In these strange times, owning driving ponies for me is a real blessing. I need to go and see them to take care of them and for a while it is possible to forget that there are any problems in the world at all. Especially during this lovely spell of warmer weather and with our much longed for longer and lighter evenings.
Certainly in terms of mental health and exercise, I feel very fortunate to own ponies in the countryside. But then is the dilemma of should we actually drive them? Despite our exemplary safety record, we have decided not to work them at all apart from a lunge or long rein without leaving the property. That is what everyone with a social conscience is doing right? So this leaves us with the question…what shall we do with them?
We have been considering all sorts of ideas during this time of ‘treading water’ to keep them all happy and healthy and ready for when we can begin working and competing them again.
These ponies are fit, schooled and used to many miles of medium to hard work a week to prepare for driving trials. Long reining and lungeing with appropriate equipment, for us this is elastic side reins not too short and a decent lunge whip to tickle them along, are crucial to add in some top line conditioning as well as just exercise.We do no more than 20 minutes a day but does give the ponies a change of scene.
I often wonder if exercise for ponies is like for humans…you’d rather sit and do nothing but never regret exercise and always feel better afterwards! We try to use the ponies’ own bridles with their driving bits but in a young pony we use a nice lightweight fat snaffle to encourage a good contact. Some people are considering roughing off their ponies which may mean taking shoes off. This must mean that good feed supplement for hooves is a must so that the hoof wall maintains a good strength until shoes go back on again. Perhaps a topical hoof treatment to keep the walls healthy is a good idea too. We like to paint inside the hooves with a product like Stockholm tar or good old fashioned hoof oil; this is a good idea to keep bacterial infections away. I have fed my ponies seaweed for years. This is a nice natural supplement which maintains healthy coat and hooves and I swear gives them a shine on even the grey ponies!
Laminitis and weight gain are sure to be constant threats this time of year with the onset of spring grass growth. We find that good hard exercise is the best thing to keep problems away even in the welsh ponies which are sometimes prone to laminitis. During this strange period of less exercise, it is vital to control the intake of grass. A well fitted muzzle is a good idea in situations where this is difficult. There are many laminitis aware products on the market to feed your horse if they are susceptible to this crippling disease. Small ponies are of course adapted to live on poor quality grass and we really must manage our ponies carefully if the paddocks are springing up with beautiful green grass high in the dangerous sugars which can quickly damage the fine blood vessels in our ponies’ feet. Electric fencing to strip graze them is a really good option. Haynets with small holes are a great investment to reduce intake and of course to lengthen a greedy pony’s hay time to reduce boredom. A boredom buster treat ball or an activity toy such as a Lickit treat can help keep bored horses occupied. 40 years ago I remember clearly going out to carefully cut branches of gorse to hang up in stables! The horses seemed to love nibbling the new shoots at the tips and of course they had to do this carefully and slowly so they didn’t get spiked by the thorns; natures own boredom buster and healthy too! One thing is for sure, we owe it to our horses and ponies to do the very best for them during our lockdown period that has been unusually forced upon us. An extra groom, comfy well-fitting rugs and something to keep them occupied is the least we can do.
Perhaps this is also a good time to have a good old sort out and to thoroughly clean the tack room, feed room and all the bins, buckets and tack therein. Plenty to do and also, happily for us, allowed as our form of exercise whilst tending to our precious animals. I do feel so lucky having to tend to the ponies. But oh I cant wait until we can get out and get training and competing again!
by Liz Harcombe
Pony Tandem National Champion 2019
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