear example of how we get ourselves in a muddle. She was convinced she couldn’t do it, so therefore the dog couldn’t do it. Once the professional had shown the dog what was required, he could then train the owner to do it. Once she had seen him do it, she knew she could do it.

So remember to ask for help, and take every opportunity to learn something from someone else.

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Being an adult with responsibilities sucks!

With Storm not being in a fit state to be ridden, I have been “quietly” looking for a horse to ride.

I was offered the ride on a wonderful, well-trained mare. I was soooooo excited. I had a plan for when I would ride, what shows I wanted to enter, which stable she would go in… I knew it would be tight to fit everything into my day, but I was going to go for it!

Then, my youngest got a virus, nothing too serious, but he needed all my attention. That spare hour before bed was gone, well to be honest; sleep was gone for a couple of days there. This made me think…  If one of the children was ill, or I was ill, what would happen to my meticulously planned riding schedule?

Well, it would have gone out of the window, and I would have sucked it up, because I am a parent, and because my children need me.

Being a parent is a juggling act at best, and adding in horses, adds a whole new bucket load of balls to throw up in the air and try to catch.

I read a lot of articles on ”How I make it work! “ and to be honest, I would like to call “Bu*****t” on them. If you have children, they need to be your first priority. They are only children for a short time, be present, and there for them. There will be other shows, other horses when you have time to fully focus. But for now, enjoy the children, enjoy the ride on your horse when you have the opportunity, but don’t put yourself under so much pressure that you are paralysed by the stress and find enjoyment is gone from both.

I am not giving up on my ambitions or dreams, I am admitting I have responsibilities to my family which need to be taken care of first, and this is what being a parent is about. As my time permits, I will ride, train, and coach, and I will make sure I am also taking care of “me”. The dressage ring will still be there when the children are adults in their own right!

PS: If you have a significant other, then remember that relationship is important to, because if you are sick, the horses still need to be fed! 😛

Our guest blogger is Jane Broomfield, from Silverdale Horses in Mission, British Columbia, Canada.

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Sue’s Standpoint – Should owners of overweight horses be prosecuted?

It’s a provocative title, purely to catch your attention and get you thinking.  Owners of horses who are severely underweight are at risk of being prosecuted, because it’s a welfare issue – the horse who is severely malnourished is at risk of illness or even death.  Yet so is the horse who is severely overweight.  Laminitis is incredibly painful, as this video by the Animal Health Foundation shows and explains.


Laminitis has many causes, and by no means are they all weight related.  But a horse who is severely overweight is at risk of laminitis, as well as being at greater risk of musculoskeletal damage, particularly to the joints.  Managing the weight of a good doer can be exceptionally difficult, but it’s part of the responsibility of an owner.  Laminitis is incredibly painful, emotionally for the owner as well as physically for the horse. The horse’s best chance of overcoming laminitis is in recognising it early, as this article from explains, and this video  from World Horse Welfare.


If you think your horse might be suffering from, or at risk of laminitis, please call your vet.  Metabolic conditions that can cause laminitis such as Cushings disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) can be treated in many cases, and your vet can advise on pain relief, treatment, and on the most appropriate diet for your horse if weight management is necessary.  Restricting grazing can be difficult, especially on livery yards, and there are various options to consider, including grazing muzzles, as well as or instead of restricting either the size of the grazing area or the amount of time grazing.  No matter how difficult though, it is our responsibility as owners to do our best for our horse, and we must all be vigilant, because this disease creeps up unnoticed.


If you have a case study you’d be willing to share on how you’ve helped your horse to recover from laminitis or EMS, or how you’ve recognised and treated Cushings disease (with or without laminitis), we’d love to share it for the benefit of others.  Please email – you can either send us your story, or arrange for Lizzie to call or email you with some questions so that she can put it together for you.  Our goal is to encourage and support horse owners through the non-judgmental sharing of knowledge and experience, and we’d love it if you’d like to join us 🙂

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The Importance of Praise


I read this great story the other day about a teacher. The teacher wrote 20 sums on the board in front of a classroom full of teenagers. One of them was wrong. The teenagers started laughing. The teacher asked them why they were laughing. The teenagers said “because you made a mistake.” The teacher said, “You laughed at me for the one sum that I got wrong, but you didn’t praise me for the 19 sums that I got right.” The teacher continued, “this is what will happen to you all during your working life. You won’t get praised when you do well, only criticised when you do badly.”

Firstly, he was quite right! The importance of praise in the workplace seems to be a foreign concept to many employers or managers, yet people will work so much harder for you if they feel appreciated. It’s not simply a question of being paid, people want to feel valued. Great employers have the ability to make everyone from the floor workers, to the managers, feel appreciated, it is one of the hallmarks of a good business.

Exactly the same thing applies to our horses. The good riders make their horses want to give that extra bit. Like the good employers whose staff will stay late to help, the horses of good riders will make that extra effort. If you praise your horse for all the things he gets right, he too will feel valued. Also he will understand what you want him to do. We forget to praise, we remember to criticise.

How often do you tie your horse up, groom your horse, tack-up and then your horse starts to fidget and you tell him off? But did you praise him for standing still all that time? Probably not! Exactly the same happens in our ridden work. We criticise our horses when they make a mistake (despite the fact we were probably responsible for it!) and forget to praise.

Interestingly the ratio between praise and criticism was subjected to academic research and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal ratio is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. So the next time that you ride, or even handle your horse, try this. Make sure you have praised 6 times, before you criticise, and see what effect it has on your horse (and yourself!)

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Real men don’t ride dressage

I was reading an interesting article in Psychology Today ( that discussed the differences between a woman’s and a man’s brain. The differences in how each sees the world, interacts with it and responds to illness was all mentioned. As Louann Brizendine, M.D. says, “Until recently scientists assumed we all had a unisex brain. But now we know that isn’t true.” You must keep in mind though that we are talking about averages and not absolutes. This article got me thinking about what kind of “brain” excels at training dressage horses.

I think the biggest emotional trait one can have when working with horses is empathy. Accoring to Roman Krznaric ,author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, “Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person (or animal), understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions”. The only way to consistently train horses to perform at the top of the sport is to be able to relate to and understand them. I’m talking about horses that perform the exercises in a relaxed and honest way, and not fear-based training that is devoid of all empathy. Without empathy, there simply cannot be a harmonious partnership between horse and rider.

In Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain, he states “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.” And according to scientists, men are predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems, but often lack the same levels of empathy that woman have. I think this is why you don’t see “stereotypical” men participating in dressage. They don’t understand, and/or can’t relate to it because they lack the empathetic awareness needed to be involved in this sport. Now don’t get me wrong here! If you are a tattooed, Harley riding, smoke hanging out of your mouth, mechanically inclined, greased covered man, I’m not implying you lack all empathetic abilities to excel in dressage. Again, we are speaking of averages here, and not absolutes. I’m not saying it can’t happen. It’s just factual that you don’t see that very often in our sport. I also don’t mean that “stereotypical” men don’t have empathy….just that they, on average, do not demonstrate it to the same level as the average female.

I find that in most cases the men I meet who excel at dressage have a strong empathetic streak. I think regardless of gender, you need to have strong abilities to read your horses’ emotional levels, kindness, softness, and if your approach isn’t based mainly on empathy, then I would be surprised if you ever have much success.
According to a Scientific American article ( empathetic qualities are in a decline among young people. The good news is that with the discovery of mirror neurons (which allow humans to experience pain or discomfort in someone we are watching) people can actually learn to become more empathetic. Then, maybe dressage training can teach people to act with more empathy? Perhaps, more than ever, now is the time that we need more “stereotypical” men participating in dressage.
Be kind, and Happy Riding!
Our guest blogger this week is Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine
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