The importance of cross training your horse

So we all know for ourselves the importance of cross training to ensure our bodies can cope with the stresses and strains of exercise so why not roll this out to our horses during training?. Top class athletes use this method for ensuring bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are fit for purpose with the aim of strengthening these structures and enhancing athletic performance. Recent studies have identified what different types of surface can do to the musculature of the horse read at

The study identifies the forces that impact the legs of the racehorse are higher and the extension of the fetlock is greater on ‘dirt surfaces’ than on ‘synthetic surfaces’  finding that racehorse injuries correlates with surface type with dirt being more of a risk factor than synthetic surfaces. This however is not just a problem for the racehorse but also for the dressage horse too as discovered by researchers at the University of California’s veterinary orthopaedic research laboratory.

The research identifies the most common injury in dressage horses as being injuries of the Suspensory ligament which plays a vital role in supporting the structures of the lower leg during weight-bearing. Dr Stover Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and cell biology at UC Davis University stated that many factors impact fetlock motion and suspensory elongation including the hoof-ground reaction force (or the GRF for short) meaning that an increased GRF increases force on these structures extending the suspensory ligament further. With the structure of the arenas surface and associated characteristics affecting the GRF.

The main findings during research with the dressage horses indicated that “surface properties have the potential to risk injury to the suspensory ligament” (Dr Stover). So would cross training at the beginning help to reduce this risk?

What does Cross-Training do?

Injury prevention– helps to spread the cumulative level of orthopaedic stress over a larger area of muscles and joints. In doing this the effects include training for longer without overloading important and vulnerable structures.

Improves fitness Increase strength and aerobic fitness to a higher level

Cross training can also :

Increase musculoskeletal strength and cardio fitness –train longer and improve muscles capability

Reduce boredom Increased willingness

rejuvenate mind and body Shakes the regular routine up and exposing your horse to different situations improving the horses reaction to novel environments.

So  as you can see there are a number of potential benefits of cross training your horse for its fitness and well-being. By introducing your horse to many different types of surfaces and environments gradually you should in theory help to minimise the possible occurrence of injury in the horse. Not only do you have a horse fit for purpose but also a happy horse who can deal with different situations without over-reacting and help to reduce long-term damage to your equine athlete.

There is so much more on this topic which I recommend so please check out for more on this interesting and valuable subject.

Please comment you know I love to hear your experiences.


How much TIME do you spend with you horse?

The answer to this question initially seems to be “lots” however I had an experience I couldn’t understand a few years ago with a horse and until recently while reading the fantastic Wendy Williams book called “The Horse” I finally was able to understand the beauty of what I had experienced.

I was studying for my degree and I had to complete an equine management task which was to show how I could turn out a horse. I was required to plait the mane, bandage the tail, groom and apply exercise bandages to the legs appropriately. I was given two hours to do this, which was to me more than enough time. I went down to the yard where four horses had been left in the stable and had the task of choosing one for the task. I chose a bay 16hh mare called “Tiny” I liked the sarcasm in that and entered the stable.

The mare was stood happily eating away at her recently filled hay net  I introduced myself saying hello and letting her sniff me she seemed lovely enough so I got to the task. It was lovely in the yard that day the weather was beautiful the yard was quiet and the horse was sweet so I kind of overdid everything I could and made sure that I used up most of the time just to spend the afternoon is this serene environment.

Finally my friend who worked at the yard popped her head over the door and told me I had ten minutes before my presentation so I left the stable to talk with my friend my back towards the stable door. As I was in mid conversation the mare suddenly put her head over the stable door and rested it on my shoulder breathing down my neck almost lovingly I could feel the whole weight of her head resting on my shoulder just listening to our conversation. My friend remarked that I had made a friend for life and I can’t describe the pure feeling of love I had for that horse the connection in that moment seemed out of this world. I wanted to load her up in a trailer and take her home with me.

So time went on and I would mention to various people my experience that day and found myself thinking of Tiny often with a huge grin on my face. What I couldn’t understand was why would a horse I had never met before show me so much kindness as I perceived it? I wasn’t her regular groom, I didn’t bring her food, it was a mystery Until I read “The Horse” by Wendy Williams.

Wendy spent many years researching and gathering information about the natural behaviour of horses in the “Wild” in America and spent time with researchers who spent their lives just observing the horse in nature. A rancher called Kris Kokal specializes in rehabilitating mustangs poorly cared for by people who misunderstand that these horses are not anything like the domesticated horses they are used to. Some of the horses at the ranch are ridden however most of the interaction is done on the ground with Kokal stating that this is when some of the most important interactions occur.

When Kokal interacts with these horses there is no goal in mind , no training to complete, throughout the day someone just “hangs” out with the horses not insisting on them doing anything they are all just there together. Kris never brings the food to the horses instead letting others do this chore so as to not let the horse make the connection between that person and food . Wendy observing that when Kris walks into the field the horses just want to be with Kris just like when they form the bond with other horses in their particular band.

The primary objective should be to get to know the horse and establishing this bond may take days, weeks or years but once it starts Kris states “It;s a beautiful dance” Once it starts the horse really wants to be around you and everything can be done without force.

To me this idea is beautiful the horse not viewing you as meals on wheels and as a friend as someone to be around for no gain apart from the bond between the two should in my opinion be all equestrians aim. To have their horse view them as someone it wants to be around, someone who satisfies its nature at the most primitive level is truly remarkable and we can all achieve it. I’m not saying that was what happened with me and Tiny for sure, but I’d like to think that the time I spent grooming her and providing companionship made her feel happy and safe just as she would with her friends in the field.

So try it spend more time just being with your horse with nothing in mind apart from being there and see what relationship develops. I think you’ll be truly amazed.

Love any comments on the subject…. and please read the book it’s awesome The Horse by Wendy Williams


The use of dressage training aids: Compromising equine welfare?

What do the training aids attempt to achieve?

In recent years the use of various dressage aids to attain a low deep and round outline have been widely used. The use of these “training aids” are to get the horse to round its back pulling it’s head down and towards its chest making the poll no longer the highest point and pulling the head behind the vertical.Many of the supporters of the use of these training aids state they aid suppleness increasing the likelihood of better movements and higher dressage scores.

Is it just me or does the use of these seem unneccessary? These horses are often ridden in double bridles with their mouths tightly closed with the aim of trying to attain submission. Surely the whole definition of horsemanship is to train a horse to listen to its rider and attain this position itself with hard work and muscle development training. When ridden using these “aids” the horses vision is severely restricted and to be honest seems to look extremely uncomfortable.

This to me not only raises  important equine welfare issues but also horse and rider safety, if a horse is unable to see as it normally would it is more likely to experience anxiety and as we know from several studies on equine depression this can be extremely dangerous causing the horse to spook become fidgety and diminish its ability to learn.

Effects of Hyperflexion on the equine musculature

So What do these “aids ” really do to the horse? When a horse is ridden if its back muscles are not strong enough to support the weight of the rider the horse will hollow it’s back and lift it’s head to try to deal with the pressure in the saddle. The core muscles need to be strong to carry weight if the core muscles are developed properly this lifts the horse up into it’s back allowing it’s head to come down and a nice outline becomes achievable. The horse has an upward movement with the power generated in the hindquarters and looks absolutely beautiful when done correctly.

So If your horse hasn’t got good core strength and you force its head down and behind the vertical than plonk a rider on it using such “aids” you get a horse with  damage to muscles, tendons and ligaments, muscle spasms and compression of the neck and spine. Pulling the head and neck in restricts air flow, vision, and reduces the amount of oxygen able to reach the brain. Not only this but damage to the mouth is caused and affects the bone and soft tissue causing extreme discomfort to the horse.

Although the science behind these studies are varied and do not answer any particular questions about the welfare of the horse I think it is safe to say there is nothing which can replace the use of well established  muscle training techniques, good horsemanship, patience and strong relationship with your horse. It is after all a partnership and not a dictatorship.

In a Nutshell…

In the interest of the horse I personally would choose to stay well away from these “training aids” and feel that there are better ways to achieve a good dressage/competition horse and that’s through hard work. This is only my personal preference and if you feel otherwise I would love to hear from you.

Tell us what you think guys





GLOW means SLOW: The campaign we should all be talking about!

A campaign set up by an extremely passionate equestrian Sarah Johnson and her team have been talking to me about the importance of wearing Hi-Viz While out riding. Sarah of the  GLOW means SLOW campaign has dedicated herself to promoting this extremely important issue for horse and rider safety which she strongly believes can and does save lives.

So WHY use Hi-Viz?

As a horse rider and car driver Sarah is amazed at the amount of horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians walking without wearing Hi-Viz on country roads and lanes.“It’s crazy “ Sarah states “using rural lanes without Hi-Viz means you blend into your surroundings where drivers tend to notice you at the very last-minute. Wearing Hi-Viz means you are seen sooner giving other users of the road plenty of time to react. Wearing Hi-viz not only makes you feel safe it can prevent unnecessary accidents from occurring and saves horse and rider from injury and even death”.

Sarah insists riders shouldn’t take their own lives into their own hands and should make an informed choice about wearing Hi-Viz . It not only prevents accidents with other road users but can be useful in a variety of other ways which you may not always think about.

“One day you are out riding and your horse spooks for apparently no reason you fall off and the horse gallops off into the sunset miles from civilization maybe never to be seen again?” You have contacted the emergency services trying to explain your location, but they can’t see you. You didn’t wear your Hi-Viz today and neither did your horse”. What are you thinking at this point? Various scenarios go through your head? Trust me I bet they are not the “happy ever after” scenarios. If you had just popped your Hi-Viz on!

“Other road users are just as guilty though not just riders we all need to be responsible when out in the country.  Some NOT all cyclists zip past horses and spook them, walkers wear dark colour’s blending in to their surroundings. We all need to do our bit take responsibility and help others too”.

The Law

So It’s NOT against the law to ride without one however Sarah identifies “the Highway Code actually states Hi-Viz should be worn”. If we expect others to respect us riding on the roads then we should respect and protect them by wearing Hi-Viz it is in my opinion a two-way relationship. As Sarah jokes “It may not be fashionable, but can save lives” Horses and their riders are not expendable and one bad accident can change lives forever.

The GLOW means SLOW vision

Sarah and her dedicated team hope to prevent tragedies from happening by raising awareness and highlighting the importance of wearing Hi-Viz. Sarah and her team will be organising Hi-Viz rides and encouraging small groups of riders to get together, ride out, photograph and document their own events to raise awareness of such an important safety issue.

GLOW means SLOW have their own Facebook page and are on Twitter  @GlowMeansSlow Sarah and her team are supported by a fab team of individuals working together to promote safety on the roads.The campaign has  sponsorship from The Equine Pass team, Gee Gee supplies and support from Harry Hall and Kootchy Garments.

Final Thoughts…

Sarah and her team are passionate about raising awareness and look forward to your continuing support. Hi-Viz is IMPORTANT and this is such a great cause for not only horse riders but all road users. I personally love this campaign and will be featuring Sarah and her team again in the near future.

Please do your bit for the cause.

Thanks to the Glow Means Slow team

Nikki @happyhooves

Continue reading “GLOW means SLOW: The campaign we should all be talking about!”

Depression in horses: What we know so far!

Have you ever thought that your non-reactive seemingly bomb proof horse or pony is actually depressed? Well it’s not necessarily the case but recent research has shown that animals with a fixed stare and diminished reactions to humans may be suffering from depression as seen in humans. The key to identifying a possible issue seems to be behaviour in the stall and reactions to challenging situations as described by Dr Celine Rochais.

The study identified that over reactive horses to novel stimuli were more likely to suffer and the horses who demonstrated quiet attention was indeed a good sign of welfare and would respond better to training. Dr Rochais stressed however that the withdrawn horses were more dangerous to use for beginner riders.So more attention to the withdrawn state is actually imperative to rider and handler safety.

The conclusion seemed to indicate that being able to distinguish apathy from calmness and attention from alarm is critical and the use of attention levels is becoming a good way of identifying equine welfare.

Please check out the article at

This is quite worrying and certainly not only raises issues for horses but also handlers take time out to read this it’s amazing




Spooky Horses: What do you know?

We know that horses are prey animals with an inherent fight or flight instinct, but how many times do we consider there may be more serious underlying issues? Research shows that there are actually numerous reasons why a horse spooks and it’s not just down to it’s inherent nature or feeding regimen. We all know horses can sometimes be a mystery when diagnosing problems so here are some  possible causes to consider:


Your horses eyesight might be causing a problem Dr Mary Lassaline at  the University of California’s Davis veterinary hospital says it can be down to two types of vision problems such as cloudiness and a functional problem which can cause anxiety in a horse in situations familiar to him. Dr Lassaline suggests an eye exam to rule out any problems with the eyesight.


According to studies performed on humans with anxiety issues pain was found to accompany the disorder such as back pain and migraines. Dr Wickens an equine extension specialist and lecturer recognises the link between pain in the horse and anxiety and states that just like humans can experience anxiety with pain too. Ill fitting tack may also contribute to raised anxiety issues due to discomfort.

High sugar content in feed

Have you ever had a sugary snack as you were lagging during your busy day and skipped lunch? I know I have! Well equine nutritionist Dr Liburt says that the sugar crash you usually experience not too long after also effects the horse if fed a carbohydrate rich diet. Busting the myth about the  connection between high protein diets and spooky horses. So the advice would be to get advice from an equine nutritionist if you are worried this could be the cause.

Not enough training

Dressage trainer Natalie Perry who holds a USDF gold medal suggests horses who are not sure of what they are supposed to be doing tend to get anxious. So get back into the school and train that little bit more a confident horse isn’t usually anxious. Boredom and a lack of turnout time also can be a contributing factor to spookiness as thought to be the case with stereotypical behaviours performed in the stable.

Seperation anxiety

So he may just miss his mates we all know that one, however just by training a little more and getting him used to going different places will help. Other recommendations include ground handling routines to build confidence. There is also research into the use of  pheromone gels (

Rider Anxiety

There has been research that shows horses can match their heart rates and heart rate variability to that of their rider (Visser et al 2007) So a calm and confident rider may result in a calm and confident horse.


Some horses are just born this way as seen in Arabians and the TB (Oh don’t I know it) and are just predisposed to certain behaviours (just like humans) although this should be considered Wickens suggests an holistic approach to caring for your horse is the key.


Pay attention to how you are feeling! when you are in poor health you look for answers, you examine your lifestyle well this too can be applied to the horse. Just because he’s not human doesn’t mean he can’t suffer from the same issues we do. I take home from this that horses are domesticated animals and love to work and play like we do but sometimes if our environment isn’t right for us things can go wrong. It’s the same for them. I think horses chose to be domesticated by us for the numerous benefits of companionship, free meals and love so let’s assume they  sometimes can feel like we do  too.

So think like a horse! This is a great article! Check it out at:








Hoof Boots: Making an informed choice

So hoof boots or horseshoes given the choice if you could start from scratch which would you choose? There are undoubtedly advantages and disadvantages to both but I am just going to focus on the hoof boots in this blog.

Many people who I have mentioned hoof boots to have always assumed that these were mainly used for therapeutic reasons, and didn’t realise that they are also a genuine alternative to regular shoeing. I myself have used hoof boots and I personally like them but I tend to use them just on the forelegs as I find there is not really any reason to use on the hind legs.

There are many different types of hoof boots available on the market and really I think it is a case of trial and error  however this can be expensive though as the boots tend to be quite costly.If you do manage to find a brand you really like and your horse doesn’t worry about them then in the long run they can save you lots of money.

So I will now list some of the advantages and disadvantages of using hoof boots:


Hoof boots provide protection when needed so if you are going on a long trek involving lots of road work then they are a great product to use. As they are removable when you are finished you allow your horse to go back to barefoot its natural state allowing for appropriate wearing down of the hoof.

The fact that you are not nailing anything onto the hoof wall means hooves are less prone to cracking and developing issues that horse shoes may cause.You don’t have to worry about your horse throwing  shoe while turned out going all night with only three shoes on.

The hoof boot is also great at absorbing concussion so inflicting less strain on the structures of the lower leg and associated joints and reduces the cost of farrier visits.


Your horse does not have protection during turn out  which is if your lucky most of the time.They are also sometimes not the easiest to put on or off however some are easier than others so it’s just again a case of finding the best ones for your horse.

There are boots also which you have to tighten using a hoof pick to pull the shoe tight, these shoes if too tight however can cause damage to the hoof wall so you really have to be careful to not put them on too tight.

If the boots are too loose debris can get in and cause rubbing on the heels and you are in danger of losing one which can be dangerous if moving at speed as well as costly having to replace them

Generally hoof boots are thought to be ideal for horses with good hoof health and no lower limb confirmation issues. If your horse does have confirmation problems it is highly advisable to seek advice from a professional.

These lists are not exhaustible so I have decided to list the most common advantages and disadvantages here. For more information on hoof boots check out this great website western maine horse shoeing

It is considered that if the boots fit your horse correctly then you are able to do all the of the things you can do using horse shoes i.e jumping, galloping etc… However you MUST ensure the boots are fitted properly so seek advice where possible.

Finally I have included a link to a FAQ page which is very thorough in content. So check it out at

I hope you have found this page informative and has changed your opinion on hoof boots they really can change you and your horse’s life.